So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, it might be 2012, but 1960’s style is on the mind of anyone in the proximity of AMC’s wildly popular show Mad Men. Back on TV after a year and a half hiatus, very few shows strike up the kind of sartorial fervor that Mad Men does. Whole books and blogs have already been singularly devoted to covering every detail of the show’s costumes. So what’s the appeal?
While Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey are alternately bold and elegant, Mad Men suits are both easy to find on store shelves (not just vintage ones) and they can be blended with modern pieces without looking costume-y. A stiff collar and cravat? Classic, but not street-worthy. A short snap brim and a prep narrow tie? Just so. Mad Menmay be a retro trip back in time, but it’s just close enough to modern style to avoid only being appreciated from afar. Here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, we also particularly enjoy that the era has not yet given in to the casual revolution.
The Mad Men Suit
Today, in the opening article of our series on Mad Men suits & style, we will share an overview of the clothing we’ve enjoyed so far. To date, the show began in 1960and has progressed to 1965 in season 5. Style changed radically in the prior few decades, and yet many important attire components remain. The suit is the basis of every office-bound man’s wardrobe, and it’s clear from the show that each character has his particular preference. The suit is still considered proper attire for public outings, though a sportscoat and trousers are occasionally worn for social events of a non-business nature.
The man upon whom all eyes are focused, Don Draper, wears a surprisingly unvaried selection of subtly patterned grey suits, single breasted, 2 or 3 buttons, slim lapels, simple narrow ties, straight white pocket squares, and white shirts with cufflinks. As a lead character with such an intense following, the costume designer could easily make him the (male) sartorial centerpiece of the show – but that is simply not Don’s character. Don wears his suits like armor; they protect his damaged inner core, projecting the image of being physically and emotionally put-together even if he doesn’t feel it. It’s clear he likes a good suit, but his aversion to variation suggests he does it for the perception of power and to attract the opposite sex rather than for his own pleasure. He knows what looks good and gets him the girls, so he sticks with it. Interestingly, Don’s style also corresponds remarkably with another highly charismatic man of the age that relied heavily on a similar repertoire to support his public persona and womanizer: Jack Kennedy undoubtedly had an influence on style at the time, in the sense that he likewise promoted certain sartorial elements (single breasted suits) and hastened the decline of others by avoiding them (button down collars). For instance, Don doesn’t consistently wear a hat; he seems torn between the new style of not wearing one, à la JFK, and long-standing tradition. Too young to be in WWII and too old to be a hippie, Don’s costume choices often reflect his position between two prominent generations.
While Don is in the middle, older characters Roger Sterling, Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper place a much more heavy emphasis on classic style. The oldest of the group, Bert, is the most eccentric of the group, and his typical outfit includes a single-breasted suit, a bow tie, braces (though we don’t often see them), colorful hose without shoes! In many cases, his socks are over-the-knee and feature a classic yet dandyish pattern, such as a bright argyle. Unfortunately, it simply must be said – his short goatee in combination with a bow tie makes him look a bit like Col. Sanders.
Lane Pryce is British, and therefore his tastes run to more classically inspired textures and combinations. He wears both single- and double breasted suits and waistcoats of all varieties, including contrasting, matching, Tattersall, and tweed, among others. Lane is always impeccably accessorized. His tie choices range from modern narrow ties to wide traditionally patterned ones. Lane’s accessories provide perfect balance to his outfits; when wearing a single breasted suit, he adds a tie tack; in a double-breasted suit with a matching waistcoat, he wears a classic fob watch chain to add an extra detail.
Clearly, Lane seems to be the most comfortable exploiting the wide range of options that a classic wardrobe provides.
Roger Sterling, as you’ve probably noticed, can be relied upon to wear a three-piece suit in the same way that Don can be relied upon not to diverge from his single-breasted suits. Like Don, Roger appreciates subtle patterns in grey and navy, though he does wear the occasional pinstripe. His pocket squares show a little more variation in terms of the folding, and his ties tend to be a more traditional width and pattern. He likes to wear black shoes – preferably wing tip brogues and occasionally he will wear a collar bar, despite the fact that his shirt collars are often too large for his neck.
Pete Campbell, the youngest of the group, has a similar style to Don, favoring single-breasted suits in subtle patterns. He’s a little bit more playful with color, reflecting his youth, wearing shades of blue in addition to grey and navy. His ties are skinny, striped, and often accented with a tie bar, the 60’s accessory that appears to have made a modern comeback.
Mad Men Suit Accuracy
While Mad Men suit and costume designer Janie Bryant claims to be a stickler for historical accuracy – and in most respects, she is – there are a few details over which a well-trained classical eye will cry foul. Roger Sterling, whom we have clearly established likes his three-piece suits, does not wear suspenders! A waistcoat is categorically meant to be worn with braces and higher-rise trousers to close the gap between the two, prevent the vest from bulging up and keep the shirt in place. Roger is often seen sans coat with his shirt puffing out between his belted pants and the bottom of his vest. Roger is not the kind of character that plays with his clothing, so it seems much more likely that it is simply an oversight on the part of the costume department.
Also, the cuff buttons of the suits did not have buttonholes or sham buttonholes at all. Although these kind of sleeve cuffs did exist in the 1960’s men in this position would have worn suits with proper buttonholes. This is especially true for Lane Pryce who would have probably been a Savile Row customer.
In addition, it is quite apparent that original fabrics were not used for any of the Mad Men’s suits. At the time, while they were certainly many different fabric blends of both artificial – such as Terylene (aka Dacron) – and natural fibers, the fabric would have been much heavier. Thin, modern fabrics have a tendency to wrinkle excessively, and are incapable of mimicking the superior drape of heavier fabrics. Standing up, it is more difficult to see how the thinner fabric would be disadvantageous, but take a look at Don’s sleeves in this photo – oh, the wrinkles!
In the future, we will go into more depth by highlighting the style of characters Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Lane Pryce, Pete Campbell, and notable pieces from the rest of the ensemble. Stay tuned, and let us know what your favorite Mad Men suits and outfits are.