Where did “Mad Men” go? Ten months have passed since the airing of a new episode of the AMC drama, conceived and produced by NESCAC alum Matthew Weiner (Wesleyan ’87). With this past Sunday’s premiere of the seventh and final season, the actors, writers and production team behind one of cable’s most critically-acclaimed shows bring us back into the world of ad-man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his smoking, boozing, lying associates at Sterling Cooper & Partners. At the start of Season 7, much of “Mad Men”’s action has transitioned from New York City and the advertising firms of Madison Avenue to the West Coast. Sterling Cooper has opened an outpost in California and Megan (Jessica Paré) — Don’s wife du jour — has moved out to Hollywood in order to pursue her acting career. Times are changing in “Mad Men,” too, not just locales. The Season 6 finale marked late November of 1968. This season’s premiere brings us to 1969 and the end of the go-go era. Because the close of this decade was such a time of transition for culture and fashion, we can expect a few aesthetic changes in the show as Season 7 progresses.
Mad Men is, at its core, a show about appearance and identity. Don Draper’s performance of identity fraud during the Korean War and his subsequent struggles to recreate himself are an obvious example of this theme, but Mad Men in its entirety is a study in branding and identity formation. Many of the central characters on the show work for an advertising agency; their lives’ work is based upon taking a product and turning it into a marketable concept. Sterling Cooper & Partners are not trying to sell the goods themselves, they’re trying to sell images — the fabricated, glamorous, even sexy images that represent these goods. Just as they dream up identities for the products they peddle, they concoct identities for themselves while fervently avoiding the reality bubbling beneath.
Clothing and physical appearance are a large factor in this notion of self-branding, and a television series as aesthetically pleasing as “Mad Men” hasn’t disappointed in providing viewers with fashion eye candy. Costume designer Janie Bryant has clothed the men and women of “Mad Men” since its premiere in 2007 and has been Primetime Emmy-nominated for her work on the show three times. Bryant is sure to impress as Season 7 progresses; the clothing worn by the characters in Sunday’s episode “Time Zones” has already begun to envelop us in a new era of style. The costumes and sets that give the characters of “Mad Men” their signature “looks” will only get better as the weeks progress.
It’s 1969 in the world of “Mad Men.” That means the bombshell, Marilyn Monroe-inspired look embodied by Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) in the early 60s is out, and the stick-thin look of Twiggy is in. Pete Campbell’s (Vincent Kartheiser) new Californian real estate agent Bonnie Whiteside (Jessy Schram) flounces onscreen in a wide-legged, colorful printed pantsuit very indicative of the trends to come in the impending decade. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) of the conservative and dowdy-skirted suits and plain sweater sets is now sporting shorter hemlines and more sophisticated dresses, perhaps indicative of her increasing responsibility at the ad agency. However, even though times are changing — and fast — on “Mad Men,” don’t expect Peggy to show up to work in pants anytime soon; this was extremely uncommon in the late 60s and early 70s. She did wear a mustard-colored outfit to the office in Sunday’s episode, however — an ugly color, yes, but very 70s.
Sally (Kiernan Shipka), the rebellious daughter of Don and Betty (January Jones), may emerge the true style star of Season 7. She’s coming of age in an exciting time for fashion and culture, and costume designer Janie Bryant is sure to represent clothing choices popular with teenagers of the late 60s and early 70s in her costume choices for the trendy Sally. Promotional images for the series show the character sporting mini dresses in bold prints. “Mini” seems to be the name of the game in early 70s style on “Mad Men,” as Bryant commented in an interview with InStyle magazine that “we are revealing the time period of the ultimate, ultimate mini skirt — as short as short can be.” Joan, Sally, Megan and Peggy will all wear more updated hemlines. In fact, the inarguable style star of Sunday’s episode was probably the sky blue mini dress Megan wore when she picked up Don from the airport. Costume designer Bryant noted that she received the dress from the show’s set designer and that it was a vintage garment actually from 1969. The bell sleeves of the dress also hint at the style aesthetic to come in the impending decade. It’s also very glamorous; it suits Megan’s intent to look like the movie star she intends to make herself into.
Tune in to AMC on Sundays at 10 for new episodes of “Mad Men” and to watch the 60s and its trends go out with a bang.