The Styles of AMC’s Mad Men – Menswear of the 1960s
Who ever thought the 1960s would be so cool? With the success of AMC’s “Mad Men,” tight-fitted gray suits and crisp spread collars are suddenly getting a second look. There’s more going on than a simple “man in the gray flannel suit” look, however…join us in a series of articles taking an in-depth look at each of the Mad Men’s personal style!
Poor Peter Campbell. Of all the characters on AMC’s hit Mad Men, he’s surely the one whose fashion pigeonholes him the most (although his look in later seasons and in the preview images of Season 4 is showing some signs of improvement).
This isn’t to say that the costuming is bad, but where Don Draper is the template for the modern man’s flexible style and Roger Sterling showcases the wealthy bon vivant’s flare, Pete Campbell is unquestionably the prep-school brat of the bunch.
Pete Campbell’s Early Style: Mad Men Goes Prep
One of the great things about Mad Men is that everyone dresses like a businessman of the 1960s — that is to say, they own plenty of suits. No one always has the same look, day to day, though some characters vary it up more than others (Salvatore Romano and Roger Sterling being probably the most varied dressers).
But Pete’s suits are all quite similar, especially in the first two seasons. When they do start to change, it’s often in deliberate imitation of mentor/rival Don Draper’s fashion choices.
Blue Suits on Mad Men’s Peter Campbell
Before he starts to ape Draper’s style, Pete Campbell is pure private-school youth. He wears blue suits and striped ties — the very image of the schoolboy’s blazer and school-specific necktie. As a businessman he of course wears a matched suit rather than a blazer, and there is no crest as many school jackets sport, but the image is unmistakable.
Compounding the image of callow youth, the early Pete Campbell favors extremely skinny ties and narrow lapels. The style is in keeping with the time, and he clearly means to emulate the older Mad Men, but the effect highlights his round, youthful face.
Worse yet, Pete’s jackets are often softer and rounder at the edges than his peers. He wears thick fabrics, and often has them edged with distinctive, rounded stitching.
None of these are breaches of etiquette, or in any way inappropriate for the Sterling Cooper workplace, but they’re not the best choices for Pete as a young man looking to appear ready for advancement. He also wears his trousers a bit loose in the seat, with a long drop between the waist and the point where the legs meet, which gives him an unfortunate bagginess and the subtle look of someone still growing into his suit:
He does, however, wear suspenders, which helps keep him from looking shorter. A belt would add a solid horizontal line cutting his height completely in half.
Striped Neckties, Tie Clips, and the Style of Pattern and Color
We’ve already drawn the comparison between Peter Campbell’s diagonally-striped, multi-colored neckties and the identifying ties used in many private school uniforms. His favorite tie (he seems to have less selection than most of the other Mad Men) includes the powder-blue of the Buckley School, where we know he was educated as a child, and he’s been seen sporting Dartmouth green as well.
One of the positive effects of Pete’s look is that he does stand out in a crowd — his blue suits and colorful ties are attention-grabbing. They may make him look like he’s trying a bit hard when he stands next to the studied elegance of Don Draper or Roger Sterling, but he’s usually the most noticeable in a group of the other younger men.
Campbell is also the early show’s staunchest supporter of the tie clip. That’s the flat little bit of metal across the front of his ties, usually down toward the lower end. He’s not the only Mad Man to ever wear one, but he’s the only regular devotee.
A touch of metal in a business outfit is usually a nice stylistic addition — nearly all the Mad Men sport a tie pin or cufflinks or understated wrist watch at one point or another. Pete’s inclusion of a bright horizontal bar across his diagonally-patterened ties probably isn’t the best choice, though, and he switches in later episodes to a more modest and less disruptive tie pin (clearly in conscious imitation of Don Draper).
Pete Campbell’s Later Style: Learning the Mad Men Look
The good news is that, like Peggy’s loosening waistlines, Pete’s clothes change to suit his needs in life. The striped ties largely vanish by the second season, and his suits are broadening from thick blue 3/2s. His ties become a bit thicker as well, and he’s using a larger knot to tie them, which helps him look less baby-faced.
When Peter sheds the blue suit, particularly for informal events outside of the office, he’s actually able to play the dandy in a youthful way that doesn’t make him look like a schoolboy. He seems to favor brown, which is a good choice — it mixes informality and a subtle aging effect, making him look both at ease and more mature. Bolder patterns help him stand out without the slightly garish effect that deep and contrasting colors gave him in the early episodes as well.
He manages to look pretty good at non-business functions even early on in the series, but it’s really only as the series progresses that Campbell’s style comes together into something that’s distinctive for more than being too young-looking.
His suits broaden out from the heavy, round-edged 3/2 button jackets to include slimmer two-button models, his trousers tighten up, and the tie clip vanishes in favor of a tie pin. The lapels widen out and his ties tone down in color a bit too.
The show’s taken a few years to make by now, but Peter Campbell looks to have grown up more than just the passing time can account for — of all the Mad Men, he’s the best example of how changing a man’s clothes can change how people perceive him.
So while you may not want to go out and ask the sales associate at Brooks Brothers to find you a suit just like Pete Campbell wears in the first episode of Mad Men (although it might not be a terrible choice if you’re looking to shed a few years), he’s still worth watching as a man whose style helps redefine him over time.