Classic Menswear and Fashion in the Hit TV Show “Mad Men”
As it enters its fourth season, AMC's “Mad Men” remains one of the best-looking TV shows out there. Vintage interiors and clothing give the series a classy look that people are starting to turn to in modern fashion — and not just the women's wear.
Enjoy our overview of the men's fashion in “Mad Men,” brought to you by the creative team at ATailoredSuit.com, and be sure to look for the individual articles about each of your favorite Mad Men as well!
Classic Menswear: The Well-Dressed Man
Part of what makes the gentlemen of Mad Men so good-looking is that they're not just period pieces. Their style isn't immediately and exclusively recognizable as “early 1960s menswear” — there's a timelessness about their habits of dress that would make them sharp-looking in any era. Men looking to emulate the Mad Men style will want to remember the basics that Don Draper and company are paying close attention to.
Fitted Suits and Jackets
The boys at Sterling Cooper have more important things to talk about than their clothes, so we don't always get a lot of detail on whether a character's suit was custom-made or just fitted by a tailor — but there's no question that everyone's suits are personally fitted. Off-the-rack suits were taking off in the 1960s, with Brooks Brother's American sack suit leading the way, but a close look at any of the Mad Men shows that they've had their jackets and trousers carefully cut to suit their bodies and styles.
A look at Don Draper's suit gives us a good idea of the well-fitted style: the soft shoulders drape neatly over his shoulder-blades without going past the end of them, and the fabric where the sleeve meets the jacket is free of any bunching or sagging.
The jacket sleeve ends just below the large bone in his wrist, allowing a half-inch of shirt cuff to show past it. His trousers sit high on his natural waist and are cut loose enough to present a smooth, unbroken front, presumably with his keys and other small items in them. While the suit jacket tapers at the waist, it isn't tight, and at no point does it come to a sharp point or crease.
While most men today see it as a luxury, this kind of carefully-tailored fit was a standard of dressing for men like Don Draper. Without the exacting fit, their style would be nowhere near as striking, no matter what other choices they made in their clothing.
Beneath the jackets, the Mad Men are dependable variations on a theme: plain white dress shirts and no button-down collars. While colored or patterned dress shirts and button-down collars have become acceptable in most modern workplaces, they were considered too informal by the standards of the 1960s. A crisp, white shirt (well-ironed, of course) remains the most formal option in business clothing, and is still something of a must-have on important occasions.
Since their dress code offers no variation in color or pattern, the men of Sterling Cooper mix their styles up with changes in the cut of the shirt instead. The show offers good examples of the different collar and cuff styles available in men's dress shirts: the basic point collar is most common, but spread, pin, and even rounded club collars are seen as well. Many of the Mad Men favor French cuffs, and sport modest but individualized cufflinks as another personal element. They also tend to be free with the idea of “white,” wearing everything from very pale and bleached shirts like the one above to richer, almost cream-colored fabrics as seen below.
If the shirts of the early 1960s workforce are by necessity plain, the ties surely make up for it. You won't see any novelty ties — no Mickey Mouse here, though the character existed by the time the show is set — but you will see a wide variety of patterns and colors in the Mad Men wardrobe. Even Harry Crane's ubiquitous bow ties are colorful. The “skinny tie” look that most of the cast wears is very period, as is the richness of pattern and general preference for muted but varied colors.
Roger Sterling's tie here is a classic example: the color is pale, but quite separate from anything he's wearing anywhere else on his body, and the pattern is varied and even a touch elaborate. Since the Mad Men are careful never to wear patterns that are too similar to those of their suits or shirts, they can wear ties that are visually quite “busy” without looking garish or tacky.
And speaking of tacky, how about that nice tie tack (also called a tie pin) Don's sporting? Several of the Mad Men like to use tacks or clips to brighten up their ties with a bit of a metallic flash.
Outerwear and Accessories
Attention to detail is one of the things that makes the Mad Men such a well-dressed crew. They don't just wear the suit and the tie — they wear the cufflinks, and the tie clip, and the hat and the coat, and they make sure that all of those elements work together well. Each character has his own individual style, but notice that all of them incorporate more than the bare minimum of business dress. Nearly everyone has a good, felt hat, and it's rare to see anyone without a pocket square gracing their breast.
Each of the Mad Men uses the details of his accessories and outerwear slightly differently, but one thing you won't see is a character who doesn't have any well-chosen adornments at all on his basic suit-shirt-tie ensemble. Take a look at the bottom of the screen from time to time and you'll see that they're also all sporting very sharp-looking shoes: well-shined, usually black (or occasionally a dark brown for a more casual look), and worn with socks that match the color of the trousers over them.
When you're as neat-looking as the gentlemen of Mad Men, even something minor like scuffed shoes would stand out as a glaring error. Their style demands — and showcases — mastery of details.
The Fashion of the Mad Men — Individual Styles
For a more detailed look at each of the Mad Men and his personal style, be sure to visit our other articles — each of the central characters has an entire piece dedicated to his own fashion! Here we provide a short overview of the basic “look” each character exemplifies:
Don Draper: Timeless Elegance in Menswear
Despite being the central character, Don Draper isn't the flashiest dresser on Mad Men by a long shot. His taste in color and pattern is reasonably understated, and his adornments are simple — we never see his pocket square in anything but a straight, horizontal fold, for example, in contrast to Roger Sterling's elaborate peaked folds. Draper introduces variety in the weave of his suits, the style of his shirt collar, and the pattern of his ties, always keeping his style understated and elegant. He's the timeless well-dressed man, impeccable but never flashy — and his suits always fit him perfectly.
Read more about the fashion of Don Draper in an article dedicated to his personal style!
Roger Sterling: Custom Suits for the Bon Vivant
Peaked lapels and aggressive patterns help characterize Roger Sterling as a lively and pleasure-loving man. His style is noticeably flashier than Draper's, though no less appropriate for the workplace. Dark colors give him an air of authority (and contrast well with his silver hair), and he tends to favor a very close fit that adds to the crisp, military look.
Read more about the fashion of Roger Sterling in an article dedicated to his personal style!
Pete Campbell: Dressing the Younger Man
Some of Peter Campbell's costumes are clearly designed to set him apart as the prep school baby of the show. He favors blue jackets, which tend to make the wearer look younger, and his extremely narrow lapels and ties accentuate his round face. We also see Dartmouth green on his ties from time to time. As the show goes on, Pete's clothing becomes a little more varied and his tastes seem to settle down a bit until he's making choices similar to Don Draper's.
Read more about the fashion of Peter Campbell in an article dedicated to his personal style!
Ken Cosgrove: The Low-Contrast Man
The big challenge in Ken Cosgrove's style is that his complexion is “low-contrast” — his pale skin, pale hair, and pale eyes risk clashing with bold color choices. He favors a wardrobe heavy on tans, khakis, and light browns instead, and he chooses a light blue (matching his eyes) when he does wear brighter colors. Because of his muted palate, he also usually wears a brown shoe instead of a black one, which gives him a more relaxed appearance than some of his fellow Mad Men.
Read more about the fashion of Ken Cosgrove in an article dedicated to his personal style!
Paul Kinsey: Wearing a Beard in the Business Office
Smooth-cheeked at the start of the show, Paul Kinsey quickly switches to a handsome beard. He keeps it neat, wears his hair so that it lines up with the beard, and leans toward dark brown suits that go well with the hair color. Since his style is more about high contrast — dark beard/pale face, dark suit/pale shirt, and so on — he tends to wear ties with very sharply-delineated stripes or other patterns.
Read more about the fashion of Paul Kinsey in an article dedicated to his personal style!
Harry Crane: Fashion of the Married Man
According to costume designer Janie Byrant, Harry Crane is meant to look “like his wife dresses him.” Despite his unfortunate glasses and penchant for bow ties, however, Harry's still a sharp-looking guy. In many ways, he's the best example on the show of conventional men's business wear in the early 1960s — his unvaried approach makes him a true “man in the gray flannel suit.” He pays close attention to detail, and always looks neatly put-together, even if he doesn't stand out as much as other Mad Men.
Read more about the fashion of Harry Crane in an article dedicated to his personal style!
Salvatore Romano: American Suits with European Style
As the Artistic Director, Salvatore enjoys a little more leeway — his clothing is expected to be colorful, flamboyant, and expressive. Where most of the Mad Men are working with two or three dominant colors at a time, Salvatore tends to wear every piece of clothing in a different color and texture. He almost never appears in a matched suit, and when he does he's likely to be wearing an unmatched waistcoat under the jacket, a distinctly European style.
Read more about the fashion of Salvatore Romano in an article dedicated to his personal style!
Dress Like the Mad Men: How to Achieve the Timeless Style
Modern men looking to emulate the fashions of the Mad Men should be starting with the fit of their garments. Don Draper and the others look as good as they do because they're wearing their clothes comfortably and confidently — almost impossible to do without a tailored fit.
Once the fit is right, the attention to detail is what sets the Mad Men apart from most modern men. Well-chosen colors and patterns, careful accenting, and good care for their clothing (ironed shirts, shined shoes, etc.) keeps the staff of Sterling Cooper looking good no matter what crisis arrives at their office.
By the way, Don Draper isn't the only fictional character we can learn a lot from. Click here to discover how to be like James Bond.