Last Sunday brought us a momentous event: the return of Mad Men. Much fuss has been made over Mad Men being the most stylish show on television—there are style blogs devoted to it, recaps focusing on the symbolism of each character’s costumes, and tie-in ad campaigns from Banana Republic. Mad Men’s crown remains intact this season, even as its characters step into the seventies and experiment with some of the decade’s more questionable trends.
Unlike their coworkers and neighbors, both members of Mad Men’s original golden couple are pretty resistant to change–if not in their tumultuous personal lives, then at least in terms of their personal styles. Don’s hair remains short and pomaded into submission amidst the increasingly shaggy locks of Stan, Ted, Pete, and even Roger. (Roger, oh no. Please shave.) Betty prefers to wear the A-line and shirtwaist dresses popular in the late 50s and early 60s, clinging to her housewife role and leaving the miniskirts, wild patterns, and large jewelry to the more adventurous working women.
The basic silhouette of this outfit, combined with the lipstick, would be as at home in Betty’s heyday as it is now. I don’t think Betty would be caught dead in leopard print (way too racy!), but her silk scarf collection on the show is extensive. Back then, dressing like this was a mark of conventionality and keeping up with the status quo. Today, these styles are worn with irony–recognizing the careful, tailored beauty of the aesthetic without adopting any of its buttoned-up social implications. I love that the meaning of a particular look changes over time—from fresh to dated, avant-garde to trendy, conservative to radical. Fashion is constantly shifting to suit the zeitgeist, and sometimes it’s only in retrospect that we can fully understand what we were trying to embody by wearing it.
For more Mad Men, check our guide on 7 events to celebrate the final season in NYC and step onto the set of Mad Men yourself at this exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. Follow The Art of Style by Kit Mills. For more of Kit’s work, check out their website.