Joan’s Cleavage, Betty’s Derby Day Dress, and Pete’s Madras Suit
An interview with Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant.
As anticipation for the season premiere of AMC’s Mad Men reached a fever pitch in the past few weeks, some discussed what might become of Don Draper's impulsive May-December marriage to Megan or whether Pete Campbell would prove to be a decent father. But fans with a deep and abiding sense of the show's priorities wondered what exactly everyone would be wearing. For many of us, it’s Mad Men’s costumes that keep us enthralled. The show's costumes function as advertisements, projections of aspirational lifestyles behind which repressed characters struggle to confront the actual messiness of life. And it’s the costumes that help us chart the passage of time, and seismic social change, from Season 1's conservative 1960, to Season 5's uncertain 1966.
The mastermind behind Joan’s bodaciously tight skirts, Peggy’s schoolmarmish blouses, Betty’s immaculate jodhpurs, and Don's slim-cut suits and ties is Janie Bryant, Mad Men's much-celebrated costume designer. Bryant's reimagining of mid-century style helped bring nipped waists to the runways of major designers, Peter Pan collars to the throats of ingénues, skinny ties to the necks of hipsters, inspired clothing to the racks of Banana Republic (Bryant collaborates with the chain on a Mad Men-inspired line), and progressive cuts to the Brooks Brothers suit (she partnered with them, as well).
In Slate’s slide show, Janie Bryant takes us through seminal looks from Sunday's Season 5 premiere, as well as some of the most iconic outfits from the show’s history—including exclusive looks at some gorgeous costume sketches.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Julia Felsenthal is an assistant at Slate.