Thursday, 20 March 2014




Since I consider the 1960s one of the most authentic, innovative, and inspirational time periods in fashion history, I was naturally drawn to the wonderful AMC television series, Mad Men. Outside the superb casting, writing, cinematography, and set design, one of the most captivating elements of this show are the impeccable costumes. A character can be defined socially, emotionally, and politically through the strategic development of their costumes. Subtle details such as the change or growth of a character can be communicated through the colour, cut, and style of a garment. Janie Bryant, the award-winning costume designer for Mad Men, masterfully embodies the persona of each and every character, main or secondary. Since the season seven premiere is fast approaching, I wanted to share with you the mastermind behind the stunning costumes of Mad Men.

Janie received her degree in Fashion Design at the American College of Applied Arts and was known as Miss Vogue in high school. After completing her degree, she studied the art of couture in Paris before working in runway fashion design in New York’s Seventh Avenue. She subsequently began her career in costume design, her original obsession, after meeting a designer at a party.

The early 1960s is considered the ‘American Camelot’ period in history, mainly referring to the political and social climate of the time. The monumental changes that occurred in the 1960s is beautifully reflected in the experimental nature and "anything goes" attitude of fashion of this time. While the array of costumes worn in Mad Men tend to celebrate more glamourous fashion trends, the variations of setting and the shifting time period enable the show to display a range of trends.

Janie found design inspiration in such innovative fashion icons as Bridget Bardot, Katherine Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe. Before each season, she would spend many hours consulting old photos, magazines, books, catalogues, newspapers, as well as classic films. She researches relevant media and news stories of the sixties in order to immerse herself in the lifestyles of the characters.

Because Janie designs up to 300 costumes per episode, she spends a lot of time in vintage and contemporary fabric shops, costume rental houses and shops, as well as vintage clothing stores. Whether she reworks a garment or designs it from scratch, each costume is tailored, literally and figuratively. She designs the costumes based on each character's constructed interests and lifestyles. In developing a comprehensive wardrobe for each character, Janie envisions their taste in music and literature, their daily routines, and what type of shops they would frequent. Janie essentially considers the characters as fully realized individuals thus proving the transformative and influential qualities of costumes.

Check out the Mad Men fashion look book here

Do you believe costumes can embody the persona of a character? How does historical clothing define our contemporary perception of the past.

Also, I decided to Mad Men myself. Hint: I'm the one in the mint green dress! ;-) You can Mad Men yourself here. Have fun!

And here's Brittney!


  1. I find it fascinating to look at Mad Men costumes as historic but you are so right - there should be a museum (maybe there is one) where interpreters would roam around with whiskey glasses and tailored suits or flowery dressed, talking about advertising pitches! How about that?

  2. When I read this post yesterday, I had just come from volunteering at the "Dressing for Downton" exhibition at the Spadina Museum, which features costumes designed for the show Downton Abbey and draws parallels between the Austin family (who lived at Spadina) and the characters on the show. What an appropriate blog post to finish the day! It is very accurate to suggest that much of our understanding of history -- especially the "everyday" aspects of history such as dress, manners, and everyday behaviour -- is informed by popular culture. Spadina wonderfully ties in these representations with an analysis of interwar Toronto history. I second Irina's suggestion that we find a museum that takes the same approach with Mad Men costumes.

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