What “Mad Men” Got Wrong (Style Expert Fact Checks Clothes)
Mad Men is among the most stylish TV shows aired, and as it’s set in the 1960s, we thought it would be great to pay a visit to Madison Avenue to see what the television hit series Mad Men got right and what they got wrong in terms of the men’s fashion during the time.
“Mad Men” Style Review
When a show debuted in 2007, AMC’s Mad Men rode a tidal wave of popularity. The show follows Don Draper, an American advertising executive who cajoles, boozes, and lies his way through the mad world of the Mad Men.
Mad Men refers to white-collar workers of Madison Avenue, which was a term coined by James Kelly in his 1958 pulp novel “The Insider.” Note the outfits on the cover. That’s exactly what you get in the Mad Men TV show.
Set in the 1960s, the show depicts a turning point in classic men’s fashion with subtle but important changes. The mantra of the age seemed to be less is more because the 60s definitely slimmed down the suit, which was cut a lot more voluminous previously. Of course, it also meant the narrow width of the lapels was mirrored in narrow ties.
Series costume designer Janie Bryant wanted attention to detail and authenticity while allowing for artistic and creative license.
At first glance, all the costumes looked period-appropriate, but they allowed for character individualization. Mad Men won several awards throughout its seven seasons, including one from the Costume Designer Guild for Outstanding Costume Design in 2009. It also got five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Costumes for Series.
Back in 2010, when we just started the Gentleman’s Gazette, we dedicated a few posts to the show but, today, let’s dig a little deeper and analyze if they got the 60s men’s fashion right or wrong and if so, what exactly little details were that were off.
The Men of “Mad Men” and Their Clothing – Don Draper (The Protagonist)
Business Suits: Typical, Not Spectacular
Let’s start with the face of the show, Don Draper played by Jon Hamm wearing a business suit in the first episode of the first season. Even though Don is the center of the story, his suits and his outfits start out as quite conventional. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, it makes perfect sense once you realize later in the show that Don Draper has secrets to hide.
That being said, the classic business suit is the quintessential testament to the 1960s men’s style. It was even the common man’s white-collar business uniform. And, here, you can see Don Draper with a notch lapel suit, two buttons, and flat pockets – nothing spectacular.
Even though the lapels are quite skinny and probably on par with what you can get in 2021, the pants are cut a lot wider. As the show progresses, Draper is seen wearing three-roll-two jackets more often which was more fashion-forward. I wouldn’t call it lapels super skinny but it’s definitely getting there.
While at first, Draper doesn’t wear a pocket square, which was probably quite normal, you can later see him wearing a white pocket square quite frequently.
Unlike in modern times, the suits back then still had quite a bit of shoulder padding. The idea was to provide a bulkier, more masculine look that was inspired a little bit by military uniforms. The flat side pockets were a typical detail for suits of that era. The three non-working cuff buttons, on the other hand, were not. They would have been typical on an off-the-rack suit, but an executive in Don Draper’s position would have likely had more expensive suits with working cuffs.
When it comes to sleeve length, well-dressed gentlemen typically prefer to show anywhere from a quarter to half an inch of shirt cuff. While that was also true in the 1960s, it wasn’t uncommon for suit jackets in the U.S. to be worn so long that no shirt cuff was visible. And, generally, in the show, when Draper just stands, you never see his shirt cuff.
While we’re talking about sleeves, take a closer look at them. Oftentimes, they’re unkempt and wrinkly, which shows that it wasn’t a custom garment for Draper; it was an off-the-rack product, and he probably would have gotten something in a heavier fabric that would have looked clean and neat in the sleeve. When he sits down the wrinkling becomes really bad and while most suits will wrinkle when you sit down, it shouldn’t wrinkle quite as much.
In my opinion, one of the biggest disappointments of the clothes in Mad Men was the fact that they used more modern lightweight fabrics and not actual period suits. I’ve never seen those suits in person, but I say that because the way the suits drape and wrinkle is a sure hallmark of a lighter-weight fabric and not something heavier, more substantial that you would have found at the time.
Sometimes, his jacket gaps a bit, which is also not something you would have seen on a high-end garment, but it definitely happens with off-the-rack stuff. His dress shirt is a classic white dress shirt from the era. It has a chest pocket. It is cut quite roomy, even though it’s not as roomy as the 30s or the 40s shirt but is nowhere near as skinny as something that you can find in 2021.
His necktie is slim featuring bold diagonal stripes and, overall, the ties in the show are very 60s. They’re slim, they have bolder patterns, and are oftentimes quite loud. Just like the lapels, they’re not super skinny, but they’re getting there. Even though barrel cuffs became more popular, even for office wear, at the time, a French cuff or double cuff was still the standard
Don Draper is seen wearing his gunmetal cufflinks. His watch has a black leather band with a contrasting face and was very typical of the era.
In terms of pants, they were flat front, which is exactly what men were in the 60s and contrary to the earlier decades where pleats were favored. The pants are also cuffed or they have “a turnip” as the British would say. In terms of pants length, you can see a bit of a break which was normal in the early 60s. Later on, trousers would become a bit shorter with larger cuffs and, oftentimes, no break.
Generationally, Draper is somewhere between the old guard and the young men, but he always chooses to wear a slim leather belt, which is more a hallmark of the younger man in the 60s. He also wears black socks with black dress shoes and typically favors the Derby shoe.
The ensemble Don Draper is wearing is very typical of the time, and the suits that the show typically gravitates between are blue and gray; very much business-like colors and nothing spectacular.
When he’s away from the office, he adopts a much more casual look. For example, here, he wears an earth-toned, vertical striped sport shirt with short sleeves and beige slacks. This portrait was extremely popular in the 60s, maybe similar to what polo shirts are today. Bold prints and designs were relatively common. So, even though it might seem like a bold sport shirt, at the time, it was nothing extraordinary.
If you take a closer look, the sport shirt has a flared collar, which is typical for the period. The cloth buttons give the shirt a warm and casual feel and the breast pocket is good for his aviators, which you can see many times throughout the show. On closer inspection, you can also see a shallow tail, which was meant to be worn untucked. And, at the time, the whole fashion of wearing a shirt untucked became more casual, became more popular.
The gold watch he wears with a brown leather band looks more like a gold Reverso. The trousers are fitting and have no break and are typical for the casual style at the time. The dark brown leather belt has silver hardware. The shoes are loafers with prominent stitching, which underline the casual character. The socks have kind of a linear pattern to them.
Overall, it’s good casual footwear and a good period-authentic outfit for the time.
Sport Coat: Typical in The 1960s
Don also wears something in between a business suit and a sports shirt, which is a sport coat. He particularly wears it for more casual work. You can see a houndstooth and Prince-of-Wales jacket-inspired sport coat with a bold red overplaid.
It’s not quite as loud as a Madras jacket, but it’s still quite bold, and it’s something that men wore at the time.
White Dinner Jacket & Tuxedo: Accurate For The Time
In one scene you can also see him donning a white dinner jacket with a very narrow shawl collar. Black tie in the 60s was still more prevalent than it is today. This one is a single button jacket with a shawl collar and, interestingly, it has flat pockets, which is not something a dinner jacket should ever have.
Personally, I prefer a much wider collar, but it’s period-accurate. In the US, dinner jackets were usually reserved for Southern states. But, for resort wear or yachting, it was definitely something that was worn. In New York or in the Hamptons, you would see white dinner jackets, especially during the warmer months of the year.
In close-ups, you can see he has a pleated shirt front that’s traditional with gold shirt studs, which are also traditional. Today, a skinny dinner jacket would probably be worn with a fly-front tuxedo shirt. But, the proper way is to have shirt studs.
If you look at the bow tie, you can see it’s quite slim and it almost looks just like a bar. Upon close inspection, you can see that the knot is slightly slimmer. It’s called a “batwing” style, and the slim ones were just popular in the 60s. Today, the batwing is a little wider.
The look is completed by black shoes and black trousers. But, traditionally, tuxedo pants worn with a dinner jacket have a gallon strip on the side, which this ensemble does not have. He also doesn’t wear a pocket square, which is quite common.
And sometimes in the 60s, you could also see men, like Stanley Baker, with a contrasting pocket square and a continental tie, which was also a short fad in the 60s for dinner jackets.
Hats: Rarely Worn
Unlike Roger Sterling or other older characters in the show, Don Draper doesn’t consistently wear a hat, but he does so occasionally. When he does, he favors a narrow-brimmed felt fedora, which was popular at the time.
Overall, Don Draper’s outfits seem to be period-accurate at first, but once you take a second look and focus on the details, you’ll see all the flaws. Also, if you look beyond the clothes and hone in on the accessories, you’ll, for example, see that he’s wearing a Sapphire Crystal Explorer 1 watch from Rolex, which, at the time, was just up and coming. This particular model wasn’t introduced until the 90s. So, obviously, plain wrong.
Roger Sterling: Best with Bold Details
Next up, let’s look at Roger Sterling, played by John Slattery. The scion of an advertising agency, Roger Sterling’s wealth made him into a privileged person that to some level, a rake, which is reflected in his clothes.
He’s older than Don Draper and, because of that, the styles are often a little older but, nevertheless, he’s someone who pays attention to his clothes.
Three-Piece Suits: Age- and Period-Appropriate
He likes to wear three-piece suits. He also pulls off double-breasted suits, which were more unusual in the 60s, but in line with what an older man at that time would have worn. He was seen wearing a slate blue, double-breasted suit with fine stripes in pale gray and orange.
The lapels are not super wide but still wider than what Don Draper wore. He wears the bottom button of the suit undone, which is a style you often see today, and it’s influenced by the casual sprezzatura. But, in the 60s, men would have worn double-breasted suits buttoned on both buttons. It would have just been the proper way to do it, especially in a business environment on Madison Avenue.
The pockets are jetted, which is more formal and in line with a more formal double-breasted silhouette. Sterling also likes to wear pocket squares.
He definitely likes his club collars and collar bars or collar pins. The collar also has eyelets for the collar bar, which clearly sets it apart as bespoke as it wasn’t something you would have typically found off-the-rack. At the time, collar bars were maybe a little more old school, and collar pins or clips had become more popular.
His shirt also has French cuffs, and he wears them with bulkier metal cufflinks. His tie is a little more fashion-forward. It has this kind of silver, palish-blue with a fairy dust medallion detailing, which is very defining of the 60s. They just had lower ties, that were bolder, and more unique. Even though it’s offset by the rest of the formality of the outfit, the tie really dates this outfit very quickly.
He is also seen in an outfit with a little gap on top of the tie knot, which looks particularly bad in combination with a collar bar because the viewer’s attention is drawn to it. So, if you wear that, make sure your knot looks neat and is tied tightly.
Accessories: Most Bold In The Series
His wristwatch is rounded, more conservative with a dark band. And it’s hard to tell exactly what it is. While we can’t see it in this outfit, Sterling often likes to wear his three-piece suits with a belt, which is not a good idea because it doesn’t make your vest lay flat. A clotheshorse like Sterling would have known that at the time, and he would have worn suspenders with it. So, again, a detail they didn’t get quite right.
In general, Sterling is probably the boldest with his accessories. He has these big, gold wristwatches with chunky gold bracelets and a pinky ring, and a collar bar and cufflinks. While all of these were available at the time and popular, they were typically more of a sign of conspicuous consumption and wealth.
Pete Campbell: Classic with Ivy/Prep Silhouettes
Let’s look at Peter Campbell as played by Vincent Kartheiser. The young go-getter, Pete Campbell is a foil to Don Draper. He wants to look the part of the young, successful businessman. At times, he kind of emulates Draper and, at other times, he wants to clearly be different.
One could argue that there are definitely prep influences in his outfits.
Business Suit: Modern in Silhouette
We first see him in a lighter-than-navy blue suit with two buttons and skinny lapels with a somewhat elevated gorge. There’s no lapel buttonhole, but it was common on those skinnier lapels at the time.
Unlike Roger Sterling who typically wears a pocket square, Pete Campbell hardly ever wears one. Maybe they’re supposed to show him as the younger, dynamic person, who skips the hat and the pocket square.
Even though the shoulders of the jacket seem a bit more natural than Don Draper’s, it’s part of the look. It’s cut a little slimmer, a little more fashionable, and the jetted pockets make it a little more streamlined. He also has just two cuff buttons, which are non-working and were something often associated with the Ivy League style at the time.
Just like with Draper’s suit, he has faux cuffs and I would guess that Campbell would have had working surgeon cuffs on his jacket. His shirt has a slight spread collar, which works really well for his thin frame. His necktie features modern diagonal stripes in earth tones and blue, which were very popular color palettes in the mid-century tie aesthetics. His tie bar is chrome and so are his cufflinks – again, something rather popular at the time.
Trousers are slim cut, fashionable, and have hardly any break at all. Overall, Campbell’s suit is rather modern, and it reflects his younger age in the show very well. The lighter, medium blue color was also a noticeable departure from the classic navy suit. It resembles a suit worn by Alain Delon in the 1960s movie “Plein Soleil.”
Madras Jacket: A Hint of Prep Style
As a younger chap, Campbell was not afraid to wear bolder jackets such as these Madras jackets for a festive event. Madras first became popular in the 1930s in the US, but experienced a resurgence in the 50s and 60s.
It’s also a fabric closely associated with a prep look and the color scheme of orange is also picked up in his tie. He doesn’t wear a pocket square but, with a sport coat that bold, you don’t need that.
If you take a closer look, the sleeve pattern doesn’t match the body pattern, which at the time, most upper-end jackets would have paid attention, because pattern matching is a hallmark of quality workmanship.
Lane Pryce: Comfort with a British Touch
If you compare Campbell’s suits to the ones of Lane Pryce you can see a clear difference. Lane is the older, senior partner at the firm, who is originally from Britain. And because of that, his style is much more heavily influenced by the British. So, you can see him wear tweed or glen shag or contrasting moleskin vests.
At the time, tweed was still more associated with country looks rather than office wear though. Today, if you’re wearing a tweed jacket to the office, you’re probably better dressed than 95 of the other people there.
You can see him wearing a reddish tie with a white shirt, a charcoal suit, and a contrasting gray vest. These types of odd ensembles were quite popular with the British. Personally, I love contrasting vests with suits or combinations. They really make it super easy to change the look entirely without having to overhaul your suits.
The waistcoat is somewhere in between a gray and a beige with a certain pebbled pattern and these reflective Mother of Pearl buttons create visual interest. If you look closely the lapels are quite slim and the gorge is rather high, which was more of a modern cut. Considering that they wanted to invoke a more old-school style, I would have expected a wider lapel and a lower gorge.
Lane also likes his accessories but rather than a wristwatch, he goes with the old-school pocket watch and the lapel pin. He also likes tie stick pins, which our guide to tie accessories covers more of.
When you take a closer look at his trousers, you can also see a common problem throughout all the Mad Men outfits. It is the height of the trouser rise. Traditionally in the 1960s, men would have worn high-rise trousers that set closer to the natural waist. In Mad Men, you can see these are all lower-rise trousers, which leads to a bunch of problems. For example, with Roger Sterling, you see his belt buckle and even for Lane Pryce, you can see his dress shirt poking out at times when he’s sitting.
Bert Cooper: Underlining Power by Breaking Rules
The outfits of Bertram Cooper, which is personified by Robert Morse, are also quite interesting as a senior partner of the firm. Bertram enjoys several privileges. He doesn’t show up that often, but when he does, you can tell he’s eccentric because he often walks around his office in just his socks.
He is seen in a taupe-colored suit with contrasting elements. He wears a blue and purple gingham shirt, which would not have been quite office-appropriate at the time. He also wears a speckled navy or bluish bow tie and a blue pocket square.
Cooper’s fan of the four-peak fold and he wears a steel watch with a leather wristband. He definitely breaks a style rule here or there, but I can totally see how the costume designers wanted to emphasize his position and “I don’t give a damn about what you guys think about me because I’m above you and I can dress the way I want.” One could even argue it’s a kind of power play on his part, even though he seems to be a little too nice for that.
Ken Cosgrove: Youthful and Dynamic Style
The younger supporting actor is Aaron Staton who plays Ken Cosgrove. About the same age as Campbell, he’s young and ambitious and wants to leave his mark. He wears the latest styles, thinner ties, and it underlines his youthful dynamic.
In this outfit, his button-down shirt collar, paired with a taupe suit and orange, red, and pale blue, diagonal-striped tie that is rather skinny, highlights that mid-century color palette. Button-down colors were originally popularized by polo players and then, Brooks Brothers took it over and made it their hallmark shirt.
Paul Kinsey: An Unconventional, Creative Type
Paul Kinsey’s character, as played by Michael Gladis, is interesting for a number of reasons. First off, he wears a beard, which was highly unusual in the 60s, and then, his clothing choices are different from the rest of the Mad Men, too.
For example, he has this checked sport coat with this kind of pale yellow shirt and an orange striped tie with brown trousers. Generally, this is not a combination you’d have worn as a copywriter at a prestigious firm like Sterling Cooper in the 60s.
However, he as a person is, oftentimes, more alternative and thinks differently than people at the firm, and so, I think the costume designers wanted to underline his different thoughts by wearing different clothes.
Salvatore Romano: Heavy Italian Influence
Personally, I find Salvatore Romano’s style, which is played by Brian Batt, quite interesting, especially a continental style with a heavy Italian influence. As an Italian who’s a closeted gay man, he personifies that kind of stylish take on things.
You can see him with a brown striped jacket, slate trousers, and a graphite waistcoat. Overall, he likes rich and plush fabrics with trim cuts that always look very neat. He also likes to wear bolder shoes in rust colors and browns that pop more than the black ones Don Draper wears.
It’s likely the costume designers wanted to emphasize his Italian heritage and the fact that he was an artistic director. Personally, I think they went a little overboard, and, likely, a man in his position wouldn’t have dressed that way in the 1960s. Maybe a little quieter, but not quite like it. Nevertheless, understand why they did it and I think they did a good job; not necessarily from a term of period accuracy, but from a holistic view.
Harry Crane: Still Learning the Style Ropes
Next up is a Harry Crane as played by Rich Sommer. Harry Crane with his patchy face, his glasses, and his slicked hair, slightly oversized jackets, exacerbate his mass and don’t make him look favorable. Harry tries to emulate Ken and Pete and wants to be like them, but he’s clearly not. And that message is also communicated by his clothes, by his choice and fit.
For example, his jacket cuffs have two buttons, but he doesn’t look preppy. Sometimes, you can also see him wearing short sleeve shirts under his jacket, and it just shows that he doesn’t quite know the rules and he seems like a little boy in a field of men. In terms of man’s fashion, Crane has a lot to learn and it’s a shame the Gentleman’s Gazette wasn’t around for him when he needed it most.
Is Mad Men’s Clothing Historically Accurate?
I think they do a good job at creating an entire atmosphere that reads like the 1960s. There are literally few sartorial howlers or obvious mistakes, and they generally get everything right.
Most fashion trends of the 60s are presented in one way or another, and they paid attention to the lapels and the ties and the jackets and the watches and so forth. However, men’s fashion, in general, and in this decade, in particular, heavily relies on the details, and this is where Mad Men, oftentimes, shows that it doesn’t pay full attention to those little things.
As I said before, probably the biggest disappointment is the modern lightweight fabrics. They just don’t drape the way 1960s fabric would have. Trousers are cut consistently too low and not with a higher waist that would have been typical for the period.
Likewise, they failed to show the difference in status and position on their clothes. For example, both Roger Sterling and Harry Crane have jackets without working sleeve cuffs. In reality, Roger Sterling would have had cuffs that were surgeon cuffs and that you could open versus Harry would have gotten the cheaper off-the-rack jacket.
I think they’re just missed opportunities to show the difference in status, and that’s just not something they may be paid attention to or maybe it wasn’t part of the budget. I don’t know.
Even if you’re not a watch guy, the fact that Don Draper is wearing a Sapphire Crystal Rolex Explorer 1 that came out of the 90s when Mad Men was set in the 60s and later 70s, is just plain wrong and inexcusable.
I would have loved to see the older characters see more suspenders and just the youngers wear belts to highlight that generational movement and divide between the older generation and the younger one. I think they did it really well with hats, for example, where Sterling wears hats, Pete Campbell doesn’t, and Don Draper wears it occasionally, and they missed out on the suspenders.
Sometimes, I can also see how they used costumes to creatively underline their characters, and so, they may have intentionally chosen non-period clothing to just make a point.
So, ultimately, Mad Men does a great job of superficially portraying 1960s men’s fashions, but maybe, just like with its main character, don’t look too closely at the details; you may not like what you find.