Mad Men is now brought to you by…Austin. Largely influenced by AMC’s hit television series, the suave, clean looks of late 1950s – late 1960s era of Madison Avenue’s advertising world has sprung to life with a new streaming audience for the show. The Mid-century look continues to dominate the runways, offices and streets by tremendous storm. Plus, we love its Austin ties – Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator has donated his extensive collection of the show to The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas. Here our serious series fan Lance Avery Morgan takes you behind the scenes of its stylistic success and why it’s found a new audience.
The leading hero, and sometimes antihero, of the hip hit Mad Men series, Don Draper, would be 88 in 2017. Geez, the guy had style for miles and it’s clear that the AMC television series Mad Men still has the world in a state of fashion fixation as it streams into homes nightly.
The drama that has garnered numerous awards has more been heralded as one of the finest show in recent history. Mad Men, short for Madison Avenue Men, became an instant classic. Set in the advertising industry at the dawn of the Kennedy-esque1960s through the Nixonian 1970 where the world experienced prolific changes, the show focuses on Draper—played by the square-jawed Jon Hamm—and his colleagues at the Sterling Cooper advertising agency in Manhattan.
The succinct devotion to the era is why it’s an important asset to the Ransom Center. “‛Mad Men’ is a groundbreaking program, noteworthy for the high quality of its writing, acting and design, as well as for the insightful depiction of American culture through the lens of the past,” says Steve Wilson, the Ransom Center’s curator of film. “Through the Mad Men holdings, students and scholars will gain new insights into the creative decisions that shaped the series and a greater understanding of the evolution of motion pictures.”
NOW & THEN
The simple answer? What ‘was’ in is ‘now’ and looking back on fashion, this period was what we perceive to be modern. Especially the trim suits and ties. John Varvatos, Etro, Michael Kors, Chanel, Thom Browne and others are just some of designers across the world have also been reveling in the fresh take on a classic style.
Gents, gone are the days of rock-n-roll themed T-shirts, juvenile baseball caps, and flip-flops. Laid-back casualness may have been acceptable for those summer days spent on the beach, but spring fashion encourages you be more grown-up. A tie bar, cuff link, and a pocket square proves to be the icing on the cake of the revised look of men, both Mad and otherwise.
The series playfully harkens back to the era’s movies such as The Apartment, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, From the Terrace and the 007 films where any man felt empowered, due to succinct media messages about masculinity. With only the right after-shave/porkpie hat/tie bar/two button suit-you name it, our Mid-century hero, too, could deflect international criminals and still be dressed in a tuxedo in time for dinner at eight with the most beautiful, chiffon-clad woman in the room. Mad Men makes it look that easy, too.
No confusion of gender roles in the world then. iI was a time when a man was a man and a martini was, well, shaken and served ice cold by someone clad in fishnet stockings. Classic stars such as Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and those who played macho roles, always wore clothes that were integral to their Don Juan-esque characters. And they fit like a glove. Heck, it was part of their armor, whether in the boardroom or bedroom.
Critics and fans have fawned over the Mad Men social commentary, which is both nostalgic, yet still very much tackles current subjects such as sexual discrimination, adultery, racism, and other hot button issues. All of it is veiled beyond a dusty cloud of cigarette smoke and too many twelve o’clock-tails behind closed doors at Sterling Cooper. Draper himself is a smooth-talking opportunist and sly adulterer, while his boss Roger Sterling—portrayed by John Slattery—abides to a similar lifestyle minus the suave subtly. The other cast members are Ivy League grads, transplanted Midwesterners and small-town boys with dreams of making it big in a man’s world, no matter what the personal price is to be paid. There’s a sly nod to the writings of John Cheever and even, Shakespeare in the series, where these everyday heroes suffer slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
THE REAL LIVE PLAYBOY
So, in spite of all their somewhat loveable shortcomings, it’s hard not to enjoy the one thing Draper and his colleagues do have: style, lots of style. Pizzazz, as it was often called then, seemed to be effortless. Brooks Brothers, Hickey Freeman or the myriad of local department store imitations suited the well-dressed man in his quest for gray flannel success. Until the peacock revolution of Carnaby Street’s swinging late-sixties garb, any suit, tie, shirt and pair of brogues could be dashingly interchanged to suit the trim styles. “It is such a masculine look,” shares Stephanie Coultress, owner of Estilo, a trendy Austin boutique that carries the revised clothing approach. “Designers such as John Varvatos and Ted Baker London have infused a traditional look into a must-have look that will work for now and several seasons to come.”
Though based in the 1960s, the world of Mad Men feels decidedly 1950s. If one thinks in eras in terms of world events, the 1950s started with the end of World War II in 1945 and had the longest run any era ever had, ending with Kennedy’s assassination in late 1963. The post war modernist smugness and sometimes oblique impropriety seemed more grow more gentrified by being button downed and spit polished shine. All slick as a whistle on the outside and perhaps not as virtuous on the inside, once the carpet was pulled back on the air-brushed era, is the message that both the show and the clothes evoke.
This simplicity of the fashions of Mad Men has sent most menswear designers into a creative whirl, to say the least. Slim suits, skinny ties, and the occasional fedora—those dashing silhouettes once seen in droves from Madison Avenue and Main Street, are now reappearing on runways and in the windows of finer clothing stores. And, at a time when menswear has been desperately lacking creativity, it could not have made a more welcomed and timely comeback.
Keen Etro of Etro has its own Mad interpretation. He brings color and a bit more whimsy to the serious suiting point of view. Ralph Lauren, who could be said to have been Mad when mad was originally thought old news, shows that his Purple Label silhouettes are as neat and trim as the men who wear them. Ferragamo shows browns, blacks and serious shades of gray suiting that are punched up with sophisticated vests, overcoats and fedoras to evoke a modern sensibility to the looks of the Eisenhower and JFK eras.
AND, HERE WE ARE
The fabrics of the suits seen in the series are similar to those seen now on the runways and in stores, yet more comfortable and wearable. If you ever wondered why your dad’s wool suit seems smaller than you remember it being on him when it’s pulled out of the trunk, it’s likely because it has indeed shrunk. Rayon, Ban-Lon and other space age materials were just making their way into mainstream men’s suiting and accessories by the late 1950’s and 1950’s and were precursors to today’s microfiber blends help to retain a suit’s shape, travel ability and sheer longevity.
The era’s glory and glamour can also be seen in the collections of Italian Ermengildo Zegna and Roberto Cavalli, Hugo Boss and classic Calvin Klein, too – and they all have ties to film land. Film stars have embraced the Mad look, too. From celluloid to read carpets George Clooney, Hugh Dancy and Daniel Craig are machete-like sharp as they influence their contemporary style peers. The Hollywood look complements a return to more elegant women’s dressing of voluminous skirts, flattering, lady-like necklines and important jewelry, too. Even as the show ended with the last episode set in 1970, the mod look still felt fresh and unstuffy.
An insider’s tip on getting both the Mad Men and Hollywood style right now? Buy a size smaller size that you are used to. If you are a size 42 suit, you’ll feel ten pounds lighter-and look it, too if you instead slip into a 40. It will feel odd at first – snug and trim, and you might think you are bulging where you shouldn’t, but with the higher armholes, trimmer pant and more streamlined shoulder line, you will look like a million dollars. Hopefully, more. So, what are you waiting for? You’re already a ModXMan. Go ahead and get Mad.
Photography courtesy of AMC Television/Lionsgate