Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to dress for that Mad Men Party

So ladies, how DOES one dress for a "Mad Men" party?

The block buster television series, Mad Men, is in it's fourth season and going stronger than ever. The story line is riveting and the actors are phenomenal. In the off chance that you are not familiar with the show the series centers around a New York City ad agency and the lives of the people who work there. It takes place during the first half of the 1960s, a golden age of sorts. Employment was high, housing was affordable and the consumer market was booming. As you can imagine the ad business was populated by ambitious men and women on the cutting edge of popular culture. A big reason the show has been such a screaming success is the meticulous attention the creators have paid to accurate set design and costuming. The watcher is transported in every way to the time of the story.

In the past couple of years Mad Men has brought new interest to the world of vintage (yippee!). People are throwing Mad Men parties for all kinds of occasions and the question I hear most is "how do I dress?" The first question I ask is who do you want to emulate? Are you going for the Betty look... suburban-chic and sweet? Is Joan your muse...sophisticated and sensual? How about prim Peggy or my favorite, Rachel Menken from the earlier seasons, with her tailored couture look? These are some of the main characters but there are plenty of office girls and executives wives both young and "mature" to look to for inspiration.

As the seasons continue I suppose I will also have to ask which year they would like to focus on because as we enter into season four we should be seeing the fashions change. The mid sixties saw an explosion of trends, with the Mod look at the forefront of "new" fashion. For now though we can stick with the earlier sixties.

For simplicity I'm going to break the looks into three categories.

Suburban Sophisticates

City Chic

Office Girl
If you are going for suburban sophisticates (think Betty and neighbors) there are a few looks that will work well. For casual, try a shirtwaist cotton dress...fitted at the waist with full skirt. Not too long though, just a couple inches below the knee. Full or slim skirts and narrow cropped slacks were popular. You can team them with cotton camp style blouses or matching sweater sets. Simple pearls and small earrings and flats for shoes were common daytime accessories. For a dressier look you can go with one of those iconic slim evening gowns...sleeveless with jewel or lace trims and scooped necklines or a full skirted party dress with fitted bodice, also sleeveless. Long gloves would be a nice touch and pointed toe shoes with stiletto heels would be the footwear of choice.

City chic refers to the fashionistas of the day. Joan and Rachel had different styles but they both knew the latest vogue. Joan was ahead of the curve (pun intended) with her smart office dresses and ensembles that tastefully accentuated her bombshell figure. Although her style was form fitting I don't ever recall seeing any cleavage. Joan dresses would have narrow fitted skirts cut to just below the knee. They may have a fitted bodice but never a low neckline. Often times they had a draped detail or scarf at the neck highlighted with a large brooch. At home she wore tight capris and snug fitting tops.

Rachel's wardrobe was elegant and exquisitely tailored. It whispered Paris and money to me. She wore understated classics with statement accessories. I think of Chanel when I think Rachel Menken. Suits with cropped jackets and narrow skirts in fine wools and lovely tweeds are perfect. Bracelet length sleeves with gloves and oversized bangles and don't forget a set of multistrand beads the more strands the better. A touch of animal print in a scarf or blouse and if you dare a be-feathered bubble hat. Again, pointed toe shoes and stiletto heel.

The office girls are a bit less sophisticated and Peggy Olsen the ambitious secretary turned copy writer wore prim somewhat outdated clothing, especially in the beginning. Her dresses and ensembles were buttoned up with fitted bodices and full long skirts, longer than the look of the day. They often had dainty girlish details like little bows and Peter Pan collars. She wore little hats off the back of her head and short white gloves.

If you REALLY want authenticity get out the curlers and hairspray. If your hair is long do a side part and sweep the back up into a chignon, tease a little on top for a bit of height. For medium length hair curl the edges up into a flip and spray spray spray! if it's short try parting on the side and styling some waves, you can also wear a head band. For the finishing touch find a 1960s handbag, similar to the one in the picture below.

So... I think I've covered most of it, I might just add brocade or satin matching coats and dresses, they were quite popular for cocktail and evening. If it's cold outside you just might want to wear a vintage lady like coat. After the party you can wear it with jeans, boots and cozy scarf. Vintage coats are the Best!

There really are a lot of avenues to explore. Pick the one that you think would be the most fun for you. The good news is that there is a generous supply of Mad Men era clothing on the vintage market. Because it was an affluent time in our history women had more money to spend so they bought more clothing and accessories. Quality was still important so the things we find today are often in decent condition. If you would like to learn some of the important ins and outs of shopping for Vintage look for our book The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping. It can be found here on or get a signed copy from our website. Happy vintage hunting and have a Mad-ball!


  1. I love that you elaborated on the 'mad men' look! Since I am new to selling vintage online I kept hearing words like man men, betty draper, rockabilly, boho and did not have a clue as to what was the reference.

    I am renting the Man Men series to catch up, so far I am on season two and have seen two dresses and one pair so shoes very similiar to what I have.

    One was dress worn by Peggy's sister, another a pattern that I have made a modern version of the dress. Shoes-stilettos.


  2. Wonderful, wonderful stuff! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. A most interesting and informative read. :)

  3. Hi,
    just found your blog (through catwalk creative) and this piece is great, really interesting and has inspired me to get out my summer dresses even tho its raining in the uk!
    look forward to the next one
    Check out our website for vintage homewares

  4. Super overview! Now you have me wanting to be an early 60s suburbanite!!

  5. I'm going to a business function that is themed Mad Men, Id never heard of the show but I have been dressing vintage for as long as I can remember!
    I loved your post, it was helpful to pin down the right fashion points.
    THank you!