Use What's in Your Closet to Dress Like a Woman from 'Mad Men'

There’s a reason women love AMC’s Mad Men—besides the great characters and plotlines, the sets and dress hearken back to more stylish days. There are a number of articles about dressing like a “Mad Woman,” most notably AMC’s own post, but they all seem to focus on what vintage-looking retail-wear you can buy. But there's a good chance there are Mad Men fashion trends already in your closet.

Click on the links in the article to view photos from AMC's Mad Men photo galleries.

Never wear jeans.
You can see slacks in a few episodes of Mad Men (especially capris and short summer pants), but never jeans. Blue jeans were first made in the mid-1800s, as clothing for California miners, and were only worn by factory workers for decades. In fact, it took 100 years for young people to start wearing blue jeans, after they were popularized by James Dean in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. They were still socially unacceptable, and many schools, restaurants, and theaters banned the wearing of jeans. They became more acceptable in the 1960s, and were normalized by the 1970s.

Wear only dresses and skirts.
Although slacks are worn occasionally by the women in Mad Men, the 1960s were almost exclusively a dress-only lifestyle, even for stay-at-home moms. Women had started wearing pants when they took on factory jobs during World War II, but the trend didn’t catch on for everyday women until the 1970s. Some of the most popular 1960s styles featured on the show include:

  • A-line skirts and dresses: The term A-line was first used by Christian Dior, as the name for his spring 1955 collection.
  • Shirt dresses: The 1950s version was created by Dior for his post-World War II “New Look” couture line.
  • Pencil skirts: This is yet another item popularized by Dior, who introduced the look in the late 1940s. He called it an H-line skirt.

Keep hairstyles simple (a ponytail will do for a hairdo).
A lot of Betty Draper’s hairstyles actually look like they’re from the 1950s. That was a time when stay-at-home wives spent a lot of time on their hair and makeup. By the 1960s, more women were entering the workforce, and they needed easy-to-style hairdos that were more about function than fashion. One style that became popular was the ponytail, and Peggy Olson can even be seen sporting the style at work.

Pull out your pearls.
The 1960s was a time caught between several jewelry trends. On one end was the classic pearl necklace. The other end of the spectrum had mod jewelry made of thick plastic and hippie beads.

Whether single-strand or double-strand necklaces, small or large, pearls were big in the 1960s, especially for daytime wear. Dressing up a suit, dress, or blouse with pearls is a great way to make the statement that you’re a lady without having to invest in a variety of jewelry items.

Image from AMC

Old ladies’ cardigans are not all created equal.
Betty Draper can often be spotted wearing a cardigan that nowadays might be found at Goodwill. The trick to pulling off the look with Mad Men flair is to make sure that the old-fashioned cardigan is paired with something nice: Wearing one with old jeans can make you look like a 1960s beatnik, but wearing one with a new dress can make you look not only fashion-conscious, but actually stylish.

A brooch will brighten a boring dress.
If you have a dress with no jewelry to match, or that has a neckline that makes a necklace awkward, a brooch is one of the easiest ways to accessorize. Unlike some jewelry, a brooch (especially one that’s solid gold- or silver-colored) will work with a variety of outfits. Plus, there’s something about wearing one that just makes a woman look more ladylike. 1928 Jewelry offers a wide selection, as does a simple search for vintage brooch.

For those who want an authentic look: In Mad Men, the ladies always wear brooches on the right shoulder, and rather high up on the shoulder instead of on the chest like a pin.

Big earrings make a big statement.
Whether round or square, large earrings are big in Mad Men. They’re difficult to find now, as the trend has been dangly earrings for some time. But, you just might find some in your mom’s or grandmother’s jewelry box.

Headbands, a versatile and easy option.
The headband is another 1960s fashion statement that can range from classic to flower child, depending on its use. It’s a great solution for a bad hair day.

Image from AMC

Wear gold rather than silver jewelry.
Relive any time period before the 1990s by pulling out your old gold jewelry. The gold look is so popular among Mad Men fans that 1928 Jewelry even created a 1960s vintage-inspired pen necklace that’s based on the one worn by Joan Holloway in the series.

Pull out all the scarves.
If you own scarves but rarely wear them, it’s time to review The Ultimate Scarf Tying Guide in order to dress up plain blouses and dresses.

A few more ideas:

  • Put some color in your winter coat, à la Betty.
  • A white blouse can look sexy with a work skirt, as in this photo of character Jane Siegel.
  • Bring out the bright colors for evening wear, like Betty, Peggy, and Trudy Campbell.
  • Ruffles were “in” in the 1960s, like this shirt worn by Peggy.
  • Hats can be worn at church, shopping, or at parties.
  • You can be a real fashion innovator by bringing back the trend of white summer gloves.
  • A short skirt with a long necklace hearkens back to 1960s mod fashion.
  • Rose patterns were all the rage. They can be seen in Mad Men on Betty and Joy.
  • Wear a watch (on the left wrist). A watch was must-have accessory for the working woman before you could pull out a cell phone to check the time.
  • Try a bulky necklace if you don't have big earrings.

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