Janie Bryant Dishes On Mad Men's Fabulous Costumes: 'Betty has worn many of my mother’s sweaters!'

15 May 2012 by

Madmen Cast Season 5

She is the award-winning costume designer of the period-perfect 1960s-set series Mad Men, and Janie Bryant’s fashion research is nothing less than forensic.

“I watch films and read newspapers and magazines from the period, but I also study clothing catalogues and real-life photographs of women in offices from the 1960s,” she reveals to Grazia when we meet in Los Angeles, where the show, though set on New York’s Madison Avenue, is filmed. “Then I put together a design book of sketches for every character, which is my foundation for the season. The biggest challenge is to show time passing, but subtly,” she says.  

For some characters, such as Peggy Olsen, Bryant’s costume designs have evolved radically with each passing season. “My job is to tell the story of each character through their wardrobe,” she says. “So you can really see Peggy’s dramatic progression, year to year, from the buttoned-up Catholic schoolgirl, fresh off the boat, to the ultimate career girl she has become,” says Bryant, who uses the 1960s author and Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown as her inspiration when designing Peggy’s look. “Joan’s wardrobe changes less throughout the seasons. We all know that woman in theoffice today, who has found her look – in Joan’s case, body-conscious clothes - and is sticking with it,” she says. “Whatever the fashion, you’re never going to see Joan Harris walking into the office in a shapeless shift dress.”

 

Peggy Olsen (Left) Betty Francis (Right)

Bryant’s aim is also to reveal personality traits through her costume design. “I have always seen Joan her as being this commanding force in the office, so her outfits are always in bright jewel tones and strong colours,” she says. “Peggy’s character is very complex, so I dress her in a lot of textures, plaids, polka dots, and fabrics that have layering. Betty Francis, the former Mrs Draper, is all about the façade of perfection, and can be a cool and cold character, so I use a very sophisticated palette of grey, ice blue, white, pale yellow and beige. I am very much inspired by Grace Kelly when designing costumes for Betty, as well as my own grandmother, who was always incredibly well put together.”

This season of course, there’s a new Mrs Draper, Megan, whose shorter hemlines reveal more than merely a perfect pair of pins. “This season, Megan represents everything young, modern and hip,” says Bryant, before adding ominously: “Through Megan and her friends, and their clothing, you can see the gulf between her and Don, the divide between the old guard, the Establishment, and what is yet to come.”

Joan's Roommate in Engagement party dress [Season 2]

With over 75 head-to-toe outfits for the major characters, and another 200 for background cast to design per episode, Bryant’s task is challenging in scale as well as period detail. Fortunately, she says, the numerous vintage stores and costume shops of LosAngeles offer a wealth of wardrobe treasures. But Bryant also gathers garments from rather closer to home. “Betty has worn many of my mother’s cashmere sweaters throughout the seasons, and there was an episode in season two in which Joan’s roommate wore my mother’s engagement party dress, which was made by my grandmother,” she reveals. “Roger Sterling’s daughter, Margaret, even wore my mother’s wedding dress. It fitted her perfectly, which is incredible since my mother had a 22 inch waist when she got married – although she will tell you that it was 19 inches.”


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“So much of the look for women in the 1960s was about the foundation garments, and I think that is alesson we can really learn from them, how to sculpt and shape our figures with the power of shapewear,” says Bryant. “For anyone wanting to get the look, go out and buy a long-line bra and a girdle, some stockings and a slip, and start from there.”

 

By Jane Mulkerrins

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