Mad Men Returns: What Fashion Trends Will Characters Embrace?



Season seven of Mad Men premieres on Sunday, April 13. With the cast and crew as tight-lipped as ever, it is difficult to discern where the plot for the final season will lead. Pictures of the ever dapper Don Draper have been released, showing him smoking a cigarette on a New York City street.

Dressed, as usual, in a suit and sporting a hat, Draper gives little information as to what year it is in the Mad Men world. Season six ended in November 1968, but a jump forward in time would not be unprecedented. It is probably safe to say the season will pick up in 1969, or the very early 1970s. Important not only for guessing where the story line will lead, but for predicting the trends that will be displayed in on-screen fashions.

During this era, the fashion world reacted to real-world developments Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion explains. In defining the period between 1968 and 1975, the book states that as the economic boom dissipated, and the protest movement in America grew, disillusionment sank in — furthered by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a result, people turned away from the futuristic, mod clothing that typified a good part of the mid- to late-1960s and instead looked to the East. Hippies donned leather and suede. Accessories came from home-made crafts, and political symbols –like flowers and peace signs — dominated. The East held a strong influence over fashion, and oriental-inspired designs featured prominently in fashion shows.

Unisex clothing cropped up as well. Men and women wore bell-bottom jeans, beads, headbands, fringed jackets, and embellished t-shirts. In 1969, Saint Laurent debuted a collection with pleated gypsy dresses, tiered skirts, and patchwork prints. The fashion-forward Sally may try her hand at a similar look. Megan, Michael, or Stan could easily burst onto the scene in bell-bottoms.

Handkerchiefs were tied around the necks of models, and the loose, soft styles might feature thin belts, or pockets that hit at the low hip. Although harsh lines were considered unflattering, body-hugging designs did still appear, but of a more understated variety than what Joan has sported in previous seasons.

This image would have appealed to one set of consumers in the late 60s — who would have been loath to identify as consumers. By the early 70s, it was decidedly out of fashion to be concerned with what was fashionable. But not everyone clattered for a fashion-conscienceless world.

Another set, generally working and older women, wanted classics. It is easy to imagine Betty and Joan slipping into this class. These women would have benefited from French-style designs, which turned away from the youthful 60s, focusing on blazers, pea coats, tailored pants, and short skirts. Layering and accessorizing were equally important. For women, the ‘it’ shoe was the platform, while scarves and shawls were the popular additions to outfits.

The working woman needed a wardrobe she could wear day-in and day-out. But here, too, the influence of the counter-culture movement was felt. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum states that the structure of women’s suits was loosened throughout the 60s, resulting in shorter skirts and looser lines.

On the men’s side, lapels, pant legs, and ties widened. The skinny tie was out by the end of the decade and color was in. Bright, bold colors and patterns became the new norm in menswear after over a century of tailor-made suits in somber colors. It is nearly impossible to imagine Don Draper or Roger Sterling choosing such brightly colored pieces, but some of the younger men at the agency — like Stan, or Michael — may try the style out for work.

As the rules surrounding dress relaxed, so did the dominance of the season. Vogue history of 20th Century Fashion states that Laura Biagiotti was one of the first designers to realize women’s clothing needed to be incredibly adaptable. Air conditioning and heating allowed for greater freedom, no matter what time of year, and she designed clothes that were not dictated by season or size. Peggy might find comfort in a dress or suit that isn’t dictated by season, but by the wearer.

In 1969 specifically, brown was popular in day and evening wear. Whether it was worn as a linen in the summer — worn with white shoes — or toned to a black-cherry hue in the autumn, the color featured extensively. Vogue called the array of hues ‘intellectual colours.’ The deep brown of Don’s suit in the leaked picture may be one clue that the series picks up in 1969.

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