Swag Men: How the Clothes of Mad Men Changed Television and Our World

Before I had any inclination to watch or understand it, I genuinely believed that the new television sensation ‘Mad Men’ was about fashion.  You can’t blame me, considering that every Sunday my mom raved not about the characters but how fabulous the costumes that “Don” and “Joan” had worn were, or that each article I saw in USA Today or Rolling Stone emphasized Betty Draper’s clothes over plot notes. While I eventually learned the advertising nature of the show, it is still impossible to deny the sheer power of the clothes in Mad Men- after all, nothing that Walter White or Dexter Morgan has done has had anywhere near the impact of what Don Draper and friends WEAR.

The 60s have come roaring back, and the old look is the new look

A lot of theories have been generated about why Don Draper and the executives at Sterling Cooper are what “every man wants to be.”  Popular ones include the women, the drinks, the money, and the status.  But money and drinking are cross professional and generational, and adultery isn’t exactly glamorous anymore.  But the resurgence in 1960s wear that led Banana Republic and Express to create their whole fall lines after the fashions of ‘Mad Men?’  That can’t be a coincidence.  Clothes are everything that these men embody: the quality of clothes points to their wealth and position, their style lends to social situations like drinking, and their exuberant swagger from their fancy fashions leads to attraction from women.  The snugger fits, better ties and undershirts, and contrasting colors have been ripped off of AMC and put on every stylish man today. The fashions of women like Joan and Betty are what makes these characters truly universal- yes, both are beautiful and relatable, but in very different ways. The thread connecting this admirable appearance is the 1960s combinations of tight dresses, subtle accessories, and striking colors that have infiltrated 21st century society after years of grunge jeans and shiny, post 9/11 era overexuberance.

The characters of Mad Men exude fashion sense that has crossed into our world.  Swag! 

The characters and plot of Mad Men have certainly become memorable, but not on the sheer level of something like The Sopranos or The West Wing. The everlasting power of this show comes when First Lady Michelle Obama spends her time around the inauguration of her husband wearing one strap dresses inspired by Christina Hendricks treads on the show.  It is when Ask Men models a style guide for their large readership after the suits in the show.  And it is reflected on a personal level for me, when I went prom suit shopping.  I was dismayed to find that Banana Republic’s Mad Men line of blue suits was far too expensive for my blood, but when I combined another Mad Men navy blue line from Billy London with a pink shirt and colored bow tie from my father’s 1960 collection, I was quickly the best dressed man at the prom.  Long gone are the days of oversized, shiny suits and baggy dresses from the Steve Harvey collection.  The 1960s have come roaring back, and now the entire planet has become GQ and Vanity Fair. We may never have the drinks, the money, the lovers, or the ads, but with the clothes, we can all be Mad Men. 

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