Much of Mad Men’s success is due to its depiction of late 1950s / early 1960s middle-class lifestyle, a period one writer described as “the last time hip was adult — suits, ties, and tuxedos were hip, and so was the Chivas-Regal-good-life advice of Playboy magazine.”
The era’s unique confluence of traditional adult values and emerging youth culture is particularly evident in the menswear that features so prominently in the series. This includes some of the most iconic tuxedo styles in history, the styles immortalized by legendary playboys Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sean Connery’s early James Bond.
The germination of Mad Men style was America’s emergence from World War Two as a self-assured superpower. No longer content to follow the lead of the British tailors that had dominated menswear for the previous 150 years, Americans reinvented the suit in their own relaxed and youthful fashion. The garment’s traditional loose fit previously intended to accommodate every body type was increasingly tailored to emphasize an athletic physique. The width of the shoulders and lapels (and corresponding tie) steadily narrowed, particularly when America adopted the slim-fitting “Continental Look” that emerged from Italy in the late 1950s.
In tuxedo fashions specifically, the 1940s boxy double-breasted jacket with aristocratic peaked lapels gave way to the svelte single-breasted jacket with streamlined shawl collar. The waistcoat was no longer a necessity thanks to the widespread availability of indoor heating so the dégagé cummerbund (which had previously been considered acceptable only for tropical evenings) became the waist covering of choice. Beneath this, the conventional stiff-front shirt with detachable wing collar was updated to a soft pleated-bosom with attached turndown collar. Rounding out the quintessential Mad Men formal outfit was a narrow “batwing” shape bow tie and a squarely folded pocket handkerchief.
At proms or summer dances the traditional white shawl collar continued to be the standard jacket style although pastel colors were often seen on younger dressers as were matching bow ties and cummerbunds. (Trendsetters of this era went even further, opting for tuxedos embellished with silk cuffs and satin-edged lapels, crossover neckties and subtly ruffled shirt fronts. It will be interesting to see if these styles make an appearance in future episodes.)
The fashions of Mad Men have clearly captured the imagination of a new generation judging by the current popularity of fitted suits and skinny ties. Fortunately it is just as easy to recreate the formal attire of Don Draper or Frank Sinatra. In fact this is the style of my own black-tie kit . . . and the reason I feel compelled to grab a scotch and head to Vegas every time I slip into it.
Like what you see? Take a stroll through the Black Tie Section of our Online Catalog and put together a nice mid-century colonial black tie ensemble for yourself! It’s the right thing to do, and you’ll be glad you did.