By  on July 17, 2007

There's a scene in the pilot of "Mad Men," AMC's new drama about the lives of New York ad execs in 1960, in which new secretarial hire Peggy is being shown around the offices of the fictional agency Sterling Cooper by a top secretary, Joan. Peggy is dressed in a roomy mustard pullover and flaring beige circle skirt, her hair pulled back in a beribboned cheerleader's ponytail. Joan, on the other hand, is in the most body-hugging of sheaths — the better to flaunt her Monroe-esque shape — accented by a small sparkly brooch. Her lips pout red; her hair, equally flaming, is piled high in a sexy updo. While Joan's hemline hovers above the knee, Peggy's veers nearer midcalf. As they come to a stop near Peggy's new desk, Joan dispenses some telling career advice: "Don't take this the wrong way," she begins, "but a girl like you, with these darling little ankles, I'd find a way to make them sing. Also," she adds, "men love scarves."

Those few introductory minutes set up all you need to know about the characters through their clothing. Audiences have costume designer Katherine Jane Bryant to thank for this. Bryant has done Western-meets-Victoriana threads for HBO's "Deadwood," for which she won an Emmy, as well as the gruesome attire in the recent "The Hills Have Eyes" movie sequel, but "Mad Men," from Matthew Weiner, writer and executive producer of "The Sopranos," is her first stab at a Sixties wardrobe. As Bryant is quick to point out, however, this isn't the era of Mod madness. "This is just before," the Tennessee native explains. "All my reference books are late Fifties to 1960. Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Ann-Margret. I watched [the 1960 movie] 'The Apartment,' with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon." And, indeed, there are no whiffs here of Cardin or Courrèges, no Space-Age moon girls or wild Op-Art babes.

Being true to the historical era is key for a show like this, but Bryant notes that tending to the individual characters trumps all. "It's about what motivates them and how the audience is going to read them when they're in costume," she says. So while good-girl Peggy (played by Elisabeth Moss) is dolled up in those conservative fit-and-flare numbers (some of her sweaters come with heart-shape buttons), flirty Joan (Christina Hendricks) is in form-fitting hourglass looks. There's one she and Weiner have even dubbed "the naked-mouse outfit."

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