How 'Mad Men' Costume Designer Janie Bryant Was A Storyteller Through Fashion

How 'Mad Men' Costume Designer Janie Bryant Was A Storyteller Through Fashion

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In just a few days, it truly will be the end of an era when "Mad Men" debuts its final episode. For eight years, from March 1960 up until late 1970, we've watched Don ascend and fall, Peggy assert her worth, Joan stand up to sleazy men, Betty navigate motherhood, Pete thirst for clients and Roger wine and dine pretty young women.

Yet beyond being one of the most well-written, finely sculpted dramas on television, Matthew Weiner's "Mad Men" will also be remembered for beautifully capturing and recreating the essence of the 1960s. Much of the iconic visual storytelling in the AMC series is thanks to the vision and creativity of costume designer Janie Bryant, who has been with the show since the beginning of its run. Not only has Bryant further helped define each character through their distinct styles, especially during an era of such magnificent fashion, but her wardrobes have also informed some of the show's most memorable storylines.

The Huffington Post caught up with Bryant to discuss the characters' style evolutions, look back on the era of "Fat Betty" and how women's fashions commented on the sexism and sexual revolution of the time.

Here are six things we learned about the show's costume design:

The transition to the 1970s wasn't much of a change."It’s not really switching eras. 1970 is really about the style of the late ‘60s. It’s always a slow progression. There definitely are some changes. If you look at how 'Mad Men' looks in the first episode of the first season to what it looks like now, it does look very different. It’s all about being very subtle and understanding that change takes time. Just because it’s 1970 it doesn’t mean that people are wearing what’s on the catwalk. There are characters that are wearing clothing from the 1960s, there are characters wearing clothing from the 1950s and 1940s. I always love that combination of all the decades mixed together depending on who the character is."

don fashion

Don is the same old Don."Don [is] very much the same. His hair is still very neat. Maybe his sideburns are a tad longer. But his suits are still very tailored, the colors are very minimal. His lapel may be slightly wider or his tie, but I always loved the idea of Don still very rooted and set in his ways, and that has maintained throughout the entire show."

Promo shots are like eye candy."We do the promotional shots before every season starts. It’s all about the eye candy and the characters are the over-the-top versions of themselves on the show. I love this idea of Don being in a blue sport coat because we haven’t really seen him in [one]. In Season 3 when he goes to Italy and he’s wearing the raw silk sport coat that I designed for him. I just love the idea of repeating a blue sport coat for Don, but it’s a different shade of blue, it’s a more modern version of what Don used to be. It’s really a play on maintaining the truth to his character.

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"And for Megan, I designed the two-piece costume she wears in the [promo] photos. My whole inspiration for that was definitely, I was looking at Cher. And Joan’s dress I designed for her for that photo shoot, as well. For inspiration I was looking at Sophia Loren and Dolly Parton during that period."

From Betty to "Fat Betty" and back again.

"I love Betty so much and all of her changes and storylines. I loved Season 5, was that Fat Betty? Where she was overweight -- I’m sorry it’s so terrible we called her Fat Betty, but we did. I don’t know how, but it became a little nickname for her because it was such a contrast. I loved that it was so different from the early years of Betty. And then also Betty coming out when she makes her grand entrance at the formal ball and she’s wearing her pastel yellow chiffon gown. It was just like, ‘Oh Betty, you’re back!’"

betty fashion

"Probably one of my favorite episodes with Betty was 'Shoot' from Season 1. Betty has 14 costume changes alone, and that’s just Betty. That was a very big episode. That was before anybody knew what the show was."

How Joan's fashion comments on the sexual revolution and sexism of the era."Well, what can we say, the sexual revolution was for a reason, right? I mean it’s because of men at McCann-Erickson. You know, there was a reason why women were standing up to that behavior that was really going on constantly in homes and offices around America. But it is an interesting thing, because think about how Joan and Peggy handled the situation [in "Severance"]. As a woman, you would not even be in a situation like that today, it’s changed so much.

"That’s a dress I designed for Joan for [the sexual harassment scene in 'Severance']. When I was having my creative conversations with Matthew Weiner, he said to me, 'I just want Joan to look sexy.' Not slutty, but he wanted her to be provocative. But very subtl, because especially when Peggy says, 'The way you dress, you’re asking for it.' [...] Even though the dress is very professional, it shows off her figure. There’s no reason for Joan to hide behind her clothes. The color is very bright, very sassy and flirty in a way. I think pink is a very flirtatious color. So it was very important for the dress to possess all of those elements to help tell that story of why the men are incredibly disrespectful and then also to provoke Peggy."

Bryant's wardrobe inspiration came from the scripts."For me, it’s about the script and understanding what the characters are saying to each other, what the setting is, what the mood or tone or feel of each script is and how I can help to tell the story of the characters through the costume design. The point of inspiration starts with these scripts.

"Sometimes [Weiner] has specific requests, but he relies on me to do my job. So we have lots of creative discussions together and sometimes he’ll be specific in the script and say, 'I want chinchilla fur,' like he did in [the Season 7B premiere]. He’s very involved and very hands off and that’s great. I love that he’s so passionate because that really inspires me."

The series finale of "Mad Men" airs on Sunday, May 17 at 10:00 p.m. ET on AMC.

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