Good 1950s Grooming Requires Effort and Attention to DetailCredit: Courtesy alsis34 at Flickr Creative CommonsCredit: Courtesy alsis34 at Flickr Creative Commons

Mad Men Style Makes the 1950s Look Cool

But Mad Men Style for Women Can Be Painful

The women's clothes in the TV series look easy to wear and deadly sexy, but a quick look at a few 1950s clothing ads reveals that women's waists were way smaller than the average 21st century woman's upper arm. 

Not to worry!

Women in the back then wore industrial strength undergarments that helped them to maintain that fabulous 1950s retro style--and so can you!

To cultivate that killer Mad Men style and fit into sexy retro clothes, you'll want to start by investing in a few basic items. These items were once called 'foundation garments', because they form an impermeable concrete-like base upon which a completely imaginary woman could be constructed.

You'll need:

  • A long line girdle with a waist cincher and  removable hosiery garters inside the legs of the thighs. Look for one with boning and an extra sturdy panel in front to trim the tummy, (or, more accurately push it into your backbone).
  • A long line bullet bra with a low backline and optional inside padding to take your bust up a size or two whilst sucking in your upper abdomen fat.
  • Thigh high hosiery in nude, black, and tan, lots and lots of it. It will be very expensive, yes, but that's just because 1950s accessories like nylon stockings that don't run easily and can stand up to rubber and steel garters are no longer available. So you'll have to settle for whisper sheer stockings that will snag and blow apart if you breathe on them.
  • Dress shields to keep the underarm area of your clothing from turning yellow. Deodorant was available in the 1950s but antiperspirant... not so much.


1950s Foundation GarmentsCredit: Courtesy Mr. Beaverhousen at Flickr Creative CommonsCredit: Courtesy Mr. Beaverhousen at Flickr Creative Commons
The Women of Mad MenCredit: Courtesy Deidre Boyer at Flickr Creative CommonsCredit: Courtesy Deidre Boyer at Flickr Creative Commons

Foundation in Place, Can't Breathe, Now What?

1950s Retro Fashion

You can breathe later, when you are done knocking them dead, oh retro Goddess.

All kidding aside, one positive fashion contribution made by the series Mad Men is an expanded understanding of what the 1950s was for women. In the past, 1950s parties attracted dozens of Fonzie characters in leather jackets and tight jeans with their poodle skirt, cardigan, and pony tailed girlfriends.

No more!

Suddenly we remember that Coco Chanel was still a star in the 1950s, the stilleto pump was invented and embraced, and waistlines were as teeny as they'd been since the days of Scarlet O'Hara. If the 1950s were not comfortable, clearly they were sometimes glamorous.

Options for retro clothes with that Mad Men style a la Betty Draper include:

  • The shirtdress with full circle skirt and tight waist. Usually made in a cotton print, vintage examples in good shape are still easy to find. If you have a fuller figure, look to stores with conservative clientele such as Land's End, Ann Taylor, and Talbot's.
  • The LBD in brilliant color. Everyone owns a Little Black Dress (or should). 1950s women embraced the LBD in brilliant colors and lush fabrics like satin, tulle, voile, and even sequins.
  • The classic sheath. This dress hugs the body all the way down and is traditionally constructed of a natural fabric like linen, cotton, silk, wool, or a wool blend. Not much room for error here, but if you need to create the illusion of moe waist than you actually have, try a wide dark leather belt. 
  • The high-waisted pencil skirt. Sexy and forgiving of a million figure flaws, this is the item that will best highlight a splendid rear view. Three inch stilletos are required, of course. 
  • The 'Picnic' sundress. This sleeveless, scoopneck dress is made of cotton or linen, usually in a bright summer print, and hugs the body all the way to the waist, then flares out dramatically at the hips. Add a headband with a bow, some white pumps, and don't forget to bat your eyes.
  • The classic 1950s suit. This option is tricky. The truth is, a lot of deadly dowdy women's suits were sold in the 1950s, and even the classic Chanel suit only looks good if you happen to weight about 96 pounds dripping wet. Look for a nipped in waist, shorter jacket, big buttons, and long lean matching pencil skirt. Avoid boxy jackets unless you are Audrey Hepburn's long lost younger sibling.
  • Cigarette pants. Great for showing off long legs, these skinny pants end a bit short on the ankle, zip down the side or back, and are usually made in a shiny fabric like duponi silk. You can actually wear these with flats, and a cigarette with a long holder is good prop. 

Classic AudreyCredit: Courtesy Fredbaby at Flickr Creative CommonsCredit: Courtesy Fredbaby at Flickr Creative Commons

1950s Accessories

Purses, Hats, Scarves, and Jewelry

Vintage clothing from the 1950s is easy to find but hard to wear. The sizes run small and most of the styles have a very defined waist in and are constructed from unforgiving fabrics. If you wear anything except a single digit size, you probably won't be able to squeeze into much if anything from that era.

The good news is, you don't have to.

Contemporary clothing with similar lines and better fit is widely available, and you can still punch it up with some hot, authentic 1950s accessories.

Watch for these vintage accessories to add a little Betty Draper flair to a contemporary outfit:

  • Bakelite or bright plastic bangles, earrings, and buttons. Try replacing the buttons on a modern swing coat with authentic bakelite in a quirky shape.
  • Chunky costume necklaces and clip on earrings are inexpensive to buy and fun to wear. 
  • Print scarves that can be folded into a triangle and wrapped around your head Grace Kelly style add classic fifties style for minimal money. Add a pair of Jackie-O sunglasses to complete the look. (Sixties, I know, but the look is right.)
  • Vintage stiletto pumps in a bright color are still easy to find, not too expensive, and tons of fun to wear.
  • Little veiled hats can be picked up at yardsales for a song and with the right outfit make a witty, Mad Men statement/


Circle Skirt and IronCredit: Courtesy Clotho98 at Flickr Creative CommonsCredit: Courtesy Clotho98 at Flickr Creative Commons
The Edith Head Birds and Bees BlouseCredit: Courtesy alsis 35 at Flickr Creative CommonsCredit: Courtesy alsis 35 at Flickr Creative Commons
You Can Wear Any ColorCredit: Courtesy alsis 35 at Flickr Creative CommonsCredit: Courtesy alsis 35 at Flickr Creative Commons