Thursday, 16 May 2013

Mad Knitted Style

If you watch Mad Men, you've almost certainly admired the costuming. Have you ever wondered if you could knit a replica of a Mad Men costume piece? If you have, get in line. There are loads of knitters making Mad Men-inspired projects. It's no surprise, of course. Mad Men is a show as much admired for its fantastically detailed and period accurate costuming and set design as it is for its excellent writing and acting. So many of those costumes look so damn good that the show has been a huge and pervasive fashion influence, with Banana Republic even partnering with Mad Men's costume design Janie Bryant to introduce entire Mad Men-esque clothing lines. A sewing pattern for a blouse I was making last fall referenced the show in its instructions.

I am finding as the sixties wear on in the world of the show that the costumes and set designs are becoming, though no less historically correct and impeccably rendered, less visually appealing. My theory is that this has less to do with changing and less classic fashions of the late sixties than with Janie Bryant's efforts to depict the ever-growing complexity, moral compromises, tension, and pain of some of the main characters' lives. Janie Bryant's work is setting a whole new standard for costume design — not only do her costumes recreate the look of an era and the very specific socio-economic status of each character while remaining grounded in realism (i.e., the characters don't get whole new wardrobes each season), but they also point up the show's narrative and themes and even add poetic layers to them. Fashion bloggers Tom and Lorenzo are doing a wonderful series of Mad Style posts in which they analyze the costumes; if you are a fan who hasn't read these posts, I can't recommend them enough. Tom and Lorenzo were actually one of my sources of inspiration for launching this blog; I wanted to write about knitting and knitting-related matters in the kind of smart, insightful, and entertaining way that they do about style.

But I digress. If you'd like to plan a Mad Men knitting project, there are a couple of approaches to take. The first way is to recreate a Mad Men knitwear item exactly. It won't be too hard to do. Sweaters such as these, worn by Don and Megan Draper, are classics and will look perfectly appropriate in 2013. There will be a lot of really similar patterns available on Ravelry or in the public library or in your own pattern collection that are very much like these and can be adapted into a near-pefect replica.

Sweaters such as those above are less elegant but have their own appeal, especially if you like a little hipster kitsch in your wardrobe. Love that "dorky but loveable" stepdad thing you're working there, Henry Francis.

If you like Peter Campbell's secretary Hildy's mittens from the season three episode "The Grown Ups", the blogger at Very Pink has recreated them nearly exactly and generously shared the pattern with us all. She even went to the trouble of recreating the "waking up Pete" shot, which made my day. I find the shot with the dog much more appealing the the one with Peter. That dog probably has a better understanding of the concept of fidelity and more self-control than Peter Campbell ever will.

Another route to creating a Mad Men style project is to make a knitted replica of a Mad Men costume that's not knitted. The blogger at Skiff Vintage Knitting Patterns did an excellent job of recreating Peggy Olsen's fantastic little office dress as a sweater, and says she may go all the way for a future project and knit an entire dress like it.

These are some wonderful Mad Men looks I'd love to see rendered in yarn.

...and here's a look I have seen rendered in yarn, and wish I hadn't. I keep imagining Jessica Paré's expression when she was shown this and told she was going to be wearing it in this episode.

The other route to Mad Men knitted style is to consider the Mad Men look a starting point and proceed from there to create a version that is updated and/or customized to the individual looks and style of the wearer.

Best of luck with your Mad Men-inspired knitting endeavours, and feel free to post about or link to your efforts in the comments!


  1. Just about ready to plan my first sweater really attracted to three pieces first 2 here two color and abstract patterning join then the White field with conceptual patterns like a blank major

  2. Great post! Love this show and it's wardrobe! Sadly, the Jordana Paige link doesn't work. :(