‘Mad Men,’ ‘Masters of Sex’ Costume Designers Use History to Create Characters

From the very first shot of Don Draper in the final season of “Mad Men” there’s something different about him. He’s wearing a blue shirt, after having always worn white during seven seasons. It’s symbolic of time passing and the transition of his character — and the impactful effect of costume design.

“He wore a combination of vintage suits and those I designed for him,” says Janie Bryant, the show’s costume designer. “Suits were his uniform — his armor.”

For the series finale there was a radical costume change, representing the ad exec’s vulnerability and awareness. “The costume design is an important part of him coming to terms with his true self,” Bryant says.

In the 1890s, when Lifetime’s “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” is set, oversized leg o’mutton sleeves were the height of fashion. “The important challenge was making them work with my leading ladies,” says costume designer Joseph Porro. “Another factor was giving the series a richness of detail that was true to the Victorian period, with laces and beaded trim. We went a little crazy with the hats. I wanted to see new dresses and hats on Lizzie and Emma Borden every week.”

For “Masters of Sex,” costume designer Ane Crabtree ignited her imagination by researching fashion of the late 1950s and early ’60s through magazines and films. “I also look at iconic moments in history that might inform subtly through the costumes, and then try to inject a bit of visual magic” she says.

Crabtree was intrigued by clothing of the period becoming less constricting: “I liked that people were looking to the Kennedys with their youthful energy and style, and losing the formality of wearing hats.”

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