Dressing Like the Women of Mad Men Circa 1963: Vintage Fashions for the Career Girl of the Pre-Mod Era

According to the Mad Men narrative, the Madison Avenue advertising executives of 1960 saw women as one of two types — as either a “Marilyn Monroe” or a “Jackie Kennedy“. The structured, hour-glass silhouette of the era was exaggerated for the Marilyns and a slimmer, tailored, Chanel silhouette suited the Jackies.

Serious Undergarment Support for the Marilyns

To force a body into the exaggerated hourglass silhouette a woman usually had to endure an industrial-strength, corset-like girdle. The hourglass was further emphasized with wide, shoulder-bearing neck-line and the form-fitting “wiggle skirt”: form-fitting at the hips and narrow around the knees.

Joan, the newly married office manager on Mad Men, is the character to mimic to dress like a Marilyn. She wears dresses with the wiggle-skirt silhouette, and hour-glass-shaped ensembles to work; and pedal pushers with the wide neck tops at home.

Constructing the Wiggle Skirt Silhouette

A beginner seamstress can construct a wiggle skirt. Vintage patterns for these skirts are plentiful online, at sites like eBay and Etsy (they are also not hard to find at thrift stores). Another tactic is to buy a vintage skirt at a thrift store which is form-fitting through the hips, then take in the side seams of the skirt–tapering the silhouette narrower from the thigh to the hem, so the opening for the knees is just big enough to be able to walk.

Princess Waistlines and Chanel Suits for the Jackies

Slim hips and narrow shoulders lend themselves to the A-line Jackie-type silhouette. Jackies wear tailored dresses, with princess waists, in stiff fabrics, or any of the A-line, Chanel-type 3-piece suits (jacket, skirt, and shell top).

Constructing the Jackie Silhouette

Many vintage sewing patterns for the A-line, Chanel-type Suits can be found for sale online, but a beginning seamstress would find the task too overwhelming. Even a moderate-to-advanced sewer would find the lined Chanel Suit challenging. The beginning sewer may find a simple, princess-waist, A-line dress more manageable. (The tailored, powder-blue dress pictured below is one example)

The vintage Chanel Suit is a rare find at a thrift shop (often scooped up the second it appears on the rack by a vintage clothing dealer). To create the Jackie silhouette from vintage clothing, the easiest look is a straight, lined skirt, of substantial fabric (nubby wool or silk), and a cotton or wool shell top, with pearls and a high neck line, both in subdued colors: powder gray, powder blue, faded pink, dull sea-foam-green, etc.

Popular Psychology of the Era links Body-Type to Personality

A popular theory of psychology in the 1950s and 1960s, “Somatotype and Constitutional Psychology”, developed by William Herbert Sheldon in 1954, linked body-type to personality. The three Somatypes (body types) were Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph.

An overly simplified version of the theory, for the purposes of this article, goes like this:

  • Ectomorph (thin and bony, tending towards thinking and restraining oneself)
  • Mesomorph (muscular and thick, tending towards labor/working and asserting oneself)
  • Endomorph (voluptuous and plump, tending towards feeling and indulging oneself).

To define the Jackies and the Marilyns of this era, one could say Jackie (an Ectomorph) was a thinking woman, and Marilyn (an Endomorph) was a feeling woman.

Peggy Olsen’s Disagreement with the Jackie vs. Marilyn Theory of Women

The character of Copy Writer Peggy Olsen, (on the Mad Men series), disagrees with her male co-workers – “What if you aren’t a Marilyn or a Jackie?” What if you tend toward thinking and feeling? But the men at the office dismiss her theory. An omen, surely, of things to come.