Mad Men season 1_Christina Hendricks op art dress_front mid.bmp © 2009 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Mad Men: Christina Hendricks’ Op Art Blue Dress (S1)

As office vamp Joan Holloway, Christina Hendricks gets the lion’s share of provocative outfits on 1960s set TV drama Mad Men. And although her delectable figure is probably more curvy fifties than straight-up-and-down sixties, Christina rocks this dress like it was made especially for her.

This particular outfit is actually a break from her character’s norm. It’s brighter, younger and trendier than Joan’s typical attire. Still sexy, but fun with it; evocative of a time when the division between formal and casual clothes was collapsing for good:

Medium blue dress finishing just below the knee, fitted bodice, buttons to low-waist seam. Cap sleeves, low square neckline with grey/white/red tartan print attached scarf. Blue/white/red op-art print on the bodice. Gold leaf and pearl broach.

Christina Hendricks is one of the few women on Mad Men not to be wearing a ‘Sweater Girl’ bra. These are an strongly recognisable component of the series’ female look; costume designer Janie Bryant skilfully using what we cannot actually see to fire our imagination. At no other period in history could leering eyes so easily be taken out with a well timed sneeze. Miss Hendricks though, not to put too fine a point on it, really does not need one.

Bryant said she modelled Joan’s style on shapely actress Sophia Loren. This might not be readily apparent in her overall look, here especially, but in spirit the similarity is obvious.

The scarf on this dress is the most interesting detail. It looks elegant, but clearly does not match the overall semblance: op art, as it is, with tartan. On closer inspection the rear of the neckline looks a little hastily stitched.

One possibility is that the scarf was added by Bryant to make the dress more suitable for an office workplace barely out of the fifites. This neckline would be too low to be considered proper without it, even for Joan.

An op-art print on a garment from this time is undeniably early. Yves Saint Laurent brought out his famous op-art Mondrian dress in the mid-1960s, causing a raft of copies to hit boutiques from London’s Kings Road to New York.

Yet, as with all the clothes on Mad Men, this outfit provides instant character recognition. When placed alongside the dreary brown ensemble of her repressed friend Caroll (Kate Norby), forward thinking Joan incarnates the modern ‘It girl’ in a second: provocative, but confident in who she is.

Moreover, sixties-allied fashion innovator Mary Quant actually opened her first shop back in 1955; so dating anything around this time is nowhere near the exact science some might think it is.

One final point worth noting is that when Joan gets dolled up for her night ‘out’ (boom, boom) with Carol, she wears a classic black jersey dress. Even with the disintegration of casual and formal in the workplace, for a girl under the evening glare of the big city, an LBD was still the done thing.

Honestly, it still is.

© 2009 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.