In Sunday’s “A Tale of Two Cities” episode of Mad Men, Megan Draper appears dressed as a dewy hippie in Don’s panic-stricken trip. While less polished than the fashionable fare Megan’s fans have become used to, her floral-printed caftan, long, disheveled hairdo, and braided headband (similar to those favored by modern sorority club-goers) convey the same dramatic kind of style that she’s been showing off all season.
Fans of the AMC hit have seen Megan evolve from an earnest secretary to Mrs. Draper, from struggling actress to soap-opera star. The character (played by French-Canadian actress Jessica Paré) has experienced a wardrobe evolution as well—leading her down a path from office prim to downright dramatic. Of all of the show’s characters, it’s Megan who’s taken to the ’60s with the most expressive aplomb. And viewers have begun to take notice: last week, Mrs. Draper’s Vietnam Star T-shirt caused a stir on blogs, where rampant rumors that she would be killed off, Sharon Tate–style, ran wild.
When Mad Men viewers were first introduced to Megan Draper (née Calvet) in Season 5, she was seated at a receptionist’s desk in fashion-forward yet decidedly modest secretary wear. But by the end of the season, she was engaged to her boss—and soon benefited from the financial opportunities he offered. The plum life allowed Megan to leave her copywriter position at Sterling Cooper Draper Price and pursue her dreams of acting, which weren’t realized until Season 5’s finale, when Don secured his wife a spot in one of his clients’ television campaigns—for Butler shoes, in which Megan played a damsel-in-distress-type princess. The commercial’s ethereal, Snow White–style costume represented a turning point in her wardrobe.
In a way, Megan’s style mirrors the dramatics that play out on her own soap opera, a fictional show called To Have and to Hold, where her sibling characters, Colette and Corinne, are spotted in French-maid getups and bright red crocheted jumpsuits. Off set, her looks are sometimes imbued with similar costume-y flair. Mad Men’s costume designer, Janie Bryant, told The Daily Beast that Megan’s shift this season “is more about [her] moving into her role as a soap-opera star, she is able to be more dramatic in her clothing.”
The character’s dramatic appearance was at its peak during this season’s episode “The Flood,” in which she wears a floor-length, long-sleeved magenta-and-jacquard gown to the Ad Club of New York’s award dinner. While the look may appear dowdy to the modern eye, Bryant says the dress “was not thought of as a conservative thing during that period. It was very chic and fashionable.” The wardrobe choice was “the first time in the season that we see [Megan] with all of her old colleagues,” Bryant said. “We really wanted her to contrast from them, with her being an actress and being in a different community now.”
Megan’s ensemble seemed even more out of place alongside fellow character Peggy Olsen’s evening attire. Unlike Megan, Olsen has maintained an even-keel sense of style throughout the series’ run: a professional, feminine, and tailored sensibility, never falling victim to the ’60s youthquake gimmicks. Mad Men’s other anchor female characters, Joan Harris and Don Draper’s ex-wife, Betty Francis, show the same sartorial consistency. (Both are avid fans of the ‘50s nipped waist and watercolor prints.)
With her signature trendy style, Megan has carved out her own niche within the show’s cast members. Her wardrobe’s frivolity set her apart in both age and interests—showcasing a generational gap of sorts. A representative for Mad Men told The Daily Beast that Megan is somewhere between 25 and 26 years old this season, while Don is 41, Peggy is in her late 20s, and Betty is in her mid-30s. The last has been grappling with her own wardrobe indecision in the wake of a substantial weight gain (and, as we saw in last week’s episode, a subsequent weight loss). By contrast, Megan is not only the cast’s most glaringly fashion-forward member but also its most superficial. Her outlook on shopping and consumption are evident even in her attitude toward Sally: she rewards her stepdaughter with go-go boots and miniskirts for each good deed.
It’s all a world of difference from Megan’s signature style in Season 5, when she was seen mostly in casual clothing at home between failed auditions. Her cable-knit sweaters and denim trousers have been replaced with mini-dresses that recall Courrèges’s most forward-thinking designs, like the Space Age piece she wore to recapture Don’s carnal attentions at a client dinner, a suggestive move recommended by her own mother. There was also the paisley mini with nude fishnet tights she wore in “The Crash,” when the Draper home was robbed. To top off the excess, she’s paired most of her ensembles with bouffant hairstyles and eyelids full of smoky makeup.
Put simply, Megan is doing in the ‘60s just what Betty epitomized in the ‘50s, albeit with a more theatrical flair. But according to Bryant, the difference between the two is intentional: “Megan always represented newness; there is a lightness to her. It’s sort of out with the old and in with the new.”
But for all her trendiness, one must ask whether Megan really has any personal style at all. While each of her fellow characters have gradually adapted to modern silhouettes, it’s Megan who has plunged—head first—into the decade’s wave of constant sartorial change. When placed side by side, her varied looks don’t express a unique sensibility but rather play straight to the era’s least restrained styles, turning the decade’s most dreamlike trends into everyday wear. But Bryant says Megan’s diverse taste means “she tries a lot of things, not because she doesn’t have her own style but because I think the character loves to have fun with fashion. I don’t think any of us wear one thing at a time, we try different things and have fun with it, I hope.” She added: “The common thread is that when Megan goes out, she wears something that shines.”