The press parade for Mad Men season seven has started this week, and though creator Matthew Weiner doesn't want us to start theorizing based on the promotional images, we can infer one thing: these days Mad Men isn't the same kind of fashion inspiration it used to be.
When Mad Men started way back in 2007 (!) viewers immediately glommed onto the show's sense of style. That year, Ruth La Ferla wrote in the New York Times that a "fashion addict...would surely note that the show’s aura of pulled-together formality is in step with the look of the runways, which returned this fall to mannerly 1950s-inflected tailoring." The show's signature image, of course, is the silhouette of a man in a perfectly tailored suit.
But that is mostly gone now. Take a gander at the above image via Entertainment Weekly. Some points of interest: Stan's fringe jacket, Ginsberg's bolo tie, Harry's ascot and plaid jacket. Even relatively staid Ken has some swinging sideburns now. Now, Sterling Cooper's creative team has always been a more ragtag bunch, but even Roger Sterling is getting in on the action. Note his plaid pants in the following image:
Weiner has said that Mad Men will wrap up with the 1960s, meaning we aren't far removed from the 1968 of last season. But there's a notable difference at least in the way the show is advertising itself. Last year, the show's promotional images featured the gang all dolled up for a fancy party. Yes, there were some sideburns—Pete, goodness—but for the most part the images jived with the glamorous, aspirational images the show had been giving us. That's not to say that the images this year aren't stylized or attractive in their own way, but the clothing is a little more, well, laughable than in years past. Whereas the women certainly look groovy—anything is an improvement on Peggy's first-season bangs, and Megan Draper can rock a mini dress with the best of them—you can't imagine Banana Republic looking at Harry Crane's look and deciding to add it to their line.
Mad Men has always been a show that has played on the notion of nostalgia. It drew us into a gorgeous world of the early 1960s that was not-so-secretly noxious, we just had to see through the smoke. Going into the final season, the show may well have dropped that final pretense towards aspiration. Don Draper's "Carousel" speech for Kodak in the first season has transformed into Don Draper's Hershey whorehouse speech from last season's finale. The aesthetics may well be matching
It's more than just that late '60s clothing isn't as pretty as early '60s clothing. It's a reflection of how much Mad Men has changed, and how much our view of the show has changed with it.