We caught up with Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant, who impressivly designs (and redesigns!) custom pieces for each character on the show, to talk about the eye-grabbing fashion from Sunday's series finale. "I was so happy with the whole entire episode," she tells us. "I couldn’t believe there were so many costumes in one episode."
Below, Bryant dishes on her favorite looks from the finale, and a few sartorial surprises that may have gone unnoticed. Read on—you'll have a whole different outlook on the episode, we promise!
I can't believe it's over! How do you feel today?
I feel amazing! Last night as we were watching the finale at the Ace Hotel on this huge screen I was definitely feeling emotional. I cried at so many of the scenes. But today, I feel very satisfied.
Are you happy with the ending?
The whole episode was incredible! It was so uplifting, hopeful, and joyful. I was talking with my husband about Betty … I feel like it was even a happy ending for her because there is no way Betty was ever going to feel comfortable getting old. I felt Betty would’ve been more miserable as an old lady.
What was your favorite look from the finale?
I’m going to have to say Trudy. It was such an amazing moment [above] and I just had the best time creating that whole ensemble for her. The whole design of that shot … I just loved it so much. My inspiration for that costume design moment was Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Trudy was wearing a pink wool ensemble, which was a dress and coat with chinchilla fur trim and a chinchilla hat. When I was sitting watching it in the theater and she walked out of the car, people were just gasping. It was such an incredible moment.
There were a lot of different moods going on in the episode. What was the most challenging part for you?
I think that probably the most challenging part of designing that episode was when Don goes to the retreat—all those different characters! It was about trying to create those elements of realism and people who were really there. It was a combination of business people, hippies, young and old people, musicians, artists … there are so many different types of people that were there at that time. Recreating all of those scenes was very challenging.
I particularly loved the red bows in the girl's hair. What was your inspiration for each look?
That was a huge part of that whole episode, how Don was inspired by being at the retreat. Part of my challenge in designing that part of the episode was that I knew that the Coca-Cola commercial was going to be at the end. It was all about having nods or hints from the people who were cast. If you look at the Coca-Cola commercial and then watch the episode, you can spot background extras that match the people in the commercial. It was all in a reference to Don’s inspiration for the commercial that we see at the end. The red ribbons were very noticeable and that was no coincidence. It’s sort of a "Where’s Waldo" moment.
Wow. Now I really can't wait to re-watch it. Another look that caught my eye was Don's jean jacket.
The jean jacket was just an expression to show that Don was getting things along the way as he traveled to California. The idea was about him shopping at local country stores while he was on the road. You know how if you go to an agricultural store and they sell everything there? Everything from horse feed to farming equipment, it was basically that idea. The other part of that look is that all seven years we see Don in his suit, which is like his armor. This was really the first time that his armor is gone. I love that idea of him releasing his suit of armor and just getting down to the true roots of who he really is. Also, Don is the one who is really a country boy—he was born on a farm and he grew up on a farm, so that jean jacket is an expression of who he truly is.
We also see Peggy switch gears in terms of the way she dresses. She was in darker colors than usual.
It was the autumn of 1970, so I also wanted to express the transition. I did that with her color palette. And in terms of her story line, it was important for her to really feel very empowered. For that whole episode I really wanted it to be about Peggy’s empowerment, and if you notice, her costumes are more feminine, so it leads up to Stan’s confessing his love for her. I wanted Peggy to be more beautiful than we’ve ever seen her but also very strong while having those elements of romance.
One of my favorite looks for Joan was the red dress she wore to lunch with Ken.
I die for that dress! That was a vintage dress that I redesigned for Joan. I had to have Joan in red for the last episode—I had to! It was such a strong moment for her. I was so proud of that whole episode for Joan. You can just see her gaining that strength with every single scene.
The fashion on Mad Men has made such an impact on the industry. It's been incredible. If you could sum up your experience as the Mad Men costume designer, what would you say?
I would say one word: epic. That's what it really feels like, just looking back on it all.
Did you know going into this project that it would be as big and successful as it is today?
No! I had no idea! It's so incredible how with each season it just felt like the recognition of the costume design just grew and grew and grew. I can only describe it as being epic, in terms of the amount of work and all the experiences that I've been able to have with the recognition of the costume design. It's been such an amazing journey. I've always been so appreciative to the people that are so fanatic about the costumes. It's just amazing.
We at InStyle have always been such a fan of yours and the shows, and it's been so great chatting with you for years now. I'm sad it's over!
Well, you know, who knows ... maybe we'll be chatting about something else really soon.
We sure hope so! Still not ready to let go of Mad Men? Walk down memory lane by browsing through our gallery of the 40 best Mad Men looks ever.