“You”re in their country now,” Joan Holloway told Peggy Olson in Season 2 of “Mad Men,” in the appropriately titled episode “Maidenform.” “You want to be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl.”
Joan, Betty, Sally, Megan, Dawn, Jane, Margaret, Linda, Bobbie and pretty much every other woman on “Mad Men” endure wild swings in fashion, and sometimes with incredible taste. But despite her lack of knack, I've enjoyed watching Peggy's clothes — and her arc — most of all through all seven seasons of the AMC show. Through the professional touch of costume designer Janie Bryant, Peggy was a girl, then she was the only girl in a man's world, and now she is a woman.
Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) wore a lot of jumpers, and plenty of plaid, evoking a schoolgirl, a crone, a teacher and a businessman, a melding of infantilization and the masculine. The jumpers have transitioned into new uniforms for her — now blended suits, and before that military A-lines, nurse powder blues, cardigans over square workman's button-downs, many versions of neckties and bows.
Jewel tones — even now as the last half of the final season is about to begin — represent a shift for Peggy (or, sometimes, a shift away from whatever Joan is doing). And speaking of jewels, even as her paycheck has gotten fatter, she's never been a babe for bling.
Peggy's spirit color is gold — more regal than green money, a riff on earth tones, blunt and ambitious as hell. Sometimes she sports a bold gold, or a lackluster mustard or a white that just barely eeks into a color category. Her gold is almost never crayon yellow (except when it was on her sole spaghetti strap get-up), and it's frequently tempered by literal blue collars or browns, like she can't allow herself to shine too much. Gold twinkled as stripes or in sweaters, then in patterns, and as her accents and subtle jewelry.
Her apparel sometimes changed with her men, but her men also changed with her career. When she didn't have the money to buy new clothes when she was stealth-pregnant, she instead made her wardrobe “work”: unbutton it, layer it or (in one instance) tear it and bear it. Peggy's most feminine outfit was when she thought Abe was going to propose. Her sexiest was when she tried to raise Ted's eyebrow (with a big pink bow, like a present); it was hot and weird.
The most-repeated pieces were a dark plaid print blouse with a ruffled color, cold and unsensational; a severe black knit dress with a single row of neutral running stripes that ran neck to bottom; a gold-accented neutral colored shirt with a tie, good for an array of nondescript skirts and (later) masculine vests. Her dark and plain colors days ran in tandem with episodes where she either attempts to blend in, or in some cases even hide.
An increase in salary meant righteous, sturdy and beautiful coats. Get paid, get nice coats — I like to think it's because Peggy was (literally) cold all the time. (But never have we seen her in a fur, or any fur, fringe, feathers, cutoffs, or other “organics” or “fray” for that manner.)
Her watch has gone from non-existent, to feminine and dainty, to a wide brown leather band. Peggy's hair has gotten shorter throughout the series. At the beginning, it was most frequently in a ponytail and curled; then she got a gay man to make her over. Peggy mostly does the smooth flip, and then does the curl when she's going on a date or is in want of something. The makeup game was saved for dates and presentations — and she obviously earned more of the latter gigs as the series went on.
Her split between her social life and her office showed frequently in her wear — especially during her cool hippie friends era (horizontal stripes, bold colors). Will they ever meet — not her fashions, but her work and play worlds?
Her peter pans gave way to pointed collars in latter seasons — a sign of the times, sure, as was the adoption of pants. Peggy's first pair of pants didn't show up until the middle of season 6, and she was at home. She didn't wear pants to the office until late into that season.
Peggy knows what she wants a lot of times, and consciously has no idea what she wants at others. It shows in her color schemes, her waged war against comfortable cotton, conformity and in the flow and ebb of the exposure of her skin (mostly ebbing).
She is almost never “hey look at me.” The boldness of her lack of style is almost as bad as poor Ginsberg's. She wilts into the background as other fashionable women from the office flaunt.
Peggy isn't A Jackie or A Marilyn; she's not “Bye Bye Birdie's” Ann-Margret, or “Cleopatra's” Liz Taylor. She can be classist and a buzzkill, but also knows when, well, to loosen a button. Peggy takes a long time to learn she is a prize; her boyfriends aren't her prize but her competition and/or collaborators or sometimes even her experiment to conduct. She can be jealous of success but never of a lay. She never wants to be babysat (or to babysit) but finds herself in many situations where she's caretaking grown men. She is grounded, though subject to change, which makes Peggy Olson feel as real as you or I: Peggy changes — and allows herself to change her mind about changing — like any real woman. She is a multitude with no singular mind about what she wears..
“Why don”t you just put Draper”s pants on,” Paul Kinsey told Peggy once as she went to claim her first office. She probably will wear the pants, soon; just not Don's, and in far-less-fashionable, less-expensive but uniquely Peggy fashion.
In the gallery below, Louis Virtel and I rank and discuss every single Peggy Olson outfit from Mad Men, seasons 1-7. Join us and rank as you go along; Peggy doesn't have time to fuss over her clothes. As she would say: “Stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety.”
Many thanks to TomAndLorenzo.com for their very thorough screengrabs. Their “Mad Style” section is essential “Mad Men” style reading.