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Mad Men is hailed for its realistic portrayal of vintage Madison Avenue. But the intricate sets are just as responsible for the authentic feel as the tumultuous plotlines are.


AMERICA’S TRANSITION INTO THE 1960s was both refreshing and complicated, a reality reflected in Mad Men as much by the characters’ relationships as by the singular style the show honors through authentic costumes, sets, and much more. To recreate the look and feel of that turbulent decade, the show’s directors and designers painstakingly research attitudes and trends to make sure every detail -- down to the last fire-engine-red fingernail -- is a true depiction of life in 1960s America.

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YELLOW IS THE NEW BLACK: The sunshine-yellow stove and other brightly hued oddities in the Draper family’s kitchen certainly attract attention, thanks to the otherwise muted color scheme. And that was exactly the idea. Colored kitchen appliances were a sneaky 1950s marketing scheme invented so that families would eventually want to replace items that looked dated.

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SET THE MOOD: Ceiling lighting -- save for candles in a chandelier -- was uncommon in the 1960s. So instead, small lamps and accent lighting are abundant on Mad Men, and that also helps lend to the dark, smoky look that permeates every boardroom and bedroom alike. Speaking of bedrooms, the Drapers’ wouldn’t be complete without their velvet headboard, an accessory that has made a serious comeback in stores since the show’s debut.

VA-VA-VOLUPTUOUS: Joan Holloway, the show’s most outrageous character in both attitude and (figure-flaunting) dress, models the more forward-thinking styles of the era. She stands out among a sea of bland suits with her explosively colored ensembles and her signature do -- a bold beehive of red that requires hours of on-set prep.

HOW PLAIN: Getting the ’60s right means relying on ’50s influences, because not everyone switched styles overnight when the decade turned. Plaid wall patterns, conservative dresses, and hokey home-decor pieces litter more than a few scenes; those ceramic chickens didn’t show up on Betty Draper’s shelves by accident. The appropriate adjective here is swell.

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IF THE SUIT FITS: The same skinny ties that were big in the 1980s were de rigueur in the ’60s too. The difference? Context. Dark suits, pleated pants, and shorter jackets with kerchiefs poking out of the pockets, like those modeled by Don Draper, create a slimmer and more streamlined look than anything Don Johnson sported. Touches like French cuffs spice up the conservative approach.

WEAR THE HAIR: You’ll see the barber clean cut of the ’60s on every Mad man. But how do the show’s hairdressers achieve those shiny helmet heads? No need to break out the Brylcreem; hair-department head Gloria Ponce has said that she uses an off-the-shelf mix of Redken hair gel and TRI Professional Haircare spray.

THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT: Real 1960s ad campaigns and TV programming are included on Mad Men for more than authenticity; they punctuate the drama. While trapped in suburbia, dispirited housewife Betty Draper admires newsreel footage of newly elected John F. Kennedy and his first lady, Jacqueline. And in the season-one finale, Don Draper creates a killer campaign for Kodak’s Carousel slide projector that illuminates his broken home life.

BE A PRO: Wood paneling is the most obvious accoutrement at the Sterling Cooper offices, but the perfectionist nature of the show’s decorators is best seen in the details. Drink glasses are short; unsightly cords on all electrical devices are long. True to the times, though, other elements reflect a slow style shift, like the architectural use of glass and metal.