1960s Fashion Breakout Trends as Seen on Mad Men

March 29th, 2012

Break out trends

Source: bottom images AMCTV.com

The 1960s fashion is known for an array of key clothing trends, many of which were so groundbreaking for their time that modern fashion wouldn’t be what it is today without them.

Period shows like Mad Men scale the era from its beginning in 1960 through where its current season stands in 1965, showing how popular clothing trends evolved over the years and were gradually adopted into the wardrobes of its Madison Avenue workin’-smokin’-sexin’ female characters.

To honor Mad Men’s continuing popularity and the amazing work of show stylist Janie Bryant, I dug deep into my books on vintage style and clothing to learn what the true “breakout” trends were of the decade’s first half. From pillbox hats to leopard print and mad-for-mod mini ’60s dresses, these were the styles that rocked a woman’s wardrobe because they were such must-have pieces among mainstream America.

<< SHOP NOW: Authentic & awesome 1960s vintage clothing from eBay! 

Keep reading after the jump for pictures of  fashion from Mad Men depicting 6 of the most exciting breakout trends of ’60s clothing, and to learn the fashion history behind why these styles were so popular for their time and how you can wear them today!

The ’60s was known for shaking things up and inspiring many of the clothing styles we wear today!

What’s your favorite outfit as worn on Mad Men? Are you a die hard fan or just discovering the show now?

Let me know in the comments below, or by saying hello on Twitter or Facebook!

xx, SD


Pillbox Hats

a scene in mad men where a woman is wearing a pillbox hat

don draper and stewardess in mad men

pillbox hat from '60s as worn on mad men

Source: AMCTV.com

THE TREND: Pillbox hats were historically worn in the military or as ceremonial headgear for religious ceremonies. The hat is rounded and positioned on the top of its wearer’s head, with about 2-3 inches depth so that it adds height to the head.

BREAKOUT MOMENT: While not the inventor of the style itself, Oleg Cassini designed pillbox hats for Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, who was the United States First Lady from 1960 to 1963.

Her tenure and stylish tastes as First Lady proved influential on the fashion tastes of mainstream America, who embraced her penchant for pillbox hats in the first half of the decade.

FASHION SIGNIFICANCE: As soon as Jackie O wore a pillbox on her perfectly coiffed head, America wanted their own versions of the dainty and delightful hair ornament of their own.

While not a fashion revolutionist, Kennedy introduced stylist new fads like the pillbox and leopard print into the American consciousness thanks to the wardrobe decisions of her private couturier Oleg Cassini.

The pillbox hat would remain a staple piece in the day wardrobe of the smart woman who wanted to appear poised and pretty. While wearing a hat wasn’t a requirement of the day and many women still chose to go hatless, wearing a pillbox hat became a symbol of sophistication for the American female of the ’60s.

pillbox hats as styled by three modern girls

Source: Vintage Vandalizm / Homerun Ballerina / Kennedy Holmes


Leopard Print

mad men photo showing leopard print

mad men photo showing leopard print

skirt suit in mad men showing leopard print blouse

Source: AMCTV.com

THE TREND: “Leopard” became a trendy print worn on just about everything from evening lingerie to work-friendly shell tops to faux fur coats and Jackie O pillbox hats.

BREAKOUT MOMENT: Early ’60s fashion icon and America’s political princess Jackie Kennedy wore a real leopard coat during her reign as First Lady, jumpstarting the trend for feline fashion in closets across the US.

Because her couturier Oleg Cassini made her leopard coat from a real (read: live!) leopard, a demand to mimic the style made the animal’s population almost extinct within just a few years.

Today, the sale of both real secondhand and new leopard pieces, as well as other endangered feline cats like jaguar and ocelot, is illegal and subject to punishment by law. Only faux print products can be produced, merchandised and sold.

FASHION SIGNIFICANCE: Like the pillbox hat did for a woman’s head, the leopard print coat did for a woman’s wardrobe, making the sassy style of animal print acceptable to wear anywhere from outerwear to bedroom wear to boardroom wear.

Once perceived as just the coat of a cat, leopard print is many a contemporary girls’ favorite animal print. With a recent revival in the animal print trend thanks to the fashion tastes of modern fashion celebrities the Kardashian sisters, there’s no reason why the contemporary girl can’t add some vintage leopard rawr to her style routine!

'60s leopard print prices to buy on etsy vintage marketplace

Source: Pinky a GO GO on Etsy / Leah Found Happiness / Lola NYE Vintage on Etsy


The Beehive

two pictures showing the beehive updo style as worn on mad men

two pictures showing the updo beehive style on mad men

Source: AMCTV.com

THE TREND: The beehive hairdo, described as such because the style of swept-up, piled-on hair resembles the cylinder shape of an upside down bee’s hive.

BREAKOUT MOMENT: Played by actress Audrey Hepurn, Holly Golightly sports a luxurious beehive whilst eyeballing some jewels in the 1961 iconic vintage film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  The movie’s popularity inspires the beehive to take its rightful place on the heads of many an American woman.

Other notable ’60s celebrities further perpetuated the beehive trend, including “Son of a Preacher Man” crooner Dusty Springfield and the era’s “It” girl group The Ronettes (“Be My Baby”).

FASHION SIGNIFICANCE: The beehive do most resembles the powdered wig styles of the Victorian era, and so in a way this style was a modern interpretation of a hairstyle popular 100 years earlier.

Beginning around 1963, detachable hair pieces became popular to buy to help add fullness to a woman’s swept-up, piled-on beehive hair.

Adding hair accessories like jewelry, feather and bands was also a trendy way to style one’s sky high coiffure.

'60s inspired beehive hairdos on betty from mad men and two modern girls

Source: Callie-Danielle / AMC / Yours Truly Mag


Big & Bold Jewels

colorful and bold jewelry worn on betty draper in mad men

colorful and bold jewelry worn on betty draper in mad men

split screen of jewelry worn on mad men

Source: AMCTV.com

THE TREND: Big, bold and bling costume jewelry worn often as a matching set with formal attire. Pieces were designed to be seen and to shine!

BREAKOUT MOMENT: While 1950s style trends focused on tailored, petite pieces to wear with high-neck cardigan sets and the severe styles of the era’s “New Look” dress, the lowered neckline of ’60s dresses gave women space to wear the jewels that were stellar and that shined.

The early and mid ’60s embraced what we’d call “bling bling” today because better technology allowed for the manufacture of higher quality replicas of real stones. “Imitation” pieces of Chanel and Dior were made by mainstream brands and accessible to a homemaker’s budget.

FASHION SIGNIFICANCE: Not only did the shift from covered-up ’50s to show-some-skin ’60s grow the popularity of bigger and bolder necklaces and earring sets, but so did the trend of hosting dinner parties in the comfort of one’s own home.

A ’60s party hostess wore theatrical, oversized pieces with the more casual social styles of the day, like luxurious pants, printed caftans and floor length skirts. The jewelry was a way of declaring the event formal without having to actually put on a formal dress.

It was when the flower child movement was born in the late ’60s that theatrical jewelry lost its lustre in favor of more earth-based materials like glass, clay, leather and wood. Handmade and ethnic-inspired jewelry — versus the costume jewelry knockoff designs of Parisian fashion houses — were preferred and allowed an individual to express a more personal style.

'60s costume formal jewelry as worn on mad men

Source: Grand Vintage Finery on Etsy / AMC


Women’s Cigarette Pants

scene in mad men showing betty draper with daughter sally

scene of mad men showing draper family on couch

two pictures of betty draper in mad men wearing pants

Source: AMCTV.com

THE TREND: Skinny “cigarette” style pants worn by stay-at-home wives for her daywear activities.

BREAKOUT MOMENT: Around 1963 what was called “at-home-wear” or “leisure-wear” was introduced to the middle to upper class American woman as an alternative wardrobe for her wife-mom-homemaker lifestyle.

Rather than wear a shirtwaist dress or cotton gingham print shift from morning till night, she could relax in separates paired with lux pants made from crepe and chiffon material.

FASHION SIGNIFICANCE: Pants for women emerged as early as the ’20s, when Coco Chanel was spotted wearing pants as a fashion statement only she could get away with thanks to her designer cred.

But beginning in the ’60s, it wasn’t just the rebellious lady wearing the trousers around the house. The acceptance of relaxed, leisure fashion encouraged pants to emerge in the closets of married, sophisticated women like Mad Men’s Betty Draper.

In his 1966 collection, Yves Saint Laurent decided that the pantsuit should be owned by the lady as attire for social gatherings like dinner and drinks at upscale restaurants.

It would take a few years to gain social acceptance but by the ’70s, most fashionable women owned a pantsuit or two that they felt comfortable wearing beyond the home.

three pictures showing women wearing skinny pants from '60s

Source: Concetta’s Closet on Etsy / AMC / Haute on Vintage on Etsy


Mod Mini Dresses

mini dress worn on mad men season 5

Source: AMCTV.com

THE TREND: Mini mod dresses, with hemlines that exposed the leg above the knee and was considered socially acceptable for the first time since the 1920s.

BREAKOUT MOMENT: While not the inventor of the mini itself (André Courrèges introduced it to fashion buyers in 1964), designer Mary Quant successfully made the mini skirt mainstream by introducing her stylishly short collection to the the trendy youth of London’s Mad-for-Mob scene that same year.

These vintage hipsters adopted the trend to snub the old guard and express themselves different from their parents. Soon after the style made its way stateside, which is why we see Mad Men sexpot Megan Calvet’s sexy legs circa 1965 in season 5 pictured above.

FASHION SIGNIFICANCE: While hemlines had already begun to creep above the knee by 1965, it was the mini trend that really maximized those knee caps and the fashionable flesh above!

The mini would popularize the “baby doll” dress look, because previously only young girls wore such short frocks. This idea of adults imitating children’s style was given a name to represent the ethos of this freeing, sensual Lolita style.

'60s black mini dress as seen on mad men

Source: AMC / Luanne Vintage on Etsy



GUIDE: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About 1960s Fashion
VINTAGE MAGAZINES: ’60s Fashion as Seen in McCall’s Magazine
MODERN STYLE: How to Wear a ’60s Polka Dot Dress & ’60s Maxi Skirt
TREND HISTORY: The Top 10 Trends of 1960s Clothing
HOW TO: Dress Like Mad Men Characters from Quarter Life 202
EARLY ’60s: What the Women of Mad Men Wore During the First Season from Fashion in Motion
PLUS: Everything You Wanted to Know About the ’60s on Paper-Past.com

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Facebook Comments


  1. Kitt says:

    Love those bell sleeves! To think I had a top soo similar to that dress a few years back and passed it on. I’ve go just the skirt now to complete the look too. *sigh*

  2. Kitt, I too have passed on so many vintage pieces that I regret! eek! I have faith though that a similar, if not more stunning, piece is in your vintage future! xx

  3. Jayme says:

    I think your reinterpretation of past fashions is very inspiring. I need to point out that cigarette pants, along with capris, peddle pushers, clam diggers, dungarees, actually were worn in the late 50’s. I was around then, lol. Keep up the wonderful ideas and looks that you create! I really enjoy them!

  4. Sammy says:

    Jayme you have a great point! It’s hard to manage so many ideas into as little words as possible. Let me know then so I’m correct (and haven’t lived the era, obviously!) were pants worn outside of homewear/leisurewear in the ’50s? I was hoping to prove the point that beginning the ’60s it was more appropriate for women to wear pant-styles/slack-styles beyond just the confines of their home. What are your thoughts?

  5. Jayme says:

    I was a kid in the 50’s and started my pre-teens in the mid-60’s. I have pictures of my mom when she was a young teen (late 40’s) in denim jeans. I know that my mom, my aunt and friends wore the above mentioned pants variations in the 50’s in casual settings such as grocery store shopping, going to the park with the kids, casual gatherings of the ladies at their homes. Pants did not enter the mainstream work/party force until the 60’s when the pants suits came into play. We were allowed to start wearing pants to school when I was in junior high in the mid-60’s and jeans in 1969/70 school year.

  6. Jayme says:

    I really think the way you restyle the fashions of my day are great! You really have a knack for this, I hope to learn a lot from you!

  7. As much as I love Betty, I’m sort of glad Don married Megan because I love to see her rocking all the youthful 60s looks.

    I also love your blog – these posts are just so brilliant. I thrift a lot of vintage and don’t always know how to modernize it so your blog is super helpful to me. Count me as a new follower!


  8. May says:

    Interesting post and informative blog! :) Love vintage and vintage inspired looks!
    May x

  9. Sammy says:

    Hi Miss Walking in May, hello and how are you! Thanks for checking out the breakout trends of the ’60s. So much history behind Mad Men styling! Do you watch the show? xx

  10. Sammy says:

    Hi Gracey! Thanks so much for checking in and saying hello! I just checked out your website and love what I see because I too am a giant girl! Well, not six feet like you but I am 5′ 9″. There are good graces that come with this height, too! Let’s keep in touch. Please say hi to me on Facebook! xoxo

  11. Sammy says:

    Jayme! How are YOU! You have such a delight on the fanpage, thank you so much for also hanging out in the branches of the Sammy Davis Vintage blog ;-) Wow, would you be comfortable sending me photos of your mom and yourself wearing pants? This is important information for me to absorb and acknowledge. I will make the corrections! Thank you so much!

  12. Sammy says:

    More to come! ;-) XO

  13. Greatestsparrow says:

    Love Mad Men!!! Such great style – I wish more people dressed vintage :D

  14. Sammy says:

    I believe more & more are .. we just have to show them THE WAY!

  15. Hey There. I found your weblog the use of msn. That is a very well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and come back to read extra of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

  16. Sammy says:

    Hi Korra! Thank you so much! Please visit often ;-) vintage love xx

  17. Bev says:

    Hi Sammy

    Your blog is such a breath of fresh air to read. Vintage loveliness with an intelligent approach.

    I love the fact that you talk about the social context for fashion movements. It’s a nice reminder that vintage isn’t all about dress up. That said I absolutely adore Mad Men for many reasons, including the eye candy.

    Another contemporary favourite is the film A Single Man, with designs from Tom Ford. Gorgeous to look at.

    Looking forward to reading more…

  18. Izzy says:

    Thanks for showing this it helped me a lot for my 60’s project

  19. Sammy says:

    no problem, Izzy! Thanks for letting me know!

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