“Where are you from?”
It’s a question I get a lot, as it’s hard for me to hide my Southern drawl.
Only this time, it was “Mad Men” costume designer Janie Bryant who was asking.
Turns out she’s from Tennessee, and she got mad (see what I did there?) when I suggested she didn’t seem to have a strong Southern accent.
I was a little embarrassed when I got home and read my now-signed copy of her style guide, “The Fashion File,” in which she mentions growing up in Tennessee in the very first sentence.
I picked up Bryant’s book last Thursday on the way to the “Mad Men” Cocktail Party at the Banana Republic store at The Grove for the debut of Bryant’s collection inspired by the hit TV show. Loyal Banana Republic shoppers were invited to the cocktail parties held at Banana Republic stores across the country. I had learned through Twitter and Facebook that Bryant would be making an appearance at The Grove location, so I decided to pick up her book on the way in hopes that she would sign it.
Bryant is perhaps the most well-known costume designer since Patricia Field, who is responsible for the styles in “Sex and the City,” “Ugly Betty” and the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.”
“Mad Men,” which is on AMC, is set in an advertising agency in New York in the 1960s, a time when men wore three-piece suits and hats, and women wore tailored dresses, gloves and cone-shaped bras.
Bryant has said in interviews and in her book that her grandmother’s and mother’s styles influence the wardrobes she chooses for the show’s icy but perfectly dressed character Betty, who is played by January Jones. (Kenley insists I insert a “schwing” here for good measure.)
Growing up in the South myself, I’ve noticed that women are still heavily influenced by the tailored styles of the ’50s and ’60s.
I remember my mom advising me I shouldn’t go out without putting on lipstick. (In a small show of rebellion, I rarely wear lipstick and prefer Chapstick or lip gloss instead.) Or asking whether I planned to go out in that? Not because my chosen outfit was too revealing, but because I wasn’t dressed up enough. (I still have a love for dressed-down jeans, but I’m known for never stepping foot outside without a pair of heels — or at least a good wedge.)
So I could appreciate this passage from Bryant’s book:
How we dress harkens back to our upbringing. When I was growing up in the South, femininity always trumped functionality. Women got gussied up and applied a full face of makeup before their first sip of coffee. To leave the house undone was a social misdemeanor.
Bryant says in her book she’s “thrilled that the look of the show has ushered in a new appreciation for getting decked out.” Even Kenley says he wants a three-piece suit, a la Roger Sterling, his favorite character on the show.
Take a look at the inspiration board Bryant and Banana Republic creative director Simon Kneen used for their collaboration.
At the “Mad Men” Cocktail Party, Bryant was greeted by a few photographers and fashion bloggers, but many of the shoppers weren’t aware that the designer of the collection was there. (Seemed strange from a public relations standpoint not to introduce her when she arrived. Too bad I wasn’t in charge of this event.)
She wore one of my favorite dresses from the Banana Republic “Mad Men” collection.
And I especially liked the way Bryant styled the dress with tough strappy heels for her appearance on “Access Hollywood,” which you can watch here.
Ever since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve been studying Southern California style to figure out whether it is as different from other parts of the country, as several people have suggested (some rudely, a la my “Pretty Woman” moment: “We wear leggings here,” said one store manager when asked about hiring someone from South Carolina.)
So as I admired the “Mad Men” collection, it occurred to me that the structured pieces would better fit into the more formal East Coast (New York or D.C.) or Southern lifestyle, where you could easily wear one of the dresses to a conservative office, to church or to a wedding.
Los Angeles style is largely defined by a unstructured, laid-back vibe, driven in part by creative entertainment-industry jobs, in part by the need to layer for the sometimes surprisingly cool weather, and in part by the incredibly diverse influences that can be found here. Those who do SoCal cool well look sophisticated and artsy but not too polished, though they probably spent just as much time figuring out how to put those seemingly mismatched pieces together.
I should have asked Bryant about the differences she sees between Southern and Southern California style. But the truth is, I froze up. I managed to ask her to sign my copy of her book and say “thank you.”
I was struck by how much she seemed like a real genuine person who would be fun to hang out with at girls’ night out or, of course, on a shopping spree! (Kenley shudders at that thought.) You might not be able to invite her out for drinks, but you can check out her new blog or follow her on Twitter @JanieBryant.
So I’m resolved to take my cue from Janie Bryant and my Southern roots: I will confidently embrace my individual style and put more thought into what I wear every day. (It’s really easy to wear jeans, T-shirts and flip-flops when you’re blogging in front of a computer all day.)
I look forward to incorporating the influence of my new city into my closet (yes, with a limited budget, Kenley) and to discovering how my sense of style will evolve.
I will strive to present myself the way I want others to see me: where Southern charm and SoCal cool meet.
So, if you’re still reading, here are my favorite picks from Banana Republic’s “Mad Men” collection and how I would try to incorporate them into my wardrobe:
I want to try on this ivory lace dress. I think it would be fun to make it look more vintagey by piling on necklaces and wearing tall brown boots, or you could make it modern with black tights and black pumps.
I love blue! I wonder if you could dress down this dress with black tights, tall black boots and a black leather jacket.
Bryant’s assistant wore this animal print cardigan with a turquoise pencil skirt, and it looked amazing. I will have my future assistant pair it with flared or wide-leg jeans, platform heels and some big dressy earrings.
I am a sucker for animal prints, so I love this trench, which you could do with black skinny jeans and tall black boots.
For the record, Bryant signed my copy of her book, “With style and love.”
I was charmed!