1. There is a TON of research that goes into each character’s look.
Theraesa Rivers, who has been head of the hair department for three seasons and won an Emmy for her work in 2011, said that Mad Men strives for a “period-correct” look for each character.
“All the looks that you see on the show are actually looks that existed in the ’60s,” she told BuzzFeed.
The department uses magazines, movies, and newspapers to research looks from the 1960s. Rivers said the hair department will go to different resources for setting- and character-specific looks — for instance, an issue of Vogue from the time period for a party scene.
“It all depends on the character. If it’s a politician’s wife like Betty Francis than we look at Time Life magazines,” she said. “Any newspaper where it has like Nixon’s wife or the the Kennedys, that’s what we base her looks off of.”
2. Hair is all about location, location, location.
Rivers said each scene’s location is crucial to dictating the look of each character. Office scenes in Manhattan are “conservative,” scenes in California call for a “looser and easygoing” aesthetic, and party scenes can be “avant-garde.”
“We think about where we are, what the setting is, who the people are, and who would be around them — that it would be real,” she said.
Equally as important is accuracy, and not choosing looks just because they were popular at the time, Rivers said.
“We’re careful not to throw inappropriate looks for the setting that we are in into the scene, just for the sake of having it because it was being done at the time,” she said.
3. Hair, wardrobe, and makeup choices are all about synergy.
Before a character is brought to life on screen, Rivers goes through production meetings, and the hair and makeup teams have their own meeting with the director of the episode. Rivers also meets with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner to discuss any new characters or if a principle cast member will have a particularly important storyline.
A character’s hair, makeup, and wardrobe then comes together collaboratively.
“If the hair doesn’t go well with the costume or the makeup, you know, it all has to make sense together,” Rivers said. “It’s not that one speaks louder than the other. We want balance and the entire look to be cohesive and tell you something about the person on screen.”
4. A big part of Peggy Olson’s attitude comes from her hair.
Hairstyle is a visual reflection of a character’s attitude, Rivers said.
“I think in any time period you can look and see a person’s hairdo reflects some part of their personality,” she said, naming Peggy Olson, played by actress Elisabeth Moss, as an example.
“[She] is a little more conservative, but she’s also a businesswoman and she’s a no-nonsense person,” said Rivers. “She doesn’t have a lot of time to do her hair and have a big teased-up hairdo like Betty Francis or an updo like Joan.”
Rivers noted Peggy’s look has transformed from a longer, girlish hairdo to a more conservative, shorter look that still isn’t as polished as other female characters on the show like Betty Francis (January Jones) or Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks).
“We always laugh, because [Peggy] is always a little off,” Rivers said. “Her clothes are great, but there is something a little off about her.”
5. Don, on the other hand, has stuck to a classic look — for a big reason too.
Unlike some of his officemates, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has styled his hair the same throughout Mad Men’s run.
“Don never really changes,” Rivers said. “He’s consistent. He’s Don Draper. We have made the conscious choice that he never really changes.”
Rivers said the younger characters on the show, like Pete and Peggy, have changed more than the older characters because they are meant to seem as if they are paying close attention to up-and-coming trends.
“As you get older, you get comfortable with a look. That’s your look, and you stay there. You don’t really change too much from that,” she said.
6. Pete Campbell’s receding hairline is intentional.
Rivers said the receding hairline demonstrated by Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) isn’t just an indicator his character is aging, but an indicator of how the character is struggling both at home and at the office.
“He’s having a bit of a mid-life crisis… finding a balance between business and family,” she said.
7. It isn’t easy for Pete Campbell to look so bad.
Rivers has to straight-razor actor Vincent Kartheiser daily with an “old-school razor” with no guard. With people constantly going in and out of the trailer where his hair is cut, there have been some close calls, but Kartheiser is a “good sport” about the process.
“[There’s been] nothing too severe, nothing where we have had to call the medics. I would say probably in the past three years we have been doing it, we’ve done pretty well with not having any major accidents or anything like that,” Rivers said.
8. There is a method to the hair department’s madness.
When Mad Men shoots, the hair department gets started very early in the morning, Rivers said, where they “do it all” — putting on wigs and extensions, styling, cutting, and coloring each character’s hair. Rivers said no one character takes longer than the others because her team is so well-versed in the prep work. The female actors need an hour for hair, while most of the male actors only need 20 minutes.
“There is so much planning that goes in advance, that we have everything planned out. We have it down to a science. We can get them out really quickly,” Rivers said.
9. Miss. Blankenship may be dead, but her hair lives on.
The hair team may have busy, long days, but Rivers said there is “always laughter” in the trailer. She said one running gag for the team involves Ida Blankenship, a former character on the show who served as Don’s secretary before dying on the job.
“We used to have fun, everybody would put her wig on,” said Rivers. “We’d take turns being Miss. Blankenship and every now and then we resurrect that wig and someone is walking around with it on.”
10. Expect some new looks on the final season of Mad Men.
Rivers was tight-lipped about what to expect when it came to the upcoming seventh and final season of the show, but said there are “good changes” coming along.
“All I can say is there will be some people around with some hairdos that you haven’t seen before on the show,” she said.