Written by Bertie Bowen


Dressing like… Joan Holloway

In the first in a new series, fashion stylist Bertie Bowen channels the clothes and spirit of a fictional character. To kick off, she’s taken notes from a character who takes zero shit: Mad Men’s smart, successful and sassy Joan Holloway.

Joan in a claret red dress

“You want to be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl.”

Joan Holloway is a style icon. Fact. Why? Because even though Mad Men spans two decades, Joan’s style is solid. Joan knows what she likes and what she looks good in and she has stuck with it through thick and thin, from office manager to mother and company partner. She is a strong woman with a commanding presence and her clothes reflect this. And she is seriously sexy, as in you can take her seriously and she’s darn sexy; you want to look at her but also listen to what she has to say. She achieves both power and femininity in her look and she dresses those curves perfectly. There is much to learn from Joan. Elements of Joan would work well for a job interview or a meeting with your bank manager or a first date. Whatever the occasion, sprinkle some Joan into your outfit to feel cool, calm and in control.

Let’s start with the basics.

UNDERWEAR: without this, you have nothing

Underwear is the building blocks of any outfit. If, like Joan, you are well-endowed, you probably already know the importance of wearing the correct bra (that’s size and shape ladies) and what a difference it makes to your body and posture. Also invest in a decent shape-wear slip. Nothing so tight it’s going to cut the blood supply off to your brain, just something that encourages a smooth silhouette.

COLOUR: go bold or go home

Do not be afraid of colour. Joan wears rich jewel-toned colours, such as claret red, peacock blue and emerald green, that reflect her strength and self-confidence. And these colours really suit her. Experiment: find a colour that suits your skin tone and hair. You’ll know it when you find it – the right colour can brighten a complexion, transform a bad mood and distract the attention away from a bad hair day.

Joan in a blue satin asymmetrical dress

SHAPE: achieve the enviable hourglass

Joan’s silhouette is ultra-feminine. Dresses or separates, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s fitted (skimming not clinging) and the skirt is pencil shaped, falling to just below the knee. Any sleeve length will work and necklines can be scoop, V, square, cowl, whatever you fancy as long as there is only a hint of cleavage at most. Joan gives great décolletage without looking overtly provocative (unless, of course, she wants to). Extra points for a loosely tied pussy-bow blouse.

SHOES: set the pace

Heels are a must but these should never be more than three inches high (years of extensive vintage shopping has drawn me to the conclusion that women didn’t wear heels any higher than this until at least the 1980s). This way, you should be able to replicate the all-important power walk: Joan strides like a woman on a mission. She never totters.

Joan in a green dress and shoesEXTRAS: the finishing touches

Try adding a slim belt to emphasise the waist; earrings look good with an up-do (clip-on if you can stand the pinching pain) and a brooch would work well with this look. Your handbag should be small and complement your shoes or clothes. Accessories will tie the outfit together and create a polished appearance.

THE JOAN ATTITUDE: fake it ‘til you make it

Last but not least, you must emulate Joan’s sassy, confident attitude. Do this by using your body: shoulders back, head held high, long neck – Joan has great posture. The outfit + this stance + the ‘power walk’ will at least make you look like you have Joan’s self-assured elegance, even if you are quaking inside. Now go, do yourself and Joan proud: smash that interview/meeting/first date.



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Written by Bertie Bowen

Stylist, writer and mother living in East London. A clompy shoed, curly haired, Radio 4 enthusiast. www.mothershoppers.com