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Mid-Century Modern is More Than Just Furniture

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From Outlander to Podark, historical shows are taking over television these days. But my favorite eras aren’t the ones with bustles and corsets; I’m drawn to the bright patterns and circle skirts of the 1950s and 60s.

Luckily, there are plenty of mid-century shows currently on TV. Masters of Sex and Call the Midwife both start out in the 50s, while The Astronaut Wives Club is a pastel look into the early 60s. Even Agent Carter is part of the trend, showing us what women wore in the late 1940s, both in their everyday lives and as a super secret spy. So in honor of all these historical women on TV, here’s how to dress like your favorite retro shows:

Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex


This daring show delves into the famous sexual research done by Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the late 1950s and early 60s. Try dressing just as daring – for the time period, that is – with houndstooth cigarette pants and a cropped sweater. Dark lipstick and saddle shoes complete this hip, but still scholarly, look.

Nicholas D'Agosto as Dr. Ethan Haas, Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters, Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson, Teddy Sears as Dr. Austin Langham and Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters in Masters of Sex (season 1) - Photo: Erwin Olaf/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: MOS1_PR04_WAITSIX_4C_300
Nicholas D’Agosto as Dr. Ethan Haas, Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters, Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson, Teddy Sears as Dr. Austin Langham and Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters in Masters of Sex. (Erwin Olaf/SHOWTIME)

The Astronaut Wives Club

Astronaut Wives Club


When their husbands are sent into space, a group of wives suddenly find their personal lives under scrutiny. They also wear lots of pastel dresses suitable for a housewife. Try borrowing the simple silhouettes, but adding a bold color – like this bright, sunny yellow. And teal pumps and a fitted cardigan are perfect for those long nights waiting for their astronauts to come home.

The Astronaut Wives Club

Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife


This BBC drama follows midwives as they find their footing in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s. The women range from serious to bubbly, but they also save lives on a regular basis. On their rare nights out, they might dress something like this: a charmingly retro dress, with nude accessories and subtle makeup.

Call the Midwife Trixie
Helen George as Trixie in Call the Midwife.

Agent Carter

Agent Carter


There’s nothing I like more than a woman who kicks a lot of ass, especially when she does it in awesome late-1940s outfits. From tailored suits to bright hats, Agent Carter always looks perfectly put together. Capture her post-war charm with this simple blue skirt and white blouse, red lipstick, and a few military details – like a fitted trench and silver arrow earrings.

TV STILL -- DO NOT PURGE -- gallery -- MARVEL'S AGENT CARTER - "Marvel's Agent Carter," starring "Captain America's" Hayley Atwell, follows the story of Peggy Carter. It's 1946, and peace has dealt Peggy Carter a serious blow as she finds herself marginalized when the men return home from fighting abroad. Working for the covert SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve), Peggy must balance doing administrative work and going on secret missions for Howard Stark all while trying to navigate life as a single woman in America, in the wake of losing the love of her life - Steve Rogers. Inspired by the feature films "Captain America: The First Avenger" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," along with the short "Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter." (Marvel/Bob D'Amico)
Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter  (Bob D’Amico/Marvel)

Recommended Reading:

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham (Penguin Books; August 11, 2015)

Dressmaker coverSet in the 1950s, this novel follows dressmaker Tilly Dunnage when she returns to visit her small hometown in Australia. She decides to stay, using her haute couture dressmaking skills to start designing exquisite clothing for the women of Dungatar. But there’s a darker side to her designs – a mission of revenge against those who wronged her years ago. Full of mystery and romance, The Dressmaker is about to become a movie starring Kate Winslet.

Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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