Christina Hendricks On Dressing For Her Husband And Why She Loves Red Carpets

Fans of AMC’s Mad Men who love watching Joan Harris rule the stylish corridors of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce might be a little apprehensive about meeting the office manager turned partner in person. After all, this is the character who archly informed frumpy underling Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) that her outfit wasn’t “helping her silhouette.” And when Christina Hendricks enters the downtown Los Angeles bar Mas Malo in black pumps, a fitted black jacket and a jade pencil skirt made to showcase the perfect ticktock of her hips, the effect is intimidatingly Joan. Her walk is graceful, powerful, sexy but restrained, sensual and determined. She delicately places her Jimmy Choo bag on an empty chair and settles herself with Joan’s ladylike precision.

But then she starts to talk, and like an ermine stole, the unapproachable Joan-ness slips off. “So nice to meet you!” she exclaims, and then asks hopefully, “Are we going to eat?” and even more hopefully, “You’re going to have a margarita, right?” Food containing bacon and drinks containing tequila are ordered, and Hendricks’ unmitigated effervescence bubbles forth. She explains that Ryan Gosling, who’s directing her in an upcoming noirish fantasy set in Detroit, is, yes, “handsome,” but in her opinion, “people respond to him strongly because he’s so nice and so talented”; then segues into proudly announcing that her husband, actor Geoffrey Arend, has just invented two new kinds of bacon (garlic and garam masala); and then whips out iPhone photos of her new cockapoo, Zuzu—“with her first summer haircut!” In other words, the imperious, regal character Hendricks plays to Emmy-nominated perfection is nothing like her. “Thank you,” Hendricks exclaims. “I don’t think I’m anything like her either.”

That said, Hendricks was born to play Joan, so it’s rather amazing to learn that although she spent her peripatetic childhood (Kentucky, Idaho, Oregon and, finally, Fairfax, Virginia) acting, she didn’t envision acting as a career. “I just thought I would work in a hair salon and do community theater,” she says, shyly smoothing the tablecloth, as if she knows this is a little hard to believe. Even after she moved to New York, following a brief modeling career, she had to be persuaded to pursue acting. “There were so many actors,” she says, a slight flutter of her lashes acknowledging the ridiculousness of her reasoning. “Why do they need one more?”

“Uh, maybe because you are destined to make television history?” was not the answer on Hendricks’ mind when, after working steadily but unremarkably in television for a number of years, she was given a script for Mad Men. She appreciated that it was great, but primary in her mind, at the end of what had been for her a dismal 2006 pilot season, was getting a job. What she remembers most about her audition was the conversation she had with a friend beforehand. “I was crying before I went in—I was just so desperate. I was like, ‘I’m not going to get this,’ and my friend said, ‘It’s your role.’ ” She was also afraid that the outfit she’d worn—a pencil skirt and formfitting sweater accented with a printed bow—looked “too costumey.” Ha.

Other than the fact that “for the first few years on the show all anyone wanted to talk to me about was her underwear,” Hendricks has always loved the intense wardrobe aspect of her Mad Men role. Janie Bryant, the show’s costumer, is now one of her closest friends. “We had the exact same ideas about Joan.” Ideas such as awesome graphic-print blouses with bows in primary colors, knit dresses in bright berry shades and, of course, pencil skirts.

Being the center of attention is not easy for Hendricks. She has to remind herself again and again: “Just walk down the hall and try to imagine that you know everyone is looking at you.”

You might think that after long days in foundation garments, the last thing Hendricks wants to see is a red carpet. Not so. “Getting to wear beautiful fashion is the most fun part of the job that has nothing to do with the job,” she says. L’Wren Scott is a go-to designer for her—she wore one of her black cocktail dresses to the latest Mad Men season premiere. A fan of strapless dresses, she has especially warm feelings for pieces that are so well-constructed they don’t require a bra. “Christian Siriano makes his dresses that way,” she says gratefully. “It makes me feel so taken care of.” Her nightmare? A salesperson suggesting an unstructured piece that can’t accommodate a bra. “I want to say, ‘Excuse me, but are we standing in the same store?’ ”

She’s thrilled with the black jacket she’s wearing tonight, a recent score. “I got it at this cheap little store in Venice. It’s cut so well, the way it comes in at the waist, and it was like $20.” As were her shoes (well, $19 actually). “From a Nine West outlet and so comfortable.” Her pencil skirt is J.Crew, and she loved it so much that she bought two more. She laughs when asked if she wears pants. “All the time,” she insists. Current favorites are Imogene + Willie jeans, which she pairs with a black turtleneck. Yes to pants, however, does not mean yes to sweatpants. “I can’t do that to my husband, not after just three years of marriage. At home, I put on a low-cut caftan, and he’s like, ‘Babe, you look great.’ Caftans are just the perfect solution to what to wear at home. I love Camilla Franks’, but I also get great vintage ones on eBay.”

Hmm. Does this little Man Pleasing 101 lesson sound a bit like Joan? Hendricks laughs, confirms that it does, then explains she finally understood her character (whom she initially found terrifying) when show creator Matthew Weiner explained that all she really wants is to be helpful. “Joan used to be Peggy,” Hendricks says. “She just wants the next girl to not get trampled on like she did.”

Now that she’s no longer scared of Joan, Hendricks loves her. “Joan is fascinating. I would play Joan forever,” she says. If she hadn’t worn that pencil skirt to the audition, would she have gotten the part? “I don’t know,” Hendricks reflects, with an innocence that is both foregrounded in her own character and expertly veiled in Joan’s. “I like to think so.”

Click through above to see the style icons that influence Hendricks' feminine style.