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Sometimes a T-shirt is just... a T-shirt.
Looking for clues revealing potential plot twists has become a pastime for TV watchers who can't get enough of their favorite dramas — something "Mad Men" costume designer Janie Bryant knows all too well. Last season, a T-shirt she outfitted Jessica Paré's Megan in, which was identical to one Sharon Tate wore in 1967, led to an online conspiracy theory that Don Draper's actress wife was about to meet her demise.
"It wasn't about Sharon Tate," Bryant, who oversees all of "Mad Men's" fab fashions, told Yahoo TV when we caught up with her in New York City. "It was about Megan just being political. That T-shirt [features] the Vietnam star, and in past shows you know Megan has made reference to not really supporting the Vietnam war."
Bryant said showrunner Matthew Weiner had asked her to come up with "something political" for the brunette to wear during Season 6's "The Better Half" episode. In doing research, she knew T-shirts weren't as popular as they are today — the patented silk-screening we are familiar with started around 1969, a year later then when the show was set — so she was on the hunt for something true to the times.
"I wanted to make sure that if Megan was going to wear a T-shirt, it had to be something authentic and a piece that was actually worn [during that era]," said Bryant. "I came across a 1967 Esquire — Sharon Tate was in that magazine photographed in the Vietnam star T-shirt — so I took that photograph to Matthew and was like, 'This would look amazing.' He was like, 'This is perfect. Let's do it.' I made it and she wore it."
Then... the Internet blew up. With a theory comparing Megan to the murdered pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski (in other episodes, Megan and Don went to see "Rosemary's Baby" and Sally was seen reading the book, adding fuel to the fire), a tweet Bryant posted made the conspiracy grow larger.
"One of my Twitter followers wrote to me and said, 'My father was the photographer of that photo shoot. Was that your inspiration?' And I just wrote back, 'Yes, it was my inspiration' — because it was. I wasn't trying to be cagey about it and the episode already aired." However, "There was no other bigger story behind it, but it turned into this whole [to-do]."
Bryant, who won an Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Series when she worked on "Deadwood," couldn't believe the fuss that what made over her re-creation.
[Related: 'Deadwood' Oral History]
"I thought: This is amazing. After the thousands and thousands of costumes that have been on the show throughout the years, this — a T-shirt! — is what people are going insane about. It's not even a big part of my job every day — opposed to all the girdles, bras, slips, dresses, suits, cufflinks, jewels, shoes, hose. Those things are much more of my daily life than doing T-shirts," she laughed. "That's the power of costume design. But that's also the popularity of the show. I love the fanaticism of 'Mad Men.' We're all obsessed too. I love that the fans try to read into everything. And the thing is, nothing is random. There were reasons why Megan wore that T-shirt. It just wasn't the reason that people made up this whole thing [about]."
Bryant's tweet that set off rumors...
— Janie Bryant (@JanieBryant) May 27, 2013
And, for the record, her first reaction to viewers speculating Megan would die like Tate in 1969? "I was like, 'OK, that's dark. That's very dark,'" she said.
With the show ending after this season, Bryant is making plans for her "next adventures in life." Following the three "Mad Men"-inspired collections she designed with Banana Republic, she's launching her own legwear line this fall, Janie Bryant Leg Couture, which she describes as "accessible," but also with "beautiful details and modern technology that has a stay-up effect." Bryant, who recently joined handbag line Koret as their "brand envoy," is also working with the producer from "Fashion Star" to develop a reality competition show.
"A lot of times I get called a stylist and I'm like, 'No, that's not my job,'" laughed Bryant, who dresses the "Mad Men" stars in things she designs herself, rentals from L.A. costume shops, or vintage items that she purchases. "Today, we are really inspired by what we see on television and what we see in films. So, I wanted to create a show that really shows the importance of the costume designer and how that influences our fashion world."
While some colorful new photos of the "Mad Men" characters were recently released, Bryant wouldn't divulge any details about what they will or won't be wearing in Season 7. ("Absolutely not!" said the sworn-to-secrecy fashionista. "Besides, I wouldn't want to spoil it for you.") She did, however, reveal some inspirations behind the clothes.
"For Megan, last year it was Sharon Tate, Raquel Welch," she said. "I'm obsessed with Raquel Welch. I recently saw her at the Costume Designer Guild Awards and she's gor-geous. And Sophia Loren has consistently been an inspiration for me, especially for Joan throughout all the years."
[Related: See All the 'Mad Men' Season 7 Photos]
Bryant continued, "A lot of my references aren't even famous people though. It's very everyday. I research a lot of photographs. I go through catalogs — like, the Sears, J.C. Penney, Spiegel, and Montgomery Ward because they're everyday people. For Megan, yes, I do more research — like the fashion magazines, Harper's Bazaar, and I look at Raquel Welch, Sharon Tate, and the other style icons — Jean Shrimpton — of the period. For the most part, my research is about being very realistic."
See what Bryant whipped up for Don, Megan, Joan, Peggy and the gang for Season 7 — and what conspiracy theories may follow — when the show returns Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC.