Theraesa Rivers

The much-anticipated final season of Mad Men recently debuted, picking up where all the drama of last season left off. And while we are majorly invested in the storyline of every character on the show, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t also tune in for the show’s beautifully executed, period-precise hair. Seeking to learn more about these covetable coifs, we turned to the show’s lead hairstylist, Theraesa Rivers, for some answers. The Emmy award-winning stylist, who has been meticulously grooming Don Draper and company for the past three seasons, shared with us how she got her start in the business, how she comes up with each character’s look and a few styling tips from the set.

What interested you in becoming a TV and film hairstylist?

When I was in college, I worked for an aerospace company. I quickly realized that was not for me, so I decided to go to cosmetology school. I figured I would work in a salon, go back to college and get a marketing degree and work for a hair care company. Another stylist in the salon I worked at did music videos and asked if I wanted to help out. I thought why not? That’s what got the ball rolling. I started doing sitcoms after that for Telemundo. I worked on Viva Vegas and Voltron, that’s how I became unionized.

You've been able to work in both TV and film. Is there a difference to the process?

It all depends on the content. I just finished a baseball movie, Million Dollar Arm, with mainly male actors. It was a very natural feel. With film, you do a lot of prep in the beginning and you know exactly what’s happening. With television, you’re shooting one episode while you’re prepping for another so you’re constantly busy. You also don’t know what’s happening on the show until you get the next script.

We enjoy watching Mad Men not only for the amazing story line, but also because we love each character's different style. How much research goes into designing the hair looks for the show so that they feel realistic for the time period and setting?

We do tons of research according to the year we’re in. We try to be very accurate as far as the styles you see on the show. We pull newspapers, LIFE magazines, Time, Newsweek, Vogue, whatever’s relevant for what we’re doing at the time and for the time period. You’ll never see a hairstyle on the show that didn’t exist at that time. Trust me, the creator of our show is very particular. We definitely have to have some backup research on the styles that we’re doing. Each hairstyle is character-specific. Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olson, is based off of an actual person—Mary Wells. Although their hair color is different, their styles are similar. Betty Francis (January Jones) is now a politician’s wife, so we looked at Nixon’s wife and Jackie Kennedy for inspiration. We’re very specific about the styles and whom we’re doing them on. Most of the time we’re in an office setting and the women are very professional, so their looks have to be tamer than what’s out in the street or at a party.

How is creating these styles easier or different considering the hair care products and tools that are available today?

Interestingly, the product we’ve used the most throughout shooting is Brylcreem. With styling the actors, we do a lot of thermal setting with irons and rollers, so we use a lot of thermal sprays. We try to be careful of how much heat we’re using on their hair. The hairstyles rarely change on the women throughout an episode. When you think about it, during this time women went to the salon and got their hair done once a week. Obviously, we have to style everybody every single day so we can’t give everybody a wet set and put them under a dryer. But, we try to make each look authentic with the pattern of the set.

What Oribe products do you use on set to create the styles?

I love using the Superfine Hair Spray on Elisabeth Moss. I really like it for finishing, but I also use it to tease and backcomb a little bit. The hair is still brushable, but stays when I need it to stay. And everybody loves the smell.

How do you come up with styles that feel unique to each character’s personality?

Each character, from their costume to hair and makeup, is all one package that tells a story about them. For example, Betty Francis is an upper-class housewife, so her hair reflects that. Peggy Olson is a working young women trying to climb the professional ladder, so she doesn’t have as much time for her hair, which is why it’s always sort of off. Then you have Joan, who is perfectly coiffed and very classic. We are always talking about where the character is going and what’s happening to them on the show.

How has each character's style evolved throughout the show's run? Who’s had the biggest hairstyle evolution?

The biggest evolution would probably be Pete Campbell, played by Vincent Kartheiser, who has a major receding hairline now. Every day I have to cut Vincent’s hair with a straight razor—no guard—to create the receding hairline on him. It’s like a crazy game that we play. People will come into the trailer unexpectedly and the whole thing will rock. But so far we haven’t had to call the medic. I kind of torture him, but he’s game for it.

Peggy’s changed a lot too. She started out with a ponytail, then cut it off and had a little flip, and now she has this bubble hairstyle. Don hasn’t changed one bit. With some of the other guys, their hair gets longer as we go along. The creator of the show felt like the younger characters would change the most. Back in that time, once you got to a certain age, you stayed a certain way. You had your look, like Don does. Think of the people you know whose grandmothers still go to the salon once a week and get their hair set. Certain people just don’t change that much.

How could a guy achieve the classic Don Draper cut and style?

Well they have to call me, and I will cut and style it for them! We never clipper Jon’s hair, it’s always a scissor cut. Then it’s just Brylcreem and a little hairspray.

Why is Don’s polished look still such a corporate style staple decades later?

I think because it’s classic and it gives men a very distinguished look. It makes you look important. And men who have this look are very smart because women love it.

How closely do you work with the makeup and wardrobe stylist as well as the director and show's creator to design a character's overall look?

At the beginning of every season, we have a content meeting with the creator of the show and every department head. Then I have a meeting with makeup head Lana Horochowski, and then the two of us meet with the creator of the show. Costume has a separate meeting, and then we all sit down and have a meeting. We also have a production meeting (lots of meetings). I think the reason why the show has been so successful is because every department is important. From props to makeup, we all work together to tell a story. As far as costumes, makeup and hair, we get along very well and do our best so that we don’t clash in any way. We want it to look good and be authentic. If one part is off, it throws everybody else off.

Who is your favorite character to style? Is there a particular hairstyle you love?

I couldn’t even tell you because there’s been so many and they are all so different. I like that Don is so classic, and I like doing January because she’s our only blonde female and she has a great head of hair. Vincent is fun because it’s actually very challenging to do his hair. We now have Sola Bamis on the show, who plays Shirley. She is our first African American woman with an Afro on the show. Sola wears a wig. They are all so great and so different that I enjoy them all.
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