Christina Hendricks eyes a darling white cloche much as a cougar sizes up a coyote with a limp. She circles. She purrs. She pounces. “I have so many hats, but. . . " she says, adjusting the brim in the mirror at the local vintage boutique The Way We Wore. Leave it to Hendricks to flirt with a hat. The 33-year-old redhead -- best known as the ridiculously sexy and shrewd secretary Joan Holloway on “Mad Men” -- has quickly become a style sensation in her own right. Guys gulp at her pinup-girl figure. Women, thrilled to see a female on TV with curves, are encouraged to experiment with pencil skirts and snug sweaters.
Hendricks has forever adored vintage and thrift-store finds. Little black dresses are her biggest weakness. After an afternoon of playing dress-up, Hendricks, 33, dished on everything from her early years as a fashion designer to her aggressive underwear.
We’re so used to seeing you as a 1960s vixen. Describe your off-screen personal style.
Eclectic, romantic and a little rock ‘n’ roll. I have gotten lazier over the years. Now, I just like to put on a dress. Separates are too difficult. I choose dresses that seem a little edgy or accessorize with jewelry. I will make it rock ‘n’ roll by adding a glove or a hat.
Who are your style icons?
Janis Joplin. I don’t dress like her, but I am inspired by her. Marilyn Monroe was never vulgar, and she always looked sensual. I love Faye Dunaway and the Annie Hall look too. One day, I will wear tight black pants and a leather jacket. Another day, I might wear a soft dress. What I love about clothes is that you get to play different parts.
As a kid, were you chic or a freak?
In my junior high yearbook, there’s a picture that says: “Christina Hendricks in one of her own fashions.” I started designing clothes in fifth grade. My mom is a really good seamstress, so she helped me execute my designs.
You can’t stop there. Describe one of your creations.
It is tragic. I had a pair of tailored pants with geometric designs on them that were puffy at the bottom and then elastic at the waist. Sort of like harem pants. I had extra fabric and went and made a matching headband. People didn’t know if I was cool or to be feared. No one was trying to copy me.
When did you get hooked on vintage shopping?
I have always shopped in thrift stores and vintage shops. Most recently, I have been mixing a lot of old accessories like jewelry and scarves into my wardrobe. I just bought some pieces of beautiful vintage Italian lace that I will wear with my jean jacket.
When you shop for vintage, what do you mostly buy?
I can’t wear the shoes because they are so narrow. I love finding beautiful old kimonos. I just realized that if you have a great evening dress, you need the right handbag too. I am building an arsenal of them so I won’t have to panic when I am getting ready for an event.
Have you learned any tricks of the trade for wearing vintage?
If you see something on the rack and it doesn’t fit, don’t despair. You can always have it tailored. I am constantly looking for a great tailor. My motto is: If you find something that fits you perfectly, buy it.
After playing Joan, are you sick and tired of pencil skirts?
No! I never knew the wonders of them until “Mad Men.” I learned a lot from my character and Janie Bryant, our costume designer. I learned that you can see a vintage pencil skirt on a rack and it looks like a frumpy old thing. But you put it on and all of a sudden, it’s like “sexretary.”
Speaking of “sexretary,” are you surprised that your curves have caused so much ballyhoo?
People have been really positive about my body type and what it means to women on TV and in fashion. They have been appreciative, rather than critical. And I know my boyfriend has always appreciated it. Remember that “Ally McBeal” thing when those actresses just got skinnier and skinnier? I was afraid that they were going to disappear.
As Joan, you manage to be all woman and one of the guys in the office. What’s the trick?
Joan gets along with the guys so well because she doesn’t let them victimize her or run to the bathroom and cry. The men in the office love her because they don’t have to walk on eggshells. They can tease her because she can give it back.
Has anyone in this cruel town ever made you cry?
I have been here 11 years and two casting directors have made me cry. I went in for a project during pilot season a few years ago and wore gray trousers and a silk Donna Karan blouse. My manager called me later and asked, “What did you wear?” Because I was busty, the casting director said I was dressed like a slut. That was so mean. I thought, “If you can’t keep your eyes off my breasts, that’s your problem, lady.”
You’re a natural blond. When did you first go red?
I was 10 years old and I wanted to be Anne of Green Gables. My mom is very fun, and we used one of those cover-the-gray rinses. When I went to school the next day, the teacher said, “What did your mother do to you?” I was thrilled. I have been red ever since.
Can we please talk about those “Mad Men” undergarments?
My girdle has boning, and I wear those bullet bras, as you know. It’s a lot underneath and it’s all authentic. I have two scars from the rubber where I attach my garters. I would complain more, but it makes me look good.
You must want to walk around naked on the weekends.
As a matter of fact, I do just that.
Corcoran is a Times staff writer.