Woman of the Hourglass

Corsets, lace, cleavage, and silk. Who better than Hendricks to model the new lingerie-as-outerwear trend?Photo: Marco Grob; Styling by Elizabeth Stewart at 1 + 1 Management; Hair by David Babaii at Tracey Mattingly; Makeup by Rachel Goodwin for Chanel at The Wall Group; Jewelry by Martin Katz. Left: Panty briefs by Conturelle; vintage bustier from Hendricks’s collection. Right: Vintage corset.

Christina Hendricks thinks all the talk about her body is a little embarrassing. It’s not as if she has an extra limb, after all. She just has an especially attractive version of the same thing women have had forever—curves—but she happens to have them in a profession where women haven’t for quite some time.

“It kind of hurt my feelings at first,” she says. “Anytime someone talks about your figure constantly, you get nervous, you get really self-conscious. I was working my butt off on the show, and then all anyone was talking about was my body!”

You can see why all the focus on how big the chest, how narrow the waist, how round the hips could drive an actor—anyone—insane, but people were only noticing Christina Hendricks’s body because they were finally noticing Christina Hendricks. Her portrayal of Joan Holloway, the complicated office queen of Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce!), on Mad Men is properly captivating for its combination of total competence and heartbreaking vulnerability. And she delivers the spectacular performance while looking extremely different from the other women we’ve grown used to seeing on television, in movies, on the covers of magazines. “It might sound silly,” she says, “but I didn’t realize I was so different. I was just oblivious. Sometimes I would go on an audition and someone would say something like, Girl, you’re refreshing! That was it.”

And it’s not Hendricks’s fault that she’s come to everyone’s attention as an actress at a time when bodies are very much an issue—if not the issue—as far as fashion is concerned. There are the various attempts by fashion cities like São Paulo and Milan to police model weight; there are press conferences, BMI restrictions, mandatory turkey sandwiches backstage at every show. But lately there have also been baby steps taken toward the (unfortunately) radical idea that looking good need not involve so much rejection of the naturally occurring female shape. Glamour has begun to mix models of various sizes into its regular editorial shoots. A recent issue of V concerned itself with shape, pointing out that clothes—even fashion clothes—can look good on differently sized people.

But too often the size discussion becomes almost grotesque, as if the only alternative to being as lean as a skinless Perdue chicken breast is to veer wildly (and unhealthily) in the opposite direction (Gabourey Sidibe, Beth Ditto). One can’t help wonder if the fashion world’s obsession with those two women, both of whom deserve prominent coverage for their talent first and foremost, isn’t in some sense overcompensation, an attempt to atone for the terribly thin models who still hold sway everywhere. Either way, it becomes a game of extremes.

There is a spectacular other path. And Hendricks working the Emmy’s red carpet in formfitting L’Wren Scott is terrific PR for the opinion that Hollywood success should not be determined by one’s ability to Pilates one’s hips up, off, and away. None of this is meant to suggest that Hendricks is big. She is not. (That the New York Times seemed to endorse a stylist’s description of her as “a big girl” in its coverage of the Golden Globes was mystifying and strange.) It is also not to suggest that her figure is attainable to the average duck. She looks the way movie stars used to look. She is, in that sense, proof of how certain bodies go in and out of fashion.

It is perhaps ironic then that Hendricks actually started out as a model—catalogues, mostly, but there was one season on the London runway that ended when her agent said, “Darling, did your boobs grow?” (One imagines that future seasons might see the question posed in the opposite direction.) Now, she is a fully working actor, with three new films in the can and several more under consideration. Curiously, she keeps getting called in to audition for roles as the mothers of people she isn’t nearly old enough, at 34, to have birthed—which has a lot to do with what she wears on TV. “The way we dress on Mad Men is so associated with old photographs, with people’s parents and grandparents,” she says. “In person, I wear jeans and flip-flops and people are so shocked. They tell me I look so much younger than they expected.”

Work on a new season of Mad Men is about to begin. “We’re really spoiled on Mad Men,” she says. “Lots of television actors use the down season to go out and get creatively fulfilled, but I feel the opposite. Anything else I get to do is just icing.”

As for the body question, she’ll answer it when asked, but mostly it bores her. “It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” she says. “Back when I was modeling, if someone said ‘I’m fasting,’ I would say, ‘Can’t we talk about something else?’”

Woman of the Hourglass