Just because you admire the clothes they wear in Mad Men doesn't mean it's essential to Get the Look

Recently, I met a friend for dinner and we both turned up wearing a pussy-bow blouse, a pencil skirt and high heels.

Just because you admire the clothes they wear in Mad Men doesn't mean it's essential to Get the Look How has this happened?Katie, New York

Katie, give me your hand. No, don't worry about sanitising it first – this is too important. We don't have time for hand-sanitising gel. I don't know how to break this to you. Do you have someone you can call to help you home and keep you company tonight? Because the thing is, my dear, I'm afraid – oh dear, this is the worst part of my job, it truly is. You have Madmenalaria.

Oh, I'm sorry – you probably don't speak medical Latin. I'll explain. In short, you have fallen victim to an epidemic that is sweeping the world. No one yet knows if it is caused by a virus or bacteria, but it enters the eye from the television set and then takes root in the brain and one is instantly overwhelmed with the desire to dress like a character from Mad Men.

There, there, my dear, don't cry. Thanks to the advances in modern medicine there is treatment for the problem, although only for the chosen few. First, stand in front of your closet and count how many items are adorned with pussy bows. Multiply this by the number of pencil skirts you have, then multiply that by how many hours you have spent this month backcombing your hair and then shoving it under an alice band. Finally, add on how many high heels you own. If the answer is more than five, you qualify for the treatment.

So first, take a spoonful of this: just because you like the way a character on TV dresses, it does not mean you have to dress like her, and it absolutely does mean that you mustn't dress like her from head to toe. Cutting edge though you obviously are, Katie, chances are that if you have watched a TV show, others have, too. Thus, your new look will be not so much original as veering dangerously towards a Halloween costume. Admiring an outfit does not necessitate copying it. I realise this is a nigh-on heretical concept in a world where one can't even read a news story on the Daily Mail website without a box popping up urging you to "get the look!" of whatever celebrity is getting divorced that day, but sometimes you really don't need to Get the Look. You can just Look at the Look. And that's just fine.

Next, take a big gulp of this: Remember also that if others have seen the show, chances are some of them will have had the same reaction as you, namely, that they, too, liked some of the outfits on show, and the idea of copying will have struck them as it struck you. We all like to think that we're individuals, but in truth we're all just sheep – some of us maybe a little more shorn than others, or perhaps with hooves just that little bit more cloven, but sheep, one and all. And the result of that, Katie, you already know, when you turned up to a dinner with your mirror image.

And finally, rub in this ointment: the trick, my recovering patient, is, if you absolutely must copy something from TV, a movie, a magazine, or anywhere, take a deep breath, choose the one element of the outfit that you particularly like, and just copy that. So in your case, instead of the whole pussy bow – skirt – heels scenario, just wear a pussy-bow blouse with, say, a pair of jeans and flats. That way, you'll look ever so of the zeitgeist but subtly so and your friend will look as if she's hit the dressing-up box, and if there's one thing better than looking good, it's one's friends looking worse. Don Draper would totally back me up on that.

I rely on Issa to provide decent workwear, but now the label is so associated with Kate Middleton. As a committed republican, I find this highly distressing. What can I do to distance myself?

Siân, London

Well first of all, stay away from princes. And not working for a living. And any elderly people who make racist jokes.

But I'd say that you face a graver problem than a compromise to your republican principles, Sian, and that is the copycats. Already various supermarket brands are knocking out copies of Issa dresses and I bet by the end of the week you'll find your entire wardrobe on sale in your local Tesco for about £17.

Take this as an opportunity, Sian, to break out of the Issa rut, and introduce yourself to a less Sloaney and cheaper alternative, such as Zara. It's almost enough to make one grateful to the royals. Almost.

Email ask.hadley@guardian.co.uk

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Hadley Freeman, for The Guardian on Sunday 28th November 2010 21.00 Europe/London

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