The Jersey Boys star swaps ’60s chic for Capitol Hill power suits in his new series, Madam Secretary, premiering September 21 on CBS. You'd never guess he used to dress up like Michael Jackson.
By Brandon Voss
Essential Homme: How would you describe your personal style?
Erich Bergen: I’m 6-foot-3 and not exactly shy, so even though I’d like to be more daring with fashion, I’ve been told it’s better to stay simple. I try to keep to blues, grays, and blacks. Maybe I’ll buy a colorful shirt in the summer, but I’ll wear it once, catch myself in the reflection of a store window, and go, “What am I wearing?” I believe that how you look speaks volumes about who you are and where you want to be in life.
Do you enjoy shopping for clothes?
I do. I appreciate retail stores designed for men who don’t like to shop. I’m grateful that J.Crew exists because it’s a fun, comfortable place to shop, and they style the clothing around the store to show you how to dress.
At your height is it hard to find clothes off the rack?
It’s the absolute worst. Especially with American clothing, where going medium to large goes sideways instead of long. I have to spend a lot of money to find clothes that fit well. A T-shirt that fits me is at least $40. I’m really into tailoring, because everything has to fit perfectly. I can’t just get a Hanes three-pack.
Which other labels do you like?
It’s hard to beat a Ralph Lauren suit. I’ve also gotten really obsessed with basics from Vince and Theory.
Growing up in New York City, when did you start caring about what you wore?
I grew up in Chelsea in the late ’80s, so the fashion world was all around me. I always wanted to be in costume and putting on a show. I was obsessed with Michael Jackson, so I wore Michael Jackson-inspired outfits that my mother made for me. There were sequins on everything, because I thought that was normal.
Before starring as Bob Gaudio in the Jersey Boys film, you played the Four Seasons member for years in the Las Vegas production and national tour. Did that retro style rub off on you?
Absolutely. Spending so much time in that world, loving those ’60s fashions and that attention to detail, I wasn’t comfortable in a T-shirt anymore — even in L.A., where a guy’s uniform is T-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. The edgiest I got was a button-down without a tie. I’ll still sacrifice comfort and suffer for style; I’m such a New Yorker.
Did you use a stylist for red carpets while promoting the Jersey Boys film?
Yeah, I worked with Paul Carter from John Varvatos, which I love. I’d been doing the stage show for so long that I was wearing suits and ties in every photo out there, so I wanted to show a more modern side. We went for stylish, clean, but not so safe. We played with T-shirts and blazers, and I wore a tuxedo with a rock and roll edge so it didn’t feel stuffy.
You play Blake, the Secretary of State’s assistant, in Madam Secretary. What do his clothes say about him?
He takes a lot of pride in his appearance, but he likes to have a little fun. He’s not afraid to break out of the D.C. standard a bit, so he’ll wear a pink shirt underneath his Hugo Boss suit.
You recently released your second album, Never Give Up. How do you dress when you’re in pop star mode?
Barry Manilow taught me that it’s about the music, because the songs will always outlast the artist. I don’t want to be a character. I try to look my best, but I want to look like myself, whatever that means.
You have great hair. What’s your secret?
Stop washing it. You can condition, but only wash it every nine to ten days. I’m love American Crew pomade and the men’s grooming products from Baxter of California. I have really thick Jewish hair, so it tends to eat product. Once I find one that works, I buy all that I can find in case they ever stop making it. I’m like Elaine on Seinfeld when they stopped making the Sponge.
Essential Homme, August/September 2014 issue.