Last updated: Mar 27, 2014
James White
When Christina Hendricks strides into a Los Angeles café, wearing a vintage dress, 3-inch heels and red lipstick, it's hard not to gulp. Even on a day off from filming the final season of AMC's Mad Men, she's as stunning and poised as her alter ego, Joan Harris.

But once the 38-year-old starts talking, it's clear she's more like a frank, funny girlfriend who can easily laugh at herself. "I come up with the silliest excuses when it's time to work out," Christina confides over an early lunch. "I'll be like, 'Oh no! Now I have to go and find some socks.'"

WATCH: Behind the scenes at the Christina Hendricks cover shoot  

The Emmy-nominated actress may be co-starring in films with Charlize Theron and Eva Mendes later this year, but she's as un-Hollywood as it gets. She's quick to admit that she will run to the drugstore for a box of hair color if she can't find the time to have her red tresses tweaked at a salon. Her shopping habits are down-to-earth, too: "This dress is inspired by Michael Kors' new collection, but I found it on eBay for $11!" (Her $17 shoes are from a thrift store.) Leave it to Christina to make a $28 outfit look like a million bucks.

Joan has come such a long way on Mad Men, from a secretary to partner. Do you think she leans in when it comes to supporting other women?
She does. The whole relationship with Peggy has been head-butting, but I think it's because they communicate in different ways. Joan is incredibly blunt, and it can come off as cruel, but I think she's always trying to help.

She can be one of the guys, but she never sacrifices her femininity. What's her secret?
Joan knows her audience. And early on in her life, she realized that she could use her feminine power. She has a sense of humor. It's like "Wink, wink. I got your number, but I'm not playing your game."

How has her style evolved?
I think Joan moves with the times as far as fabrics and color choices go. But she knows what works for her, and she sticks with that silhouette. Her hair hasn't changed in six years!

What works for you?
I have classic and feminine taste. I'm definitely drawn to vintage-inspired and ladylike things. I like an accentuated waist, and a strong shoulder works well with my figure.

James White
Any tips for making sure that vintage doesn't look too costumey?
It is tricky because I do wear a lot of vintage on the red carpet, and usually when I'm getting ready, I'll say, "We need to make sure that I don't look like I'm in a Scorsese film today." Sometimes I do something a little bit more modern with my hair. You have to mix it up.

What is your go-to look for summertime?
I love a caftan in the summer. It's like my housedress. I have a collection of Camilla Franks in my closet. When my friends come over, they're like, "Really? That's so...colorful." But they make me happy.

I read that you and your husband (actor Geoffrey Arend) were sketching swimsuit designs. Are you designing a collection?
We did it one night on a whim. We were just having fun together. It was never a reality.

That's too bad. Which type of swimwear cut is best for you?
I like the old-fashioned, vintage-inspired swimsuits with halters and maybe a little ruching, and the longer cut that's almost short-shorts, like Ava Gardner used to wear a lot, right?

Speaking of Ava Gardner, what does your husband have to say about your sexpot image?
Ha! Whenever we see something about it, he always says, "I told you from the beginning. I'm the one who called it first." So he just wants a little credit. Really, he's sweet and he's happy for me.

You once said that you two work out together.
We used to share a trainer. Now I'll say something like "OK, we need to do push-ups every day," and at any time in the day, I can make him get down and do them, or he can tell me to do them.

Do you have a regular workout routine?
Trying to make myself do it is my routine. We have an elliptical, a weight machine and free weights. I'm like, "OK, Christina. It's just an hour!"

You feel better after, right?
Always! Always! And I sleep better and I'm proud of myself—all of those things.

Sweats or spandex?
I just wear a yoga pant and an old T-shirt. Keep it casual.

Do you have any rules when it comes to eating?
As I've gotten older, I realize that my metabolism has changed. I finally had to get on board with fewer carbs and starches and sugars. I fought it kicking and screaming! But now Geoffrey and I think, What can we replace this with to make it still exciting and delicious?

Share your best healthy food swap.
Greek yogurt. I love dairy, so if I can't have sour cream or creme fraiche, it's a great substitute. I really love the tart tanginess of it. So if I'm dying for French onion dip, I just put in Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Do you like to cook?
I love cooking for my friends. It's nice to give them something homemade that your heart went into. That's where my motherly nature comes in—we got a puppy, and that's my idea of starting a family. People say, "Oh, that's practice for parenting," but if it's practice for anything it's to be a mom to another puppy. We've decided that we are not really interested in having children.

How do people respond?

It seems like it's expected that you'd want to have kids. It's just very normal for people to say, "Well, when you guys have kids..." And then when I say, "Actually I don't think we're going to do that," people will say, "Oh, you say that now..." It doesn't bother me, though. And, you know, there's a small chance I could change my mind.

Do you follow recipes or improvise in the kitchen?
Years ago, I was scared to deviate from a recipe, but now I'm like, "Oh, I don't have that, so I'll do this instead."

That sounds like a healthy life philosophy, too.
I've never been that person who had a plan like "In five years, I'm going to do this." Things have shifted in ways that I would never have imagined. I never anticipated being a professional actor. I just assumed it would be in community theater—like after my job, I would go to rehearsal and be in a play.

Now look at you. How do you defuse stress?
I sometimes get anxious about work or have fear of the unknown, but I try not to let it eat away at me. I turn to the people who are close to me and talk it out. I always feel better when my friends give me good advice.

When are you happiest?
Well, I woke up this morning and I heard good music playing and I smelled delicious food cooking downstairs. When I came down, my husband had his apron on and my dog was chewing on her bone. I was like, "This is perfect! This is exactly what I want to be doing right now." I felt very, very happy.

Christina's Greatest Hits
Cocktail: "A Brandy Alexander. It's not something I order all the time, but it's probably the best drink I've ever had. It tastes like a slice of pecan pie."

Lipstick: "I have so many, but one of my absolute favorites is Nars Red Square lip pencil. It's very orangey red and matte and vibrant."

Signature Scent: "I just discovered Serge Lutens perfumes, and I have one called Fille en Aiguilles. It's warm and nutty, and oh my God, it's so sexy."

Guilty Pleasure: "Spaghetti with red sauce. I love it. I crave it always."

Her Go-to Beauty Moves
Face: "I always start out with sunblock or a tinted moisturizer. Right now, I'm using Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua with SPF—it blends so well."

Cheeks: "I'm a huge blush girl, but I tend to have dry skin. I love the HD cream blush by Make Up Forever in a coral color for day and a deeper berry shade for night."

Eyes: "Ever since high school, I have done a liquid liner on my lid, and that's the look I wear on Mad Men, too. I use one by Stila, and I usually finish with two coats of mascara in dark brown."

Lips: "I try everything, from matte to gloss. And because I'm fair, I can play with color. I am not afraid of bright pink or orange!"