From sketch to screen: The fashion of ‘Outlander’ with designer Terry Dresbach

Deputy Entertainment Editor
04.01.15

Starz

“Outlander” is almost upon us. The hit show returns to Starz on Sunday, April 4th.

As the first season continues, Claire and Jamie's relationship will be tested as the 18th century world clashes with Claire”s modern morals. External forces such as redcoats and clan politics will force the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Fraser to escape to a new home. But more importantly, into new fashion!

HitFix Harpy spoke with “Outlander” costume designer Terry Dresbach about Claire”s mix-n-match style, Jamie”s brand-new look, and the serendipity of Geillis” ruby-red slippers.


Image Credit: Starz

HITFIX: For the back half of the first season, “Outlander” is getting more female characters. Do they each get their own fashion personality? How do you go about deciding who”s wearing what?

Terry Dresbach: Oh, that”s the fun of the characters. I started reading the books when they first came out. I”ve probably read them eight or nine times over the last 20 years. So a lot of what you see is what”s always sort of been in my head as a reader. By the time the actor gets there you already have a solid idea what you want them to look like. But then, the actor is who they are, and they have their personality, their input. It”s a very collaborative process. But you usually bring to the table a lot of the homework before the actors get there and then they take that and run with it. It”s pretty exciting being part of the whole thing.

One of the running jokes of the first season has been trying to figure out where Claire”s clothes come from because she didn”t bring them with her and she has some really nice clothes!  Are those some castoffs from Colum”s wife, particularly her coat?

Terry: Mrs. Fitz gives them all to her and it”s funny when you read a book and then your job is to translate to screen. Every little bit that from the book doesn”t go up there. But the costume gets cobbled together from somebody”s [dead] wife and other castoffs. Now one interesting thing about Claire”s costumes – because we only had about three weeks to get her clothes going –or the majority of the show, with the exception of her sort of fancy dressings, only has four skirts and six tops.

Wow. It seemed like a lot more.

Terry: We were very, very clever. We were too clever and sort of dress for success formula of mix and match. So what we did was we made sure that the tops and the bottoms were interchangeable. So it looks like she has ten times as many outfits. It”s funny because even Sam would go, “She has so many clothes!”  And I”d be going no she doesn”t. Stop telling people that.
    
We also used accessories to make costumes look different. – and it was borne out of a practical problem.  A: she wouldn”t have had that many clothes and B: we didn”t have time to make that much.  So we just did what I call the Garanimal approach.

[Hysterical laughter] Sorry, I have kids so that”s just the perfect description.

Terry: [laughs] It was very funny because over here in Scotland they all looked at me blankly and went Garanimals?  And I had to explain to them what Garanimals was.  Any American starts laughing but the Scots are like what?  So yeah, and it”s Claire”s Garanimal wardrobe! It”s fun, I swear to God we could put a ‘tiger top” with a ‘bear skirt” and they”d all go together!

How period appropriate are you able to get? Obviously you have to make concessions – the actors are going to be running around. But how accurate to 18th century Scottish life do you try to get?

Terry: We try to be as accurate as humanly possible. There are no zippers in our clothes. There”s no Velcro in our clothes. Everything is made the way it would have been made at the time. The concessions we make are we don”t want Catriona catching pneumonia running around in period shoes or bare feet which is what they actually would have worn. So underneath the skirt she”s wearing a pair of pretty cool looking Patagonia boots that pass pretty well on camera.  
    
The only thing about anybody”s wardrobe in the show that one could have an argument about are Claire”s knit scarves and things. People did wear knitwear but we don”t have photographs of people wearing exactly those kinds of things that we used. But we felt that they were true to the character and to the story and to the piece. And really fit right into the world we were living in.


Image Credit: Starz

The knitwear is very popular. I think everyone will forgive you.

Terry: Yeah it”s very popular. It”s funny because it was kind of a last minute thing. We looked at Catriona, in her costume she just looked cold. She”s in a drafty castle. She looks like she”s going to freeze to death so I thought, she needs something warm and we grabbed the scarf and went oh, that”s it. But we did research. We made sure that there was knitwear and then we concocted an internal story about Mrs. Fitz and her giant knitting needles making things for everybody in the village.

At least if Claire fares better than a modern woman, living in a time before central air. I can”t imagine living somewhere without it.

Terry: It”s interesting because when we”re on set all of our actors are warmer than the crew because they”re wearing layers and layers of wool. They are actually dressed for the environment. We”ll be on set at 4am, and the crew is wearing all these high-tech fancy super fabrics and are freezing and wet while our actors are warm and dry because they”re wearing layers of wool and they”re sort of like sheep. They just don”t get wet.

I”m not sure how much you can talk about Geillis”s outfit that”s coming up when we are reintroduced to her but nearly everything seems a little undone. Not disheveled but kind of rough edges or frayed. Is that something that you”re trying to tell about her character”s personality?

Terry: There”s lots of interesting things to be learned about Geillis and these are all clues of what is to come with her which will not be discovered for a while. She”s the character who we really get to have fun with and play around. We don”t have to play by the same rules we have to play with everybody else. With Geillis, the concept of her is she”s – we”re playing her as if she”s an actress. When she does anything, she”s playing a part. She”s trying to convince people that she is whoever that is in that moment. So if you look at Geillis”s clothes, they”re always a little off and a little odd. But one minute she looks like she”s the wealthy man”s wife and the next minute she looks like a seductress and the next minute she”s the little farm girl. You just never know where you are with her because she”s always playing dress up. Geillis is ever-changing, ever faceted sort of chameleon.

I really loved her red shoes. I hope we see more of them.  

Terry: You know, that was a pure accident.  We had this one pair of shoes in our wardrobe house that just kept showing up in the middle of aisles, like there was a ghost placing them there. We”d walk by and go wonder why somebody hadn”t put those red shoes away. Why are they always stuck in the middle of everything? Then we walked through with Lotte one day and she asked “What are those shoes?” And I tell I don”t know, they”re just stupid shoes we”ve got to get rid of. But she liked those and she put her foot in them and they fit and poof! She wears red shoes.


Image Credit: Starz

Maybe there”s a witch on set somewhere…

Terry: [laughs] I think it”s Geillis.

I know the ladies get the fashion love because they have the most interesting clothes, but I was slightly surprised to see that Jamie gets a change of wardrobe once they get a change of scenery. Is he wearing pants now?  

Terry: He”s wearing trews. Trews are what the wealthy men wore because riding a horse in a kilt was not always the most comfortable concept if you can imagine. Or as many men can imagine.  So men wore these trews and they”re like the original skinny jeans. When we see Robin Hood in the tights? Those were actually trews and when I met Sam he”s just basically nice to meet you, I”m not wearing trews.  And I told him to just try them on. I said “Watch, you”ll see. Once you put the boots on it”s gonna work.”  So we put these things on him and looked absurd. Everybody looks absurd because they”re really tight and really weird. Then he put the boots on and they”re fantastic.  

Everything is through Claire”s viewpoint so to Claire for most of the season she just thinks Jamie is an outlaw, a stable boy.  That he”s poor. It”s not until after the marriage that she really understands that this is not who she thought he was. This guy is educated. He”s nobility. So it was the perfect time to move him into a different look, a look that is a little more commanding and sets him apart from the other men. If you noticed Dougal never wears a kilt. Dougal”s always in trews.

So is it all trews all the time now for Jamie?

Terry: He”ll still be in a kilt. We will always have Jamie in a kilt, but we decided we could vary him up a little bit as a way of reflecting that there”s more to this man than meets the eye.

I know that we are months out from season two and that you can”t tell me anything. I just want to know is if eventually we will get to see panniers, or any other French fashion?

Terry: Yes. We will be as authentic with Paris, with 18th century Paris as we were with Scotland. And we”ve already been working on it for some time. It”s going to be spectacular.

Around The Web