53 thoughts on “Interview With Outlander Costume Designer Terry Dresbach

  1. Awesome interview. Thank you so much for being frank with the fans, Terry. I am loving the look of S2 so far! Thank you for fighting to keep the look as historically accurate as possible. You set a wonderful example that I hope Hollywood will begin to follow!

    1. Thank you! And thank you to Frock Flicks, what a fun interview this was. It is so great to get to speak in detail with people who do know about historical dress.
      One note I want to add, that was understandably not part of the interview.

      I want to take a minute to acknowledge and thank the powers that be, on Outlander.
      This is a very unusual show in the fact that we have such full and robust support from everyone all the way up the ladder. That is very rare. I have never experienced anything like it.
      Our production, Ron and Maril, Matt,Toni, Ira, Anne, Sony, Starz, have been incredible to work with. Not only do we have a really great budget and structure, but they give us the kind of creative freedom that allows us to get it done and to get it done right.
      The most important support you can get in this business, comes in the form of trust. You can get second guessed to death by people who no nothing about costumes. Everyone trusts us, and lets us get on with it.
      It is an amazing and new experience, one I am incredibly grateful for, and one I have waited thirty years to have.
      Just needed to say that.

      1. Terry – you are very lucky to have this support, especially from upper management and by upper management I mean from Sony/Starz. It is very rare today to have those powers to be to let the people they hire to do their job and do it right. I worked in IT and we were driven by upper management’s directive of timeframes and budget – this made for long hours, sloppy work and very bad morale. Congratulations on that front.
        As someone who has been sewing since she was 5, some 50+ years, I am so envious of those that got to work under your genius. Both seasons have been a feast for the eyes. I thank you for sharing your Outlander Costume journey with us. I have learnt so much from you.

        1. Yes, I am incredibly lucky. This job is so huge, it just wouldn’t be possible if I was being micro-managed. The support we get from above is amazing and very rare.

  2. As an amateur sewist and a long time fan of the Outlander series, I am continuously enthralled with the costumes and how they’ve been interpreted, I literally GASPED when I saw the red dress. I am in awe of Ms. Dresback and cannot thank her enough for the beautiful works of art she has created, from the peasants to the royalty, all in some way or another encompassing the attributes of the characters themselves. Brava!

  3. I LOVED this interview. Insight into so many things! I love the way the costumes have been handled, and one would never know that you and your team were hurried and lacking in help. I loved the Red Dress as presented. I think that it did what it was supposed to do, and be different from the time period. Loved that you could see her au naturel, and not corsetted. I am a huge fan of the 1940’s costumes, and I am in love with her blue coat. You should consider selling them or a pattern. People would buy it up. Is there any chance of allowing people a tour of your costume facilities? Thanks for all that you and the cast and crew do. Love Outlander

  4. Awesome interview Frock Flicks and Terry. Your explanation of telling part of the story through the costume designs. I so agree with you when it comes to period clothing and that fashion and costumes not absolutes. Enjoyed the read!

  5. “So when you guys wonder why we don’t have the perfect robe a la francaise, that is why. We were lucky we could shoot. It absolutely broke my heart as I watched all my dreams for S2 go down the drain.”

    This certainly sheds a lot of light.

    I will say that I respect and appreciate the passion that Ms. Dresbach clearly has for her profession and for this show. She is a costume designer first, and an historian second (or third, or maybe not at all). We may disagree with some of her design decisions as viewers, and her interpretations of some aspects of history, but we have to remember that her job encompasses far more than making sure the pleats on the back of a dress are the correct width. And at the end of the day, she has an immense talent for making clothes are that are very aesthetically pleasing and suit the actors who wear them well, while also paying service to the plot and characters. And frankly, that’s more than can be said for a lot of costume designers who have worked on historical productions, as the posts on this site can attest.

  6. Fantastic interview. Love the background on the decisions on why certain looks were chosen.

  7. Wait, you didn’t ask about how the swans were done?
    You made me so curious in the podcast, is there an answer?

    1. I read an interview with Terry where she said she made them from sculpey herself! And they basically had to hand fit them to the actress, which was awkward. I’ll have to see if I can dig up the link. It’s NSFW, so I’ll have to wait til I get home. :-)

      1. THANK YOU for answering that question. It’s been bugging me all week! I know I read that you crafted the swans, but were you also responsible for the nipples? Inquiring minds want to know. ;)

  8. Loved this interview, thank you! I really appreciate not only the “behind the scenes” look at how the costumes form, but also Terry’s frank discussion of women in the industry and costuming as “women’s work.” Keep it up :)

  9. Your interview with Ms Dresbach was one of the best costume and budget reality articles ever. Merci beaucoup, Team Frock Flicks and Ms Dresbach.

    I also want to say I loved the red dress. It felt very Claire to me. But my favourite Claire dress is the teal brocade robe a la francais that she wears (see Twitter post as I don’t know how to imbedded a picture here).

    I also felt that Ms Dresbach was able to convey how lost Claire as someone not a Fashionista would be thrust into a world where how you dress is so very important.

    Again, thanks a million

  10. I have learned so much from Terry, I never had any idea of the process a costume designer went through. I wish I were 36 years younger and I would have probably gone on a different career path. It was a wonderful insightful interview thank you so much.

  11. I would love to thank Mrs. Dresbach for all the hard work to get the costumes made and onto the screne. I shrieked and fangirled over the Riding Bar Dress. That is my new pattern for the Salty Ball, a pirate event held to benefit Testicular Cancer research. I adored the red shoes and the fabric of the Sang Du Chris gown. Though I have also seen another red dress with a completely different bodice and sleeves shown at a dinner party type scene. I am more intrigued with THAT gown and it’s design. What can you tell us about that one?

  12. Excellent interview. I’m sure I speak for the majority of fans when I say we could never imagine such a wonderful production company for this series and the gift of this incredible woman making magic in such challenging situations.

    When a survey (of sorts) asked where fans would want to be on set, being able to watch Terry and the wardrobe dept do their thing came out on top. Her knowledge and honest insights are fascinating.

  13. Thank you for doing interview!
    Now I feel guilty for being whiny about lack of francaises and similar things. I now get it. It wasn’t meant to be so, but had to be rescued somehow.

    I am impressed. So short time, lack of people, produce/sew like mad.

  14. Congratulations Terry on being able to achieve your dream career, and for standing up for historical accuracy in Hollywood. No mean feat that. With so many TV series making it up as they go along and trashing history it makes a very welcome change.
    When I was a student I also dreamed of being a costume designer. Told the teachers in the careers office and they sneered and told me to be sensible and look at nursing or secretarial work. Needless to say I walked out having decided that the career concept was over rated. Nice to read of someone who achieved that dream.
    I was also amused when following the link to the concept art by the header photo of the barn. I have a photo of the same barn, taken from a different angle.
    Thank you for doing the interview. It was very interesting. I will enjoy series two all the more now knowing what went into creating it.

  15. I almost cried reading parts of Terry’s interview. 30-odd years ago, when my wife and I stared out to create a 17th-century reenactment group, we had a fair idea of what the clothes should look like, but what we didn’t have, and never really found anywhere, were the trims. Or the shoes, or the hats (we eventually did discover a local hat manufacturer, but not much else. For example, there were many mentions of a ‘montero’ cap for the soldiers. At the time, nobody over here, nor in the UK had a clue. This was all BI (Before the Internet) Today, you can get a montero from a guy in the UK for about $42. And muskets? Swords, pistols, armour — then not so much. Now, there are even sources for Eastern European gear. But trim, still not so much. We also realised that patterns were going to come out differently from different seamstresses, and that ANY garment from the period was handmade, therefore, not exactly like another. (PS, that odd little cap the Milady wears in the Richard Lester film is apparently a version of a montero). So, yeah, I can well understand Terry’s angst, and heartily applaud how much she has done with what she had to work with.

  16. Thanks for this interview Ms Dresbach! While I occasionally squint at some of the choices you’ve made, you do such a great job overall that I KNOW there’s reasoning behind them, and it’s great to hear what they are (although sad to hear your plans were derailed). Outlander is absolutely my favourite show at the moment and a huge part of that is the incredible visuals created by you and your costuming department. Really appreciate your work, and I hope you have an easier time of it next season!

  17. This interview was fantastic! Thank you to Frock Flicks and Terry Dresbach!

    I actually started watching Outlander because of the costumes. When the press started, I got a synopsis of book 1 from a friend and decided it wasn’t for me because I’m very sensitive to violence on screen. Then I read an interview Terry did with Jezebel about the costumes and changed my mind. I’m so glad I did, and I’m so appreciative that Terry is so generous with her time and expertise and talks to fans about the ins and outs of costume design. It makes watching the show that much more fascinating!

    (Also, we may quibble about back-lacing and no robes à la française, but I think most people agree this show gets the majority of things right. Not everything can be 100% historically accurate on a tv show, for the reasons that Terry points out. Also, if everything was perfect, whatever would we talk about? ;-) The discussion and speculation about the thinking behind certain costumes is half the fun!)

  18. Great interview with Terry. I worked in the art department for years I understand the heartache Terry speaks of “not enough time or money” One of the reasons that had me watching Outlander was the detail of the production design. I have never seen that kind of detail on a TV show. The costumes and sets blew me away… I was a little envious… this would have been a dream project for me as well. Congrats to Terry and the rest of the crew, it may not be historically perfect but you get a feel and essence of the time and space. The best is how fabulous it it looks on the actors.

  19. I’m a little confused about the reasoning behind not renting the costumes. TD said it was better to create everything from scratch so they could use it again, rather than renting from multiple costume houses in Europe. But why would they use the Paris costumes again? AFAIK they aren’t going to be in that city (or time period) again for the rest of the series, or am I missing something?

    1. Yes, we alter and distress all the costumes. If we own a costume we can change it however we want to.
      The most important point is that the many costumes houses in Europe, don’t have the quantities that you need to do TV. Might be able to pull off a movie.

      When you go to a costume house, if you haven’t been, is not always what one anticipates.
      There is either a long rail that says 16th century, or 18th century, or if you are lucky enough to be doing the 40s, or the 50s, there are many, many rails.
      Then your team goes through the 18th century rail, and start pulling.
      Hopefully there are no other shows, movies, shooting at that time for your particular period.

      So the couple of people you have to do this, start sorting.

      – find your years.Because a century is a long time, and you want at least TRY :) not to use costumes from 1780 in a story about 1740
      You find, say, 60 dresses or suits. (if you are really lucky, it is more likely to be 20)

      – Now, sort out the costumes that work with your show. Consider color, tone, class, all the elements that one considers on any show.

      – Get rid of the horrors, because there have been a lot of really scary, garish costumes made over the years. Lose the ones that are falling apart.

      By the time you have done all that weeding, maybe you have 20 costumes.
      Now you sort through all the accessories, hats, shoes, fichus, reticules, stocks, corsets, petticoats, match up waistcoats with suits (that is a challenge), etc.

      Let’s be really generous, and say that you have cobbled together 100 costumes. You pay x amount of dollars to rent them for 6 months.

      If you are doing a movie, and you have one party scene, you might be able to squeak by.

      But here is the rub.We make a one hour movie every episode. Or, call it six movies each season..
      We dress about 5000 bodies during a season. Once you add in all of those accessories, you need thousands and thousands of items.

      For the same price as renting a costume, I can make one. Now I own it.
      If you alter, or age or do anything to a rental costume, you pay 10X it’s value. So a costume you rent for $400.. now costs you $4000. You want to be sure not to have that happen.
      But if I OWN that costume, I can change the trim, I can age it, we can stab the person wearing it, and we never pay anything more than cost of making it.

      I can easily take a gown we made for the Paris section, and alter it to work in a later scene or season. People kept their clothing for years and years. There was no Target and a gown or a suit was highly valued or cared for, modified to suit changing styles. We can do the same.

      You also have to calculate in the cost of air travel and hotel for members of your team to the various rental houses.
      It all adds up.

      Hope that sheds some light on our process.

      1. Thanks, that’s what I was thinking but you of course are able to articulate it much better, given that you’re living it!

      2. Very enlightening response! Though I’m assuming part of what Shrewsburrylasses was getting at was that the Paris wardrobe isn’t going to be appropriate anymore for where they are headed in Voyager… definitely not for the location of Drums of Autumn (trying to keep this spoiler-free). What a nightmare for the costuming department to have to completely restock the wardrobes each season. The change of locale was great in the books, but it adds a new level of difficulty to the adaptation.

        Maybe at the end of it all there can be an Outlander museum just for the costumes ;-) I would go!!!

        1. Actually there are places in Voyager that the costumes could be used again. Think Lord John Grey party. Plus you have Jocasta’s events in the other books.

          1. Yes, but would it make sense for them to be wearing fashion-forward clothing appropriate for Versailles in the backwoods of *****? (Keeping it spoiler-free!) Not to mention there would be continuity issues as to how the clothes got there… However, I’m mostly thinking of the differences in climate.

            I don’t know, we’ll just have to wait and see what Terry comes up with!

          2. Like Terry said they can distress stuff, take stuff off and add stuff on. Obviously they wouldn’t be wearing those kinds of clothes in the back woods but remember LJG is the governor of Jamaica at one point. Jocasta had the upper echelon of society to her parties. Some redoing and maybe some dying and voila a new dress.

        2. You are hitting it on the nose here. The blessing and the curse of Outlander is that nothing is ever final. You need a few thousand costumes for Paris? We will only be there one time. On ships, only once. It never gets dull, but it is a logistical nightmare.
          That is where you have to get clever, and design costumes that can be modified as the story moves forward. This is a place where I have a tremendous advantage knowing the books so well. I know where we have to go.

      3. Thank you for the detailed reply. The search and rental process is so much more complicated than I imagined. And thank you for taking the time to share all of this interesting information with us about your process; I’ve enjoyed reading it very much!

        1. You are most welcome!
          I long for the days of Edith Head, when a designer just designed, and the rest was provided for through the studio system. Today, designing is really about 40% of the job. The rest of the time gets eaten up by administration, logistics, budget and process.
          We are administrators as well as creative heads of departments. Costume Designers have very full plates.

  20. This was most interesting. As to the reuse of them, America in colonial times wasn’t a Fashion back of beyond. Think of the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia delegations in John Adams, 1776 and the George Washington miniseries.

  21. Thank you Terry – not only for the incredible insight into the challenges and rewards of your work, but for your persistence. Your efforts bring real joy to fans of costume dramas, and intellectual curiosity, relaxation, inspiration, and reason to tune in. You create such art under extreme pressure and with shifting limitations! For the well-being of all, I do hope though that in the future the industry can respond better to your needs, and understand the significance of your team. I’ll be sharing this interview with the Willow and Thatch: Love of Period Films audience. Thanks again! to you and to Frock Flicks.

    1. Thank you so much for your incredibly kind words. This kind of understanding and response really matters. It means that our efforts count with viewers and that makes it worthwhile to continue to invest the incredible hours, time and energy necessary.
      I think viewers/fans really do not understand how much impact they have. Positive feedback means everything. It inspires and excites us. When all we have is negative feedback about EVERYTHING we do, it can be very disheartening to an already exhausted team. It can feel like, “we are bleeding all over the floor, FOR THIS?”
      Not saying that legitimate criticism is not actually valued. We will avoid back lacings, and I think the red dress probably is too short. We can all learn, and it would be dull indeed if all we received was adulation. But the conclusion that we are all uncaring hacks, who know nothing about what we are doing, is what really gets to us.

      I have decided instead, to go under the assumption that people just do not understand what actually goes into what we do. And if people want to see behind the curtain, than perhaps a better understanding will be beneficial to all, so let’s talk about how it all really works.
      The discussion is quite thrilling. I look at what we have accomplished here at FF, the dialogue, the interaction, it is quite wonderful.
      I want to encourage viewers to feel free to interact as much as possible. I am on twitter almost every day to answer questions (@draiochta14), or come to my blog to see detailed descriptions of costumes and the thought process behind them.
      I’ll have to come check out Willow and Thatch!!! Again, thank you so much!!

  22. Thank you for your blog. I find it most informative on your design process. I especially liked the last two posts on Claire and Jamie.
    I think some of the public don’t take into consideration the actors’ viewpoints. Sam’s not wishing to wear lots of lace and say lime green. I shudder to think. Again thanks.

  23. I have a feeling that, union/SAG-equivalent issues aside, if you ever have a room full of people walk out again you can post a call for help on here and get some very talented seamstresses, cutters, etc. to help you. :) Just a thought…

      1. If I knew how to, I’d be there in a heartbeat! That said, I don’t know people’s lives but I bet there are a few who would dig the adventure. :)

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