Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Monthly Archives: November 2014

Colum and Lettitia – The Gathering


I thought this would be great to look at as it finishes up Lettitia’s costumes, but also lets you see the two complimentary costumes together, Colum and Letticia, Laird and Lady of Leoch. We found these extraordinary gold laces very early in, during our prep. It really helped define how I wanted to design Scotland, and create a visual difference between Scottish aristocracy and French or English.

It is not accurate for the time, but it created an important subliminal difference, and made the characters something other that carbon copies of French Fashion. Paris was the epicenter of fashion in Europe, but culture and nationality cannot be so easily dismissed. If you look at 18th century fashion in Russia, England, or Italy, the French influence is very dominant, but you can see the cultural aesthetic in the clothing of the different regions. We wanted to do that in Scotland as well, and like using the knit pieces, took the leap with these particular laces, which are very rustic in their design, but still opulent, in order to help tell the story.

Marrying together the McKenzie tartan in both Colums plaid and Letitia’s arisaid, was another important touch.

They are very ornate costumes, with opulent fabrics and jewelry (Lettitia also had magnificent earrings), which helped establish them as legitimate aristocracy, not wild primitives.

Gary Lewis, who plays Colum said, “Ochh, Terry (roll all those R’s when you read my name said by anyone Scottish), that’s grand. This lace looks like Scotland!”

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Lettitia #2




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I get positively teary over Lettitia. I LOVED her. I loved everything about her. We never saw her standing.

She had some truly wonderful costumes. And her costumes were the first place I used a knit piece.

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Q & A



How many copies of one costume do you generally make, specially for those that are worn in many scenes? For Claire’s dresses that get a rough treatment- like the dress she is wearing in episode 8 do you have one that is made to tear and be put back for retakes or do you sacrifice one of the copies ? Do the doubles also have a version of most of the main costumes ? Can you recycle some when it comes to extras and how ‘fully sewn’ are those costumes ( how permanently put together are they) ? BTW I just love the sleeves on the wedding dress the raw edges gives such an ephemeral quality !!

It completely depends on what is going to happen to any costume during filming, as well as how many overall costumes the character wears, over what period of time.

On a show like Outlander, it is particularly challenging.

Claire has only a few costumes that we made just one of. One wedding dress and one Gathering dress. She has a minimum of 4 of just about every costume. (only two copies of her riding jacket and her green plaid dress). But her main wardrobe, has about 6 of everything. Because it goes through hell, it gets dragged through mud, thrown onto the ground, ripped, torn, in pouring rain and on horseback and every other possible condition. So far Diana has not written Claire into scenes involving forest fires. And all she gets for all of this season, is essentially 4 main costumes that she wears day in and day out.

Her white dress, we made 12 of those, because we did everything to that dress except light it on fire.

Now, with our Highlanders, we have to make a lot, because they only have one or two costumes, and they also go through hell and back. So we made 6- 8 of their costumes.

But characters like Geillis and Colum, Mrs. Fitz, we only make one of their costumes. They don’t have major action or stunts, so we can take the chances, cross our fingers that they don’t spill lunch on themselves.

Stunt and camera doubles wear one of the multiple costumes.

Extras costumes are fully made. They have to be just as believable (maybe even more so), than our cast. So they are permanent costumes. Hopefully we will be on your screens for many years, and the extras costumes will be used over and over, as they travel from Scotland to Frasers Ridge, and everywhere in between.

I love those sleeves too.

Geillis – Gathering


I was really sorry we didn’t see more of the gown we made for Geillis in the Gathering.

It is a riff on an Arisaid, or maybe better put, Geillis’s particular take on an Arisaid. Once again, Geillis “plays with her clothes”. She is always playing dress up, never the same Geillis twice. Geillis is always wearing a costume.

I STILL wish I had a really great pic of Lotte in this costume. The wonderful Emily took these pictures, and did an excellent job of styling the mannequin, but this is one of those costumes that requires a body.

And YES, the eye brooch is purposely large. I made that choice, for the telling of the story. I know that the actual ‘lovers eye’ brooches were much smaller.

Did I post a sketch of this one?? This blog is getting too big!



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Geillis in Green



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Q & A



Do you have to make dresses for every extra from scratch? Or you can rent them?

We rent SOME. But there is not a lot available. It is a very busy time in the UK, and you just kind of freak out a bit to discover the racks of costumes on hold by other productions, THAT YOU NEED!!! Plus, it is expensive, very expensive. To rent an entire costume costs about £500. When you need seven or eight hundred costumes it adds up. Making it in house is much cheaper, and you own it forever. But there are always time and crew issues. It takes about a week to make a costume, and in Season One, we had about 8 weeks to make an entire show. We had to make 12 of Claire’s 1940s white dress. 4 – 6 copies of most of her 18th century costumes, at least 6 of everything Jamie and the Highlanders wear, all the day players, and then the extras.

It is pretty crazy. This next season, we are trying to make 1000 extras costumes. Still crazy.
How many people do you have working for you?

Anywhere from 30 – 100, depending on what is going on. We always have a basic team of 30. But depending on what we are shooting, we add crew. So for a scene like the Gathering, you need so many people. You have to organize hundreds of costumes, fit hundreds of people a week or so before shooting, then dress a few hundred people the day of shooting, and then maintain their costumes during the shoot. After you are done shooting, all the costumes have to be taken apart, cleaned then put back into stock, ready for the next round.

If we need to make an extra hundred costumes here or there, once you make them, they have to be aged and broken down so they don’t look all spanky new, so you have to add people to the breakdown department.

It take a lot of people, it’s a massive operation.
How much sewing do you do? Or are you at this point a supervisor? (I don’t know how to say what I’m asking sorry)

I cannot sew. I don’t know how.

After 25 years doing this, I understand construction, I have to. I have to be able to speak the language spoken by the amazing people who make the clothes. But I am miserable with a needle and thread. I have no patience for it, and there is just too much math.

I draw, I design. I create the look that you see on your screen. The actual costumes, and the colors, the palette, the tone and feel of the show. I work closely with the production designer so that everything in front of the camera works together and sets the right mood and feel. In Season One, I wanted to take inspiration from Scotland itself as it is such a powerful visual entity, so you will see the colors, textures and feel of the surrounding landscape reflected in the costumes.

I run the costume department. But not alone. I have a brilliant team. I have two amazing assistant designers,  who help design and manage day players and extras. Our costume supervisor manages the workings of the department, the budget and staffing. We have three wonderful cutters who take my crazy sketches, make the patterns, and get the costumes made with a team of 20 makers. We have our embroidery team, who are about to have their work cut out for them in S2. Our breakdown department dyes, ages and does all sorts of wizardry to make brand new costumes look and feel real and believable. We have added an amazing textile artist to our team, so that we can make our own printed/painted fabrics. And finally, our amazing set team, who dresses our cast every day, and keeps them in continuity in front of camera, warm and fairly dry, while standing outside in frigid wet, muddy condition for 14 hours a day (or night). It’s a brutal job.


On another note: I will happily read comments here, but if you have a question that you want answered, you are going to need to go inside to the blog and post your question there. It is too much work to try and answer questions in two places. Thanks everyone!!

Geillis – Meeting Claire


I know, you guys all thought I had permanently vanished.

But no, just dealing with re-entry into the US, and all that has been waiting for my attention over a year and a half.

Anyway, I finally have our photo project underway. So there will be detailed pics of costumes coming your way. I know many of you have been asking for a closer examination!

So we are going to start with Geillis’s costume, the first time we see her. Note, I have included pics of the way her wrap was designed to be worn, before the lovely Lotte had her way with it! 😉

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