Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer



I just checked the blog to find a post by Helena Jensen taking me to task about what kind of research I do, and how long it takes us to lace a corset on Outlander.

Hers was one of many posts of a similar nature. Apparently there quite a few blogs and forums that are concerned with how I do my job. I thought I would take the opportunity to answer all of the queries and concerns.

Here is Helena’s post:

“Your definition of research is not one that a serious academic would recognise.

And the idea that it takes twenty minutes to put on a corset, stays, jumps or bodies is risible.”

Actually Helena, you actually have NO idea what kind of research we have done or not done. Or apparently, what my job is.

The point of costume design for a television show or a film is not to educate the viewer about how long it takes to put on a corset. It is to tell a story about people, it is to transport viewers to another place and often another time, and to help them believe the story. There are many approaches to that process. Some choose to tell that story completely out of context, it has been a device used in theater for centuries. We have seen Shakespearean works presented in many guises.

On Outlander I have chosen along with other members of our creative team to tell the story in a historical context. Ron Moore, the shows creator has said that we will try to be accurate, but something we choose might just be from 1760, instead of 1744, since storytelling is our goal, not making a documentary.

I am sorry that you and some others take issue with the work we have done. It is disappointing since we have put tremendous effort into trying to do good and creative work.

We had seven weeks to make hundreds and hundreds of costumes. At the beginning of those seven weeks we stood in an empty warehouse and started to build a show, We put in walls, lighting, tables, sewing machines, hired a crew and started making costumes. Gowns, frock coats, corsets, stocks, breeches, petticoats, bodices, skirts, fichus, gloves, belts, sporrans, waistcoats, redcoat uniforms, 1940s clothing, military uniforms. We wove meters and meters of tartan to make kilts. We had shoes built, we made hats. And that is just for SOME of the hundreds and hundreds of extras we have this season. We simultaneously made costumes for our actors, when we got them (Caitriona Balfe was cast two weeks before shooting). We had to design and make 12 of those white shifts you see on screen, and 6 of every other principal costume you see.
We had to plan for stunts and sword fights, bullet wounds, maintaining continuity and comfort in freezing cold rain and mud. We pounded, dyed, sandblasted, torched, baked and painted all those costumes so they would look used and worn, instead of pristine as they are on some shows.

My stellar and dedicated team has worked eighteen hour days to get this show on the air, and then have continued to do so over the past year, making a couple of thousand costumes and dressing a few thousand people over and over, at 4am, over the course of the show.

And after we finished those seven weeks and the cameras started rolling, we started making all the other hundreds of costumes for extras and principals for the rest of the season.

We have fought and argued to keep bum rolls, fichus, stocks and pretty much every conceivable period correct garment on the show with those who wanted us to modernize like so many other shows. I do regular interviews with reporters who all ask why I don’t make it contemporary.
I have a similar answer to the one I have given you. “Because it is not our show”

I am incredibly proud of the amazing work the consummate professionals on my team have done. They have worked themselves into complete exhaustion because they want viewers to have a rewarding experience and because they would never consider doing anything less.
So, what we do has absolutely nothing to do with wether it takes 10 or 20 or 60 minutes to lace a corset. It is not about whether our shape is created by a bum roll or a pocket, it is not about how many stitches we use to make a hem, or if we have done the same kind of research an academic would, or anything else of that nature. So let me go on the record about that. I don’t expect to put any of our characters in neon spandex, but if I or the others I work with decide that is the creative choice we want to make, that is what we will do.

Hopefully that will answer the complaints, once and for all. But I kind of doubt it. LOL
Other than that, I will co-opt Diana’s answer and just say Pfffffft. It just takes so much less time to write.

128 thoughts on “Authenticity

  1. Lisa

    Awesome response. Thank you, Terry, and your entire team for all of your hard work and creativity. It’s enlightening for those of us who watch the show to learn about all that you do.

  2. Merry Miller Moon

    You tell her Terry!
    I think the work that you and your staff have done is amazing! I cannot wait to see the outfits on episode three tomorrow. I watch the show and rewatch it many times so that I don’t miss one detail about the clothing. You’ve done an excellent job! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Huge thanks to you for providing us this glimpse into your creative mind! Hugs to you Terry! And, keep up the great work! (haters are gonna hate-just shrug them off!)

  3. Sharon Porray Levine

    OMG I can’t believe, with all the wonderful work you and your team have done, that someone had the audacity to make that comment!! Please know that there are LEGIONS of us that truly appreciate all the hours and hours of hard labor you have put in. The costumes are GORGEOUS and very well done, no question. Ignore the nitpickers, you’ll show them next Emmy season when you grab the awards!

  4. Jeanette Harris

    I love all the costumes and wish I could work with your team! I’m a fiber artist and do spinning, knitting, weaving and most recently quilting. Unfortunately, I live in Washington State. USA and have a daily job I love. I need more than one life.
    Please ignore all the negatives. The VAST majority love what you’ve done.

  5. EllenSpins

    I love the looks you’ve created. I thoroughly enjoy the show and I don’t give a damn about how your research was conducted or if everything is perfectly historically accurate. Frankly, I wouldn’t know if it was or not. It just looks right. You didn’t modernize or try to make things easy by popping in a zipper under the buttons. You did make things as right as you could and that helps make this show real for me. I say pfffft is the correct response to these trolls.

  6. Genevieve

    Pfffffft, indeed! I knew that you and your team had done an amazing amount of work, but I had no idea. It’s sad that there will always be people like this, and likely more of them as the show rises in popularity. The same kind of people who think that Sam is too short to play Jamie (seriously!?!)

    When the series was first announced, I had mixed feelings, wondering what would happen to our beloved characters. You, Ron, and everyone involved, have exceeded all my expectations, and I’m sure this is true for most of the fans. Remember that when you get another message like this.

  7. Judy Grant Whitmer (@JudyWhitmer)

    You tell ’em Terry!! The nerve of people to criticize the work that has been done to go from nothing to what we see on the screen. I love the books and love the show and not an episode goes by without me taking a moment to marvel at the amount of talent that it takes to make a show like Outlander. It is truly beautiful to watch. Keep up the good work, my compliments to every last person associated with the show and to hell with the naysayers!

  8. Maria Rea

    I might be prejudiced, but you rock lady! ( I don’t think I am though!) Your work and Gary’s as well are characters in the story. I think you should do as Diana doesn and “Pfffffft!!!” the naysayers.

  9. Karen Atkins

    Terry: Thank you for your response, but even more for the lovely costumes you use to bring all these characters to life. I love that you are willing to share the behind the scenes information with us, and I am sorry that this openness lead to these issues. Please believe that a vast number of us love the work you and your team do. Hugs and Thanks!

  10. Kat Decker

    I second everything that has been said above me. Terry, your hard work and excellence are noticed and greatly appreciated! Please don’t let the tiny less than 1% of horrible, miserable people affect your enthusiasm and love for this project in any way. We, as fellow fans, have grown to love you so much! You are our champion! One of the very best things about this entire project was knowing that we had a fellow fan in our corner whispering in Ron’s ear throughout the process and not only that, but designing the epic costumes that would be needed for this show. Your attention to detail, your sense of style and color… oh my gosh, Terry. My cup runneth over! Please, please, please know how much the vast majority of fans love what you’ve done!

      1. shanatmiller1

        Terry, we awesome fans are very protective of you and the entire Outlander TEAM of thousands!!! Keep on doing the fantastically creative and wonderfully awesome job you have always done. We so appreciate the OUTLANDER team for bringing our beloved book to life. Cheers and God Bless.

  11. Gail Griffiths

    It is sad that trolls plague us on every site. I do think Phttt should suffice!..Although I do appreciate the description of the exhausting pace you and your team have set. Let’s see what happens when the awards begin piling up on your mantel, which I predict will happen and in the not too distant future. BTW, since it was mentioned…How long _does_ it take to lace up a corset? (asked with tongue firmly in cheek)… Bravo, and don’t waste your time on the trolls. Anyone who has ever sewed, or created with fabric, understands. The difference here is; you’ve done it on a grand scale.

  12. thegardeneroutback

    Sweetheart, I don’t know how you can do it all, and hold your tongue. Please don’t waste your time or energy on those people unless you find some benefit.

    Thank you for helping tell this story in such an incredibly rich and evocative manner. Your efforts are truly appreciated.

  13. sjmais

    I love what you are doing! I can’t even begin to image the amount of work you and your entire crew must do for hours upon hours each day and quite obviously love and believe in what you are doing. It is a shame others have to try and make themselves seem more important by uttering such criticisms. Keep up the excellent work! But do make sure there are no water bottles sitting around on the hearths…

  14. MandyPandy-PuddinPie (@AmandaDoyle19)

    Thank you Terry! Excellent explanation … so wonderful to hear that you have fought to keep the bum rolls (and so on) and NOT made it contemporary. Cookie-cutter is not the way of Outlander! You are doing justice to the series, couldn’t imagine it any other way. Pfft! to the nay-sayers. Can’t please them AT ALL.

  15. Katie Bonner (@bunnums)

    Wait, sewing machines? That’s not authentic! Next thing you’ll tell me is that Steven Cree didn’t have his leg amputated for the job! *tongue firmly planted in cheek*

    Pfffft is the best response ever. Terry, you clearly have the artistry, knowledge, and confidence to do your work and lead your team of super-costumers. And we will gladly form your shield wall so you can continue to do your work.

    1. Laura Carmichael (@LallybrochLaura)

      Katie, I further understand that Gary Lewis also was not actually _wearing_ the stockings we see on screen; rather, they were digitally added post-production. Men in the 18th Century did not wear digital stockings; the research here seems faulty as this suggests that they did wear digital stockings. This playing fast-and-loose with historical costuming authenticity is most disturbing…
      NOT!!! ;o)

  16. Laura Carmichael (@LallybrochLaura)

    Terry, your response here is eloquent, and the costumes for Outlander, from design to execution, are wonderful. It’s sad people with no sense of what you do, or how you do it, want to lob ridiculous, ill-informed criticisms at you and your incredible team. Fortunately, such folks are very much in the minority: most of us watching Outlander are deeply impressed by how your work helps to bring these characters and their story to life. While one can never please all of the people all of the time, your work is making millions of true Fans extremely happy – euphoric, even!
    I look forward to seeing more of your magic this season, and in the next ones…
    …and to hearing your always informative and entertaining podcasts!

  17. glowhallow

    As with every profession, those who can DO, those who can’t TEACH (or in this context, lecture).

    Bravo Terry. I have no room in my life for complainers or negativity. Life is too short! Your costumes are exquisite!

      1. sandyknc

        I’m sorry I responded. My response was a knee/jerk reaction to an expression that, in my opinion, isn’t kind to teachers. This isn’t the place for this discussion. I apologize. Terry, feel free to delete my posts.

  18. thatsnotmyname (@ohhhtheagony)

    As a fellow Designer (I’d post my IMDB but I’m not the point here) I think it was incredibly kind of you to write all that out. Unfortunately people will probably still make arguments and complaints. The internet is FULL of detractors, who spend all their time figuring out how to attack the people they wish they were. (Clearly they THINK they should be doing your job.)

    But if people like that had their way, the entire show would be AN HOUR OF PUTTING ON UNDERGARMENTS! Then no one would watch! Duh.

  19. Tracey Walker

    A small sideline. I was watching Carnivale (for the third time through) and realized that you were the costume designer on that too. Apparently I have been a fan of your work for longer than I thought. The way you mixed the nitty gritty of the depression with the tawdry glam of the carnival was fantastic. When I did costumes for ‘Sideshow’ (a musical about circus freaks) I was very inspired by you and by Tod Browning’ ‘Freaks’. I’m a little bit starstruck right now.

  20. Sheri Fisher Moore

    Above all, you are authentically you and that is awesome.

    Thank you and your amazing team for all of your hard work. I think the one thing I’ve learned in observing this odyssey of bringing Outlander to the screen is that you can’t please everyone EVER.

    Pfffffft, indeed.

  21. Lizzrd (@Lizzrd)

    Behind the safety of a computer or smartphone, people will challenge anyone about anything, and most often without first considering whether their comment is relevant or tactful, regardless of whether or not they are technically “correct”. I applaud your response to criticism, your craft and your turn of phrase in your blog.

    In addition to costuming one helluva series, you’ve got class out the wazoo.

  22. Cindy Murray (@chmok1)

    Bravo! Excellent response. Thanks for all that you and your exceptional team do. I, for one, could not be happier with the result of all the costuming on the show. From the tweets and responses I see, it seems that you may have even started a cottage knitting industry “all by your own big self” (as my son used to say when he small). All I can say is that I’m ecstatic that you’ve chose us to spend your blood, sweat and tears on and we love you for it.

  23. Lynn Ringard

    Well you go girl! I, for one, have enjoyed seeing the fruits of multiple laborers while watching the show. Your work is second to none and profoundly appreciated (I’m sure) by many. Keep up the good work and get as much rest as you can for, what I hope to be, many seasons to come.

  24. Hiedi Ashworth

    Unfortunately with all the social mediums today everyone has an opinion and feel entitled to express it no matter how inappropriate or unkind. I think you and your staff have done a phenomenal job and Outlander is more than I ever dreamed a med it would be. Thank you for your amazing work!

  25. Sue (@soffes61)

    Well done Terry, in every sense. For giving such a wonderful response, which is more than this person deserved in the first place, for creating such wonderful costumes, for your hard work in bringing this wonderful story to life. I have nothing but praise and admiration for you all.

  26. Dani Trynoski (@MissDaniTryn)

    Great reply, and thanks for taking the time to put quite a bit of detail in there! I worked for a re-enactment educational company this spring, and the entire staff (ranged from 30-50 people in a day) was costumed from pieces made by TWO ladies. This company produced Revolutionary War, Civil War, Gold Rush, and Farm Life in 1880’s programs, and staff were expected to be in FULL costume. Stockings, period shoes, petticoats, underskirt, stays, tie-on pockets, etc. I was able to dress myself in just over 20 minutes for Rev War with the stays, and 15 minutes with the 19th century corset. So I don’t know why Ms. NitPicking Blogger is complaining about time! The scene of Claire getting dressed by Mrs. Fitz was wonderfully done, and showed the 18th century layers of women’s daily wear beautifully.
    More to the point, my employer also created all of their own British Redcoats. It takes one of the costume designers about 5 days to create each coat from start to finishing trim/buttons. The fact that your team created so many pieces in SEVEN weeks is astonishing. I can barely hand-sew, and never learned to use a sewing machine, so from my perspective, it’s amazing! Brava to you and your team for the research, decisions, and creations. From my history-buff brain, it looks great and I can’t wait to see more.

  27. Deborah Harvey

    Outlander’s quality will triumph over these kinds of attacks.

    Don’t forget, the New York Times TV critic dismissed the first episodes of Game of Thrones as “boy fiction” only for “Dungeon and Dragons” fans that “serves up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond sketchily fleshed-out notions that war is ugly, families are insidious, and power is hot.”

    (She now writes articles about ferry service to Long Island.)

  28. Drena Brumbaugh Chaplin

    I have been thrilled, impressed, and downright in awe of the job your team has done. Much admiration coming your way ….and I can only imagine what’s coming. Loving it all… and just saying here and now that I fully expect to see an award coming your way.

  29. Susan Sterling (@Susiesterling1)

    Terry, all I can say is that I would proudly wear any of your costumes any day of the week! I admit that I know nothing about costume design nor historical clothing, but I do know that watching the actors in your costumes truly transports me from the 21st century back to the 1940’s and further into history of the 18th century.

  30. debbiedake

    Holy *#(%&@)&*!@ cow…

    For me, Terry, and now for my husband who is also watching the show, everything, and I mean everything, is spot on beautiful, fitting, authentic and believable. You and your crew (and the rest of the folks in Outlander-world) are doing a pretty perfect job. Thank you.

    Pffft is a great response.


  31. Kristin Milner (@WarriorInSoul)

    Terry, I applaud you for your thoughtful response, and your ability to rise above it. It’s frustrating to know that you and your team are receiving this type of criticism, especially considering how much research, dedication, hard work, and creativity have been applied to this enormous project. When I watch Outlander, one of the aspects I enjoy the most is seeing the authenticity of the costumes. A series can have the best photography, writing, scenery, and music, but if the clothing doesn’t ring true, it’s harder to convince the audience. Including the other examples I just mentioned, that’s where Outlander shines. Every detail seems carefully crafted, and I don’t see characters in costumes; I see people going about their lives, wearing clothing that perfectly reflects 18th century Scotland. I simply can’t thank you enough.

    1. terrydresbach

      Thank you Kristin. The thing is we all have to remember, is how many people are actually having a problem with this? Out of the 5 million who watched the show. So far I count about ten. The thing about the internet is that a very few people can stir the dust up of a hundred. I am glad I answered the charge. I am proud of our work and in particular proud of our somewhat radical decision to be as historically accurate as we could be with the knowledge available.
      I have said it, and that is the end of it as far as I’m concerned.

  32. Jo Ann Platt

    Sheesh ! Sometimes the only way a person can feel good about themselves is to knock someone else down. Your response is spot on and you must realize by now that there are legions…yes LEGIONS of fans who are thrilled with your work and ever so grateful that you’re on the Outlander tearm.

    There will always be naysayers about anything and everything, but I’m so happy to see that you don’t let them get you down. You’ve taken the higher road simply by even acknowledging this nitpicker. That’s more than she deserves.

    Rock on, Terry !!!!

  33. Emilie Laforge

    Terry, you and your team are doing such a fabulous job with the costumes. Scotland gives the show a beautiful and magical setting but the costumes help bring the characters and the story to life. From one dedicated fan to another I say thank you.

  34. Dana Cassle Baker

    It is amazing what you and your team have accomplished in such a short time. People don’t realize the hard work, sleep deprivation, stress and sacrifice going on behind the scenes. Outlander is one of the most beautiful shows, from the costumes to the scenery and all that is in between and I have only seen 2 episodes. For every nay-sayer there are hundreds of people who support you and Ron and think what you have done is nothing short of amazing. After reading Ms.Jensen’s diatribe this quote that I love came to mind, “Blowing out someone else’s candle won’t make yours shine any brighter” so shine on girl, and keep up the good work!!

  35. Sandie Russo

    Terry, your work (and that of your crew) is amazing! How do I know it is amazing? Because I don’t “see it” when I watch Outlander. I see a stunningly beautiful story about interesting people and times. The clothing they wear enhances the story and supports the characters. It doesn’t stand out as a “costume”.

    You are superb at what you do, and I’ll bet a year from now, we will see your name on the list of those nominated for “Best Costume Design in a Television Series”. And I will be thrilled!!!!!


  36. Fi (@KathleenKiwi)

    Well, I am not an academic (as you will find out just reading this comment) 😀 But I am an avid Outlander lover (Books and now TV Show). The costuming is visually stunning, I just want to reach out and touch. The wool pieces are gorgeous and Claire’s Stag Head gloves are to die for, in fact I covet them! So essentially I am saying you and your team are doing a fantastic job *round of applause* for you all!

    And as an aside….that post by Helena Jensen sounds like a case of sour grapes……maybe she wanted the gig! 😉

    Keep doing what you’re doing!

  37. Pamela Seal

    I loved your list of all the work required to get those first set of costumes out in such a short time, You and your team did an amazing job, simply amazing, All this while acclimatising to a new country and our delightful weather! However you forgot to add what I assume was many hours discussing the tone of red for the redcoats. After listening to Ron’s podcast I assume it was prolonged! The whole production team has done Diana and the fans proud.

  38. Pat Rice Talma

    Terry, as I read the comments from whats-er-name, I thought all of the comments left above might have said what I would have said in a nutshell. I have loved the Outlander books now for five+ years and, having absolutely no knowledge of how costuming is done for television or movies, I can tell you that I think you are doing a hard, amazing, and wonderful job bringing all of the characters to life with your specialty. I can only add two things — Ron is a verra lucky guy and you should keep on keepin’ on!!!!!!

  39. RebeccaTrogner

    Terry, What is wrong with some people? Seriously…. The costumes create the characters. I can’t image all the hard work you, and your crew, have put into them. Long ago someone told me ‘it’s always easier to stand on the shore and watch than it is to jump in’. Take care and now that there what you’re doing is appreciated.

  40. Meilìosa (@Pilar9902)

    Glad for your clarification & sad that you felt the need to give it. You and your team have done a tremendous job putting all the costumes together. I appreciate the effort to authenticity & know that within film/TV, there exists creative license. But in the end, as long is does not detract from the story, it is not an issue. Clearly, to me, it’s a non-issue. Having spoken with Ron about the show (at the Starz Luncheon last October) and your commitment to the costumes, I never had any doubt that your work would shine in this show. Thanks again for you and your team and your endless dedication to Outlander. But then again, as a fan yourself, I’m still flabbergasted how others feel they have the right to question you on your choices. Loved the quote Dana posted!
    Keep shining Terry! 🙂

  41. heartlikethe4thofjuly

    Wow. Pardon the reference to another historical work that gets a bad rap, but I came out of reading this like you were William Wallace in Braveheart urging me on to freedom. I heard the rallying cry. I was more than impressed before, and I am amazed now. I truly appreciate you taking the time to explain all the time it as taken for this amazing production, with costuming alone. I also adore you and every one of your team for your efforts. I would say you’re the unsung hero of the show, but I and so many others I know sing your praises just about nonstop. I hope you hear at least some of it – and know you knock it out of the castle for us.

  42. molly mixtures

    I felt I had to join in with other comments made about the costumes on Outlander – I think you have done a fantastic job recreating the mood, colours and themes of the books. The colours are amazing, the costumes, to me, look authentic and work to enhance each character. I particularly love the knitted items, being a knitter myself. I think you should be exceptionally proud of yourself and everyone that worked so hard to bring a fantastic production to life. Well done! X

  43. ritabowen

    Terry let the nay sayer say what they want.Outlander fans love what you and your team have done! Let the 1% say what they will. Your work is wonderfully done and we love the fact that you let us see what it was like to dress in the 1700’s, and we are so thankful to you and your team for all the long hours of hard work you have done. We love the show and are so happy to have it borough to life!


  44. Marie Summa Eastwood

    Terry, I for one am most thankful for all the work you and your talented staff have done for the show. Most times people who comment on this have no idea how long it actually takes to make ‘anything’ let alone the wonderful clothing for a show of this magnitude. I agree with your last statement….and I would add to have them come and work an 18 hour day over a sewing machine and see how long THEY last aye? @qultnut

  45. Lynn Mittmann (@LynnMittmann)

    Hi Terry –

    after listening to every tidbit of Outlander promo on youtube I first of all want to thank you for introducing your husband to the books and urging him to read them . . as I understand it, we have you and Maril Davis as much to thank for the realisation of the tv-series as Ron D. Moore and Herself, which is saying quite a bit 🙂

    As an academic myself *lol* I will have to say this – anyone writing stuff like that has clearly no idea how one starts research – at all! So please don’t give them the chance to upset you like that . . they are really not worth it!
    I’ve also very much enjoyed listening to your podcast of the second episode and I just have to say : yes, I did notice the different red and of course the yellow facings, it gave the lobsterbacks 😉 such more credibility!! As a longtime fan – can’t tell you how often I’ve read the books, book one in particular *lol* I have two questions . .

    I was wondering why BJR didn’t wear boots but those ‘white overknees’ (sorry, I’m German). I would’ve thought as a captain of dragoons he’d be needing riding boots? BTW, how do you call them, the white . . ?

    Also I will have to side with you on the covering of Claire’s arms but not her decolletage . . as a woman I was feeling the next throat ache arrive 😉

    I just ‘researched’, sorry, pun intended . . the MacKenzie Tartans and wanted to hugg you . . what you have designed comes sooooo close . . it’s a gorgeous pattern, I just wondered why you couldn’t use an existing pattern .. would it have cost extra ?

    Sorry to bother you, but as a fan yourself you can maybe understand . . Thanks again for the outstanding work you and your team are doing!!


    1. terrydresbach

      Hi Lynn,
      BJR is wearing gaiters. They were commonly worn by soldiers, also by civilians.

      We wanted our own special tartan that was not associated with any modern versions, one particular to the show.

      (your english is just fine, by the way!)
      Thank you for your kind words,

      1. Dani Trynoski (@MissDaniTryn)

        For what it’s worth, gaiters are still worn in extreme wilderness situations like military rangers or backcountry hikers. Modern horseback riders wear a slightly different version of them, typically called half-chaps. One of those useful pieces of equipment created by necessity and continued because of extreme functionality and relevance 🙂

  46. Donna Paul

    Hi Terry,
    Just incase you have not been told enough I want to say Thank you.I appreciate all of the hard work that you and your team has put into this show.I have made costumes without patterns .All you have to go on is in your mind and you have to bring it forth from the sketch pad to the model I am very thankful for the beauty realness, and hard work you all have done. People dont understand that the costumes are supposed to enhance the story and blend in, not to overshadow what we see in the actors work.You have done a wonderful job.I look for the details I enjoy doing it,But I do it to learn not to judge.While I am watching the show the actors pull my thoughts to the story they are doing there job. So i will always watch more than once to study the clothes.I love your work.
    Your devoted Fan Donna Paul

  47. Karin Oster (@MizOster)

    Dear Terry, I am sure you have heard this from numerous fans already, but I’d just like to add my appreciation of your work. In several interviews with Ron and the actors, its’ been stressed that it’s not only the actors that bring the Outlander story to life, but Scotland itself. I would argue that your (and your team’s) work play as important a role. I’ve read the books numerous times and I am mesmerized by the visual layer the costumes add to my love of Diana’s story. When you have time to share your thoughts about the creative process, I have no idea, but thank you for taking the time to do so. And even if someone doesn’t agree with you? It’s just plain rude to tell someone how to do their work! Diana Gabaldon’s “Pfffft” seems a completely suitable response!

  48. andrea6150

    A. You are correct. This is a TV show and as such minute authenticity is not needed & sometimes cannot be achieved.
    B. As a re-enactor, I often say, how can we know precisely what any given person would wear at any given time? Maybe, they found something. Maybe, someone gave them something. Maybe, it was a loved ones thing that is out of date and yet reminds them of that person. I wear things of many different time periods all the time, why not them.
    C. It truly does take forever for a woman to get dressed in the clothing from that time period. We re-enact 1790 – 1840 (talk about wide variety of dress) and when I wear my 1790 outfit, it can take me 20-25 minutes to get dressed. And that is putting on chemise, petticoat ( usually just one), bodice, short gown, socks & shoes. Have not made myself stays yet (keep thing I am going to lose weight first, ha!). We portray a family just settling in this area (southern ohio).
    D. Keep up the great work, Terry. To all the naysayers, I say, “hmmph, let’s see you do better.” 😉

  49. Jeannie

    Reblogged this on Jeannie's Bookshelf and commented:
    Terry’s designs are stunning. Regardless of perfectly perfect historical accuracy, I find them beautiful & representative of the time periods. They are inspiring & I can just bet that I will not be the only one knitting Mrs. Fitz’s Knit Bits this fall. If the worst someone can say about your designs is that they don’t take enough time to put on onscreen, then you win. Terry Dresbach definitely wins in my book.

  50. Charlotte Wurtzel Johnson

    Good morning, Ms. Dresbach!

    I’ve been reading your blog and the rebuttals with some interest for the last several hours. I can’t call myself an expert in 18th century costume, my time periods are 14th and 15th century Western Europe, but I have a passing familiarity with the period, the research, and with the people who are costume history experts in the area.

    I’ve come to the point in my life where I don’t expect complete accuracy on screen with costuming. I know that the point isn’t necessarily accuracy, it’s about creating a mood and furthering the story. Absolute authenticity isn’t your job. I’ve been largely impressed watching Outlander so far – I can point at a few things, but they aren’t really important details for the purposes of telling the story on the screen. I think you’ve done a fabulous job bringing the clothing to life. I loved the getting dressed scene, and how that brought the clothing to the forefront of the character, at least for a few minutes. (I really dig the chunky cowl-neck scarves. I totally want one, and would love to see if there’s evidence for in the 18th century Highlands. Future blog post?) 😀

    I won’t bore you with my opinion of what is accurate and inaccurate. However, I read this post with interest, and compared it to what I believe that people are criticizing. I’m sure you feel under attack, and without knowing the people and community that are taking issue with your work, it’s hard to see exactly what’s being objected to.

    I think you can rest assured that most people are not trying to attack the work that you and your team did, the clothing that you made, or the look you presented. As you’ve said, it’s not about educating people on the intricacies of 18th century clothing. You’re absolutely correct in that, and I don’t think that most reenactor/clothing historian expect that from a movie. And here’s where I’ll be frank, and where I hope that you can read this keeping in mind that I love your work. I think you’re a brilliant costume designer. But I don’t think that you are a costume historian. Your earlier blog post repeated quite a bit of misinformation – not just academic disagreement, we’re all well aware of that – about 18th century clothing and sanitary practices. That doesn’t mean that the clothes you’ve presented on the show are bad, or even have been poorly received by the clothing historian community. But please do keep in mind that many of the points you wrote about, menstruation, sanitation, toilet practices, are things which members of this community have been trying to correct for lifetimes. You wish for respect for your work, we wish for respect for ours.

    You have a voice to the public which most of us working in the historical community can only dream of having. I don’t think that anybody expects you to be 100% accurate, or to be teaching the proper way of lacing a corset. But do what you do best, design beautiful costumes, and share them with us through this fun and intriguing show. But when it comes to sharing the gory details of daily life, how people dealt with menstruation, etc., leave that to the people who have spend lifetimes studying that. Your voice is magnified, and when you share misinformation, it makes the jobs of the rest of us more difficult.

    I know you are asking respect for your work. Please, considering your larger audience, and your ability to reach a large number of people that we cannot, also have respect for ours.

    Kindest regards,

  51. Jennifer Jackson

    Terry – I love all the costumes. I can only imagine the work around the clock you and your crew are doing. Last night in episode 103 – I counted 16 distinct knit, crocheted or felted costume parts (I only counted the men’s Dougal-esque tams once even though there were hundreds!). While everyone else spends most of their time dreaming they could be in JAMMF’s arms or receiving one of his heated gazes… I dream of knitting accessories for any of your characters 😉

    Keep up the great work!

  52. Mandi Tucker

    Terry- 1
    Helena -0

    I wonder what it takes for a person to have the audacity to publicly destroy or put someone down for the sheer pleasure of arrogance and the need to be right and then slam another human with that self-importance. You’ve done an amazing job, Terry!!! Usually people do not know how much work goes into “art” whether be it painting, designing, or sewing! If you ever need a backup brigade, we’ve got your back!!!

  53. goldmanrnt

    Terry, love all the designs, outfits and all the hard work.? Please tell all of us on Outlander fan page where to find the knitting instructions for all these beautiful pieces everyone is wearing…? It’s killing us trying to find the cowls, capes, socks, mits (fingerless) and otherwise……

  54. Caro LeAnn

    Its OUTLANDER. The story is fiction, so that lends to creative license in a FICTIONAL 1773 setting. As often as I wish Jamie Fraser was real, he is not. He is complete fiction and so goes the world they are living in.

    Your costuming is spot on for this wonderful tale. You are giving us the feelings of the fictional story and how ever accurate or not, it is fantastic and makes me happy!

  55. SE Gimenez-Querol

    Hi Terry. Love your work in Outlander. I have a question about Geillis’ red shoes. Could you tell us how you chose such a vivid color, so out of place in the 17th century Highlands? I thought that the cost and expertise to produce such item in that time/place was improbable, unless you lived in Italy. Please let me know. Thanks!

      1. Cheryl Robinson-Atwood

        Great point! She may have well brought those shoes with her from the 1960’s, since there was a craze for “historical” clothing at the time. BTW, I absolutely love it when you, with much dignity and power, zing your nastier critics. YOU are Outlander’s costume director-not they! And I suspect there is a wee bit of jealousy from those who aren’t as hard working, and creative, as you.

      1. terrydresbach

        Exactly. Why could Geillis not have had them made??? Do we know where she has been or what she has been doing? Is it absolutely impossible for her to have had red shoes made somewhere??? I really appreciate your input as a re-enactor Jessica. There are so many perspectives and approaches. Their are very few absolutes in this world, and people are not now, nor have they ever been cookie cutters.
        The bigger debate, it seems to me, if we are going to debate what was possible in the 18th century, is… was there actual Time Travel going on????

  56. thumbelinasmum

    I completely understand that your point as a costumer isn’t to make this show completely accurate, much as some of us might wish it. It would be really great, though, if you, as a historical costumer knew just how much people assume that you **have** made the show completely accurate. **You** know that the time it takes to lace stays and get dressed isn’t nearly as long as it takes in the show, **I** know it, but when you say it does, in your blog, people think you mean that this is from research and is actual history. People admire and look up to you, so, anything you seem to state as “this is the way it was” makes people think it *was* that way, even if your point is completely different. And, now, I will go back to teaching people that stays and shifts were what British and Americans wore, the chemises were French, and corsets 19th c.

    1. terrydresbach

      I don’t spend a lot of time wishing that others did their jobs the way I want them to, but okay. I am not fooling anyone, nor pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. I have stated clearly my job description and my intent on this show. I do not know how long it took to lace stays, as I have yet to find imperial research that tells me that there was a certain time it took all women to lace stays. As I said, my job is to tell a story in an art form. I have no obligation beyond that.
      I wish you well in all your endeavors, where do you teach? BTW, I am not a costumer, or a historical costumer, I am a Costume Designer for film and television.

      1. thumbelinasmum

        I’m sorry for getting your title wrong! That is frustrating. I’m a volunteer interpreter at historic houses and at United States Minuteman National Historical Park (and sometimes others). This means I teach something to most visitors I speak to. I also help teach “volunteer education” workshops with one of the groups active at Minuteman. I do a lot of research and love going to museums to examine artifacts in the research rooms. I used to say “with my own white gloved hands”, but now they use medical gloves, which just doesn’t make as good a quip! I will spare you my findings about knitting techniques. Most people’s eyes glaze over when I go on about them. (Totally pointless for a movie. You can’t see them more than 6 inches away, and even then only if you are an expert in knitting forensics).

        As you seem to be saying, there certainly isn’t any primary documentation on how long women in the 18th C took to do up their stays. There is, however, plenty of empirical evidence on how long it takes to lace stays, as there are many women who wear museum quality reproduction stays, so we actually have the physical evidence of how long it takes! Once you are used to lacing up, it doesn’t take long and these women don’t wear them every day, so they may be presumed to lace more slowly than period women.

        While you are not trying to fool people, in the comments many of your fans *are* saying versions of “this is how it was done, Terry did the research!” Some understand you used artistic license and say so, but others are hearing your simple declarative statements, like for stays and how often people bathed, and believe it to be researched history, rather than the common assumptions you and I know them to be, and not necessarily accurate (and, in these two cases, of course, both easily shown inaccurate).

        Whenever a famous person makes a statement, like, “Bathes only once a year”, it makes my job as an interpreter more difficult, as I must then explain to those who heard it about how the documentation contradicts the myth. It can be quite difficult.

        When someone is a public figure or an artist, then there is an expectation of questions, discussion, criticism, or debate on the subject and all aspects surrounding it. Just as on Star Trek or Harry Potter sites there is discussion and debate on the merits of this or that decision based on anything from physics to esthetics to the book, one might expect the same discussions on Outlander decisions. This sort of analysis and discussion is usually considered part of the fun of the series!

        1. terrydresbach

          Thank you.
          Again, I have people on my team, myself included whose job it is to make costumes. My makers have made and laced hundreds of corsets. We have a member of our team who IS a period corset maker. We lace women in and out of stays all day long. Hundreds of women.
          I am well aware that there is discussion and debate going on about how long it takes to lace up stays, and I have no problem with that. People can discuss any and all aspects of the production that they choose. I know at one point there was fierce debate going on about the glasses the actors were drinking rhenish out of. I am not in any way capable of, nor do I have any desire to hinder those discussions in any way. However, I will not be lectured to as if am some sort of idiot, I work too hard to put up with that, and will take issue with that approach. I do appreciate approaches such as yours.
          I do find it extraordinary that on a show that is actually celebrating historical costume, and has even done an entire scene about getting dressed in period costume, criticism is being leveled about the amount of time it takes to lace stays. I have followed the “debate” to some degree, and I even read arguments among re-enactors and amateur historians about how long it takes to lace stays, or how often people bathed. Even the critics can’t agree.
          We do not agree that my statements are inaccurate. I stand by them as much as one can stand by anything of a historical nature. We do our research, we have an entire library of books, costumes are our paid profession.
          Interesting you mention Star Trek. My husband as you may know, was a writer on Star Trek for many, many years, and is well aware of the intricate debates that go on about all sorts of details about all sorts of things. He does not however spend time defending all of the details people find fault with. it would be a full time job.
          I too have a full time job, and do not have the time available to debate the sanitary conditions of crofters living in 18th century Highlands.I fully understand that there are those who do, and will. Great, I have no problem whatsoever with that. The internet is an amazing place for all sorts of marvelous discussion and debate.
          I am sorry I have made your job harder. If someone challenges your attempts to educate them about lacing stays, and cites what I have said as the costume designer on a television show, feel free to tell them I have no idea what I am talking about. I am fine with that.
          BTW, I am not a famous person at all. I am just a costume designer for film and television.
          thanks for your post, Thumbelina.

  57. Karen Govan


    I just wanted to say that I am in love with all the costumes that I have seen on the show. Congratulations to you and your team, you have done OUTSTANDING work. When I was watching the Emmy’s this year I kept thinking to myself, Outlander will be nominated for several awards next year, especially the costuming department.

    Keep up the great work!!! Hugs to all of you!!

  58. Kathryn Chelsen

    Absolutely love the costumes, and am pleased to have the chance to tell you so. Period clothing has always fascinated me especially since most of the books I read take place in the 17th, 18th & 19th centuries. Regarding the clothing for the 1945 scenes, I think Claire’s coat in the first scene is my favorite. You and your staff have done fantastic work in helping bring this book to life. Thanks to all of you!

  59. islandchickny

    As Diana Gabaldon herself has said; few people understand the meaning. So, it bears repeating:

    the action or process of adapting or being adapted.
    “the adaptation of teaching strategy to meet students’ needs”
    synonyms: alteration, modification, redesign, remodeling, revamping, reworking, reconstruction, conversion More
    a movie, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work, typically a novel.
    “filming her adaptation of a beloved children’s book”

    BRAVO to you, and your tireless team for an amazing job!

  60. Janetta Seyedi

    Every time I see pictures of the show I’m stunned with the beauty of the costumes. Wonderful colours and textures, which make me wish that these colours were in fashion today.
    You and your team are doing an absolute wonderfull job.

    I take my hat of and make a deep bow in apprecation.

  61. Rayma Nesmith Farlow

    I just started following your blog and wanted to tell you that your work, the the work of your designers/artists/crafts people is amazing. While I do love to learn about the historical accuracy of something, I also know that sometimes, you just have to make it work the way you NEED it to work. Thank you for all the hard work you all are doing for Outlander. It is becoming even more beautiful than I had imagined as I read the books. I can’t wait to read more see more of your blog. Thank you!

  62. Hayley Nebauer

    I read the blog in question on the UK Costume Guild page on Facebook and was horrified with how the author had selected fragments of your statements that supported her rant, rather than to see each full point you made, in context. I’m glad you had the courage to respond and to do so with words that give weight to the full and exhausting process of what we do as costume designers. We’re creative storytellers, who build characters, not historical documentary makers, writing essays.

    I always think that a costume or production sings more of the year in which it was made rather than the year it was set. I imagine that 100 years from now, historians will have found new information which will redefine current views on some eras and see some gross inaccuracies in what is currently thought to be truth. No matter how historically accurate we may endeavour to be, someone will always claim that something is wrong because no one costume fact was true for every person in any time/place/era.

    It is our job to find the facts and then decide how we use them, if we use them but we’re not bound by them if other choices make the character, story and visuals greater. This is why there have been so many efforts made in recent years, such as the V&A exhibition ‘Hollywood Costume’, to convey what it is that costume designers do….. you would think a costume historian would know the difference 😉

    Well done for dealing with such a ridiculous blog posting so very well!

  63. Veronica Dobell Prior

    As a theater costumer, I have to consider a lot of variables. I consider myself to be an assistant storyteller, and that is what the costumes must do: further the story. On stage, it’s a balance of time, authenticity, portrayal of character and budget. I try to avoid being totally trapped into period authenticity. Modern actresses, for instance, don’t want to wear garter belts and wrinkly stockings for a 1930s look. Compromises need to be made.

    We have often had this discussion–how far do you want to go, being authentic? Are we hand stitching garments if we are portraying a period before sewing machines? We have neither time nor budget to do so, and doing so will not further the story. Places that show will have hand stitching…topstitched areas, for instance.

    I have to balance all the elements. Like Geillis’s red shoes–some things speak of character, and sometimes I go with my instinct instead of my research. Kudos to you for using all the tools at your command. The costumes are masterful! I’m sure you don’t need anyone to tell you that you are a brilliant designer…your work speaks for itself.

    1. terrydresbach

      It is always very rewarding when you hear support for your work from fellow professionals! It is indeed a balancing act. I am not sure there is a costume that we don’t use hand stitching on with our principal cast. Because we know it matters to our viewers and to us. But can we make all of our garments by hand, or even our principal costumes? Absolutely not. A lot of the time we are making sure that people are not naked, things get added to scripts at the last minute, or scheduling gets changed in ways that mean we have to make a costume very fast. You do everything you can to maintain integrity, but you also have to know that there are financial and time issues that cannot get shoved aside because we are holding tight to impossible standards.
      Can you imagine the response when an episode is not on one week because we could not make some costumes as authentically as we all might like to do in a perfect world?
      And then there are times, when as you say, you go with your instinct, your artistic self. It is cold in the Highlands, the climate is unforgiving, how do we convey that? Knit garments! We research it, we verify that knit garments existed and then we take the leap that in Scotland, someone might knit warm scarves or fichus.
      You have put is so well, you use all the tools at your command.

      1. slfisher

        Diana’s books even talk about how all the characters — including the boys — learn to knit as children, and they’re very amused that Claire doesn’t know how.

  64. Jessica Keller

    I make hand sewn 18th century clothing for reenactors & living history & have been researching the clothing of this time period for years. As such, I know exactly what kind of an undertaking it is to make those costumes. What you have done with your costumes on Outlander is extrordinary, and far exceeds my expectations of quality & accuracy for a tv show. I always analyze the costumes in period shows, and on Outlander I have yet to find any glaring mistakes. I was told at a sewing workshop once that “there are no hard and fast rules for historical clothing. You can never say for certain that something just would NOT have been done. There is always someone out there who is/was doing things differently.” At worst, as you’ve said, there are things that are a couple decades out of place, or a missing cuff, a drawstring where we’re told there shouldn’t have been…but it’s artistic licence & it’s fabulous! Just ignore the nay sayers & the nit-pickers & keep doing what you do! Thank you for sharing this journey with us! I’m hoping to recreate some of your costumes myself in the future, so I’m loving all the close up photos.
    Did you have all of the tartan specially woven, or just the MacKenzie. I’ve got a weaver in Scotland trying to track down the gray plaid for Claire’s petticoat as we speak, but it would be fantastic if you could share where you got it?

    1. terrydresbach

      We are in complete agreement Jessica. When we decide to do something, we first establish if it would have been possible. Did zippers exist? NO, they did not. Did vinyl exist? No. Could we have someone turning on a light, or driving a car? No.
      Could an individual do something uncommon, or unusual for the period? Yes. Could someone make or wear something different than everyone else? Yes.
      Does every garment made by every single person in any period of time, exist? No.
      There are absolutes, yes, technologies that did not exist. One does not make a case, IMO, for zippers or polyester, if one is trying to be historically accurate. But there are an awful lot of grey areas in human history. And Scotland is very, very grey.
      Combined with that, and the very real constraints of producing the sheer numbers we have produced, in very extreme circumstances, as well as artistic choices I have made for specific reasons, on specific charters, I am very proud and happy about the work we have done.
      I appreciate your response and your visit to the blog to share your opinion of my costume design.

  65. erinthicks

    I loved this article, and have been completely blown away by the costumes you’ve designed. They are far more beautiful than I imagined!

    Just a quick question and not to be taken as skeptical or critical:
    Before the premiere, Cait said in an interview something about a “bum roll.” Not knowing what that was, I googled it and spent a few minutes reading about them on a few sites. Not any kind of extensive research, obviously. From the little I read, it seemed to say that bum rolls were worn several decades later–the 1770s and 1780s. Is that inaccurate? If those weren’t common in the 1740s, what was it about them that made you want to use them for the show? (To make Cait’s rear look plumper? He he)

    Just curious; not a historical stickler at all. And maybe my “research” (ha! not even close) is completely wrong.

  66. Karen Charbonneau

    Have been enjoying you on Ron’s podcast. Your costuming is so wonderful – so individual, showing the personalities and quirks of the characters. That Dougal – every piece of clothing in place. He has to make an impression, but he wants to make an impression, too. A prideful man. I have to admire him, the big, bad strutting rooster. You and your staff have made this series so watchable. Thank you.

  67. manabeads

    You go girl! Good Post.

    I’ve been listening to your podcasts with Ron and just visited your blog today. I am no costume expert but I love historical fiction in books and film and have been loving Outlander since I started reading it 20 years ago.

    I am one of those viewers who might not KNOW that something is specifically wrong, but if it is too contemporary or too “clean” or too precise, it just doesn’t make me believe it. So I love that you didn’t make things more modern – or more “Hollywood” . Take, for example, that other Starz Original “Black Sails”. Decent story but too many characters look like hippie pirates that just got back from Burning Man. Same thing in Game of Thrones. Let the leading lady look fat in her bumroll, let the hot highlander be grubby. Your choices to keep things real completely work for me (even if you are a decade off for a garment or two as the nit-pickers may point out).

    I appreciate your hard work, your talented eye, and grateful for the team you have.

  68. Pingback: Outlander costumes – fashion inspiration | kookdotie

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