Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Butcher, Baker, Anthropologist, Sociologist, Psychologist, Historian, Thief…



I have always felt that my job as a costume designer is not to grab the audience and scream “look at the costumes!!!!!”. My job is to blend into the scenery. How many of us can remember what anyone wore yesterday or the day before. If you have an encounter with someone, do you remember what they had on, or their face, and what happened between you.
My job is to help you recognize that character, accept them, feel comfortable and familiar with them, and then MOVE ON. Pay attention to the words and to the story.
Sometimes there can be a costume that demands to looked at, but only as it is part of the story. Because all of us in this business are essentially storytellers of one kind or another. We think about who our characters are, where did they come from, who was their family, what are their resources, what is their history,sociology, anthropology and their psychology?
All of us put on “costumes” every day. We tell the story of who we are to the world. People look at us, take in the story we are choosing to tell, with our costume, and turn to look and listen to us.

As for our actors, my job is to help them BECOME someone else. I am almost the first person on the production they usually interact with, unless they have met with the producer or director. But they come to me at the start of the process, and together, we find a character.
We talk in depth about who that character is, their history, anthropology, sociology and psychology. You also learn to trust each other, hopefully.
You can tell when they merge into another person by the way they move and walk. They sort of “settle” into it.

I have heard from actors that I do things a bit differently than other designers. So I can only speak for myself, having only worked for a couple of designers about 30 years ago. No real idea about how others do it.
My method works well for me. It engages me and all aspects of my brain. I think at one time or another in my youth, I considered becoming a historian, an anthropologist, sociologist and definitely a psychologist. And a lawyer. 😉 You don’t see that aspect onscreen, but many a producer can attest to it’s existence.

I get extremely frustrated, angry and disgruntled about my job, but never bored. It is a visual medium, but also an intellectual one.<a href=”https://terrydresbach.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/tumblr_n7h9j3cykg1sd8q4zo1_500.

14 thoughts on “Butcher, Baker, Anthropologist, Sociologist, Psychologist, Historian, Thief…

  1. relgan5

    Lovely to read this from an outsiders perspective. Gives me a new appreciation of your craft and I will watch productions with a new and more educated eye! Gold to have found your blog. Excited to see episode 1 7/28 T the 92nd st Y

  2. relgan5

    Lovely to read this from an outsiders perspective. Gives me a new appreciation of your craft and I will watch productions with a new and more educated eye! Glad to have found your blog. Excited to see episode 1 7/28 T the 92nd st Y

  3. Laura Carmichael (@LallybrochLaura)

    Terry, all of your “hats” definitely show up in your work! I would add “Designer” and “Artist” hats to the lengthy list, too. The visual appeal of your everyday-garb for Outlander work is arresting, not in a grabby or showy visual sense, rather, in a “I want to keep looking” sense.

  4. Tracey Fraser-Swatton

    Fascinating thought process. As someone who really hasn’t considered clothing anything other than a necessity to keep me invisible, it appeals that you use costume to change an actor into a character. I always knew when i was a teacher that days when the kids didn’t wear uniform were days you couldn’t expect to get them to concentrate because they were being someone else. Likewise as a teacher, wearing “teacher clothes” meant I was accepted by the establishment. I think now it’s time to break out of that mould.
    I thank you for giving us this great insight and opening our eyes to such a necessary and essential part of the story. Without your amazing costumes the story doesn’t have that extra vibrance.

    1. terrydresbach

      Even the choice to pick clothing to make oneself invisible is still a way to tell the world something about yourself, even if it is “don’t see me”.

      I have gone back and forth on school uniforms. I don’t like when they are used to create cast system, a way to tell the haves from the have nots. I don’t like it when clothing is used to create economic division.

      But I love it when people can TRULY use it for freedom of expression. I remember the first day of our son’s current art high school. It was like walking on to the set of HAIR. Wild, fantastic clothing. Amazing expression. Now, they were kids ages 15 – 18, so who knows if they would dress like that as adults, but it was great to watch them experiment with who they were, with the costumes they tried on.

      We can always try out new costumes, see how they fit.

      Thank you for your insights.

      1. Connie Sandlin (@Yr_Obt_Svt)

        My daughter went to a Performing & Visual Arts high school (for Music). At an Open House for prospective students, each one was to go with their “cluster” of interest for a more detailed description of the curriculum and activities. She and I both stifled our giggles when every single one of the Drama/Theater students rose and was dressed totally in severe black.

        I realize that was how they saw and expressed their identity at that point, and part of one’s identity can be dressing like those around you, or those with like interests, As a teenager, especially, it can seem risky to dress differently from one’s peers. (I guess it was pretty bold of me, as a sophomore in 1965, to be the first in my high school to wear a “granny dress” to school.)

        As to school uniforms, I think they are a great equalizer because they blur the distinctions between the haves and have nots. I now live in another country where many of my neighbors are very poor by American standards, but school children at all levels of the public schools generally appear for school each day in uniforms that are clean and well-cared for. Their children’s clothes don’t reflect which parents are college-educated professionals and which are manual workers. The egalitarian nature of this appeals deeply to me.

        1. terrydresbach

          I knew I liked you.
          I agree completely. I hate that clothes which should really be nothing more than an expression of self, and a way to protect one from the elements, should instead be a means to support a system of haves and have nots.
          Thus I sadly support school uniforms as the great equalizer, but I don’t like it.

  5. Linda Barnes

    Terry, I’ve been utterly immersed in the details of your costuming–it’s one of the features I revisit each time I watch an episode multiple times, as the clothes do indeed become so much a part of the characters. It was striking, for example, to see Colum transform from his less formal, more private self into the public Laird. On a related note, could you say a little about the cap that Dougal wears?

  6. theempathyqueen

    I am enjoying reading your posts. Sanctuary……sounds heavenly.

    But this connection you have to the fabric, to the actors, and to those who want to become someone else……that is more than intellectual. Your talent includes empathy which makes all the difference.

    Thank you for letting me share vicariously in your adventures.

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