Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Category Archives: Costume Design

Obsessed : The Juggler’s Costume

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I admit it, I am obsessed with this costume. It does everything I think a costume should do. It is fantastic looking, but not distractingly so, because it is based on the story, not imposed upon it. I love that it has a history. My team did a phenomenal job of aging this piece. We shredded it, and then darned it!

I remember in the beginning one of my team members, Graham, who has quite an impressive collection of 18th century clothing, brought in this amazing coat. It had clearly belonged to a wealthy man, who had worn it a lot over many, many years. You could tell, because when you looked at the inside of the coat, it was covered in darned bits, and with carefully sewn in patches. We don’t do that anymore. We discard our clothing when we get bored with it, either individually, or as a culture. We do not nurse a garment across the decades. Even the poorest of our societies, discard the cheap garments purchased at Wal Mart, or Target only a few months or a few years before. But clothes like that coat, tell a story. They tell us about the wearer, they tell us about his life, and the world he lived in. Even a wealthy man, who could afford an ornately embroidered coat, took care of it, cherished it, and above all valued it. It had meaning.

It is important to me to show that on Outlander. To show how differently people then related to things that we take so casually. I can remember my mother repairing clothing, my father pulling out the wooden family shoe box and carefully polishing his shoes. I am not sure how accurate my memory is, but I only remember my father having maybe 4 pairs of shoes when I was growing up. And we were not poor, just a middle class family. How many of us have shoe polish boxes in our homes now?? He just took care of them, so they would last.

But then again, my parents didn’t have credit cards because they thought that if you couldn’t pay for something outright (other than a house, maybe), you had no business buying it.

I digress, I suppose. This costume was the first time, we were able to show that way of thinking, that kind of consciousness.

This is an old garment. One that has probably seen many owners. A garment passed around many lives. Until it becomes a costume, for a street performer, who sees glamour and theater in it’s fraying threads. it still has a purpose, a reason for being cherished.

This was also the first costume the amazingly talented  textile artist, Hellen Gallogly, painted for us, after joining our team. She does beautiful work, and is creating truly startling textiles for us in Season Two.

And the equally talented Emily Watson created that felted embroidery on the coat. How fantastic is that. Emily also made the woven collar I recently wrote about.

Finally, there is nothing greater, than a woman wearing men’s clothing. Cait so embraced and reveled in the freedom given to Claire, and to herself, after both of them being trapped for months in heavy woolen women’s clothing.

The return of 1940s Claire and of 2014 Caitriona to trousers, was a joyful thing to behold. They both needed a break.

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(Before we aged it)

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Creating a World…What we do. The Devil’s Mark

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I’ve been thinking about this episode and what to write. There are no new costumes, unless you count Ned Gowan’s lace stock, and maybe Jamie’s trews, though we did see those once before.

But our job is so much more than designing really great looking costumes for the stars of the show. It is about creating a world that YOU the audience can believe. It is about what we do TO those costumes to make you feel that world, to make it feel real. It is about the costumes for all the rest of the people you see on camera, some of whom never say a word. Some have a few lines, but they are as essential as the lead actors.

There are hundreds and hundreds of them, way more of them than our leading cast. They all have to be costumed. We make all those costumes, we age and breakdown all of them, and then we fit hundreds of them over the course of many days, continually through the show. It is a staggering amount of work. My team on this show is truly brilliant, and there is no one whose costume is not as important as Claire’s or Jamie’s. In a way the costumes on the day players and extras (supporting artists), can sometimes be MORE important, because they don’t have to look good, they just have to look real. They are the ones who sell the authenticity, the ones who make you believe what you see on your screens.

Many of you now look at the details on our lead actors, but when you watch an episode for the 5th time, look at all those other people. Look at the crowd surrounding Claire and Geillis through the streets of Cranesmuir, or in the courtroom. Some of those clothes are made out of old bedspreads and vintage sweaters that have been completely repurposed into 18th century villagers costumes. It is extraordinary work, full of absolutely beautiful details and textures. My team seriously rocks.

Then there is what we actually DO to the costumes. If Claire and Geillis are thrown into a filthy, vermin infested pit, you have got to believe it when you see them.

We have a zillion meetings about what is in that pit.

 

“How wet is it, REALLY?”

“What do you mean, there will be water pouring down the walls?”

“How much water?”

“What are they sitting on?”

“Dry leaves and filth, or wet leaves and filth?”

“As long as everyone knows we only have two of their costumes, and one has to stay clean”

“Are you shooting in sequence, or out?”

“As long as you understand that we are going to have to predict how filthy and torn they are, if you shoot the end before the beginning”

“It might not match in continuity if we do it that way”

“Just want everyone to be absolutely clear!”

Once all of that is done, we set our aging and dyeing on the task of destroying the costumes, slowly, stage by stage, to match what we are shooting. Except Claire’s skirt, because we are going to need that for a few more eps, so you can get it sort of dirty, but you may not tear it!

They paint them, dye them, scrape them, burn them in their magical alchemy lab.

And you go from this-

 

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To this-

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It all goes back to Storytelling. The visuals are as much a part of things as the actors, the words, the music. It is all a part of the same piece. Again, that symphony. If the music is wrong, or the costumes too clean or modern, the sets jarring, the hair and makeup too contemporary, then the whole piece is not working in tandem.

Everyone watches television episodes many times now. One of those times, just look at all the sets, then look at how they work with the costumes. Gary Steele, our production designer and I are lucky, we inhabit each others creative brains, after 25 years of being best friends. I suppose we became friends because we saw through the same eyes. You should be able to see that when you watch the show. In truth, you can see Ron and I when you watch. We are always in synch creatively, it is how we came together.

It is that old buzzword, synchronicity.

The Coats – Episode 110

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The coats. There has been quite a response to these two coats. What I find fascinating is the focus and interest Claire’s coat is receiving. We have seen it before, in a couple of episodes now. But the renewed interest is a great example of how costume design is so much more then ‘picking out cute clothes’. Costume designers create visual ensemble pieces, the same way you have an ensemble of actors, or musicians. The costumes must work together, harmonize, and bring out the best in each other.

We knew this was a very dramatic and key scene between these two characters. It keeps setting up their relationship. How they work together visually, how their costumes reflect and provide contrast to each other, and yet harmonize, is like creating music. Each instrument has it’s own part to play, but together, you have a symphony.

And it is not just the costumes, it is the environment. What are the surroundings, the colors, whether it is outside or on a set, it all has to come together as one.The real beauty is when it comes together without a lot of effort. I think what a lot of people are reacting to in this episode is our orchestra all finally finding harmony. We are playing now from the same sheet of music, we all know each other and have found kind of perfect symmetry. Gary Steele and I have worked together forever, and share a kind of visual intimacy that is the closest thing I have ever experienced to a marriage, other than my actual marriage. I don’t have to see anything he does ahead of time, and neither does he need to see what I am doing. Whatever we do separately, will work perfectly together. Ron is the conductor, the maestro. He brings together all of us and guides us to the harmony. It is hard to sing his praises enough as an artist, I always fear that what I say will be discounted because I am his wife. But, he really is a gifted and singular artist.

It can be a beautiful thing when it works.

Claire’s coat. Well, we have seen it before. I will put it on a mannequin this week so I can show the details. But for now, here it is.

This coat is dramatic. It served a couple of purposes, the first being that it kept our actress warm. We were sending her out into freezing temps everyday, on horseback. This is the hardest working actress in Hollywood, and we treasure her.

I wanted her to be cozy and comfortable. And beautiful.

I wanted drama. This is the part in the story where we begin to really understand just how courageous this women really is. She is about to head out into the Scottish Highlands with a bunch of pretty intimidating and fierce men. One woman alone. She had better be pretty fierce herself, and yet very much a woman. A strong woman able to hold her own. This coat supports that. And in this instance, does it really matter if we have a sign that loudly points to it’s history, and where it came from? We don’t have time for that in an hour long show, we have a story tell. Suffice it to sat that Mrs. Fitz has a prodigious number of trunks stored away, just for times like this.

Enter Geillis.

Who the hell is this strange woman. there is something about her that is clearly different, but what is it? I don’t want you to know the answer to that, I want you to not be able to place your finger on who or what she is. I want it to bother you a bit.

This little jacket is based on a real garment, as are all our costumes. Here it is.

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I am so obsessed with this coat. I need to just recreate it at some point. But you are seeing the basic design for the first time in this ep.

The best part of the story, is that we were planning an entirely different coat. We had chosen this amazing fabric, and were literally waiting for it to arrive. It was nail biting time, and it was clear the day before shooting that the fabric was not going to arrive in time. One of those moments. You’d better figure it out, and fast. So we found this gold fabric on a shelf, but it was kind of dull. So we added the decorative stitching. But it still said nothing much. This was Geillis” In the woods with a Faery babe and Claire!! It had to be special, and by this time it is the night before shooting. I look over on Liz’s (our embroiderer) wall, and she has something pinned up their that looks like some sort of disease on the bark of a tree.

“What the hell is that ?” I ask our mad scientist. “Oh, just a wee experiment I did with scraps off the floor”, she says.

Cut to the chase, we are all digging scraps out of the garbage and off the floor. No, I am not exaggerating. Before you know it, Liz is doing some weird felting technique on the machine. We are patch working the bark growth onto this coat, and it finally starts to look like something. But it still hadn’t completely harmonized. It needed some pop. I pulled out this yellowish/chartreuse thread, and had Liz work that into the mossy growth. Finally we dyed cording to match for a closure, and there it was. When we put it on Lotte, it was absolute magic. That little point! It was gleeful, audacious, once again, Geillis challenges you! A perfect costume moment, created out of thin air, and some stuff from the trash.

I am frequently asked what my favorite garments are. These two coats are at the top of the list.

Here are some closeups. (pardon my bad photoshop. I had to block out S2 on the walls behind, and this post took FOREVER)

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For all of the historians who will freak about Geillis, again. TRUST US, Trust that we know what we are doing, and that sometimes, you have to just let the story go about it’s business, and see what happens. I am just not one of those people who reads the last chapter of a book, first.

Twenty four thousand Buttons.

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Two thousand pairs of shoes.

I was doing a little math today when explaining just how big and complicated Season Two is to a friend. I was saying that most people think in terms of finished costumes as if they all just sort of sit somewhere waiting to be picked up by my team or any of the other teams connected to other shows, in some giant warehouse, the size of three IKEA distribution centers. A magical warehouse perhaps, where costumes are grown, like hot house tomatoes, an endless supply.

The film and television business is a magical and wondrous place filled with magical and wondrous thinking. Magic really does happen. “Make it so!!” and poof it appears. Tinkerbell waves her magical wand, and it all appears on a screen.  Click your heels together three times, wriggle your nose,  throw some fairy dust as hard as you can, right into someone’s eyes, and above all else BELIEVE AS HARD AS YOU CAN !!!!! The Emperor is NOT naked!!!!!

Anyway, back to the math problem. Its one of those fun word problems.

If each suit, frock coat, waistcoat and breeches, needs 40 buttons, and you need to make 600 suits, how many buttons do you need?

Answer: 24,0000 buttons.

 

Here is another one.

If you have 900 extras who need shoes. But you need two pairs of shoes for every extra, because shoe size in not something that can scientifically be predicted, how many shoes do you need?

Answer: 1800 pairs of shoes.

 

Okay, so that math is simple enough. Now, head on down to that magical costume growing factory and go to the shoe field and pick 1800 shoes. Make sure you go the correct field, because you don’t want 14th century shoes, or 19th century shoes. You need 18th century shoes. And while you are there, stop at the button orchard and pick all those 24,000 buttons off the 18th century shank button trees.

Thank God everything is free!!!!

Ooooops. Looks like you are wrong. The Emperor is definitely naked. There is no magic wand, you are not wearing magic slippers, your bucket of fairy dust is empty, and you just cannot “make it SO.”

It is just math, it is physics. Round pegs, square holes. Blood from a stone, proverbial rock and a hard place. Those costumes don’t exist, there are not rooms of period shoes waiting to be collected, somewhere you have to find 24,000 buttons. And those are not 24,000 random buttons. They are 600 matched sets of buttons in the right sizes, that you can AFFORD.

The shoes? Well you can have them made at £250 per pair, but then there is no money left for clothing. Naked Emperor, again.

Hmmmmm, what does a costume designer and her team of costumers do? They manufacture miracles. There is a very crude saying in our world, “let me just chew up some fabric, and shit out a costume”. I believe the art department has a similar saying, involving wood.

Now if you look at all of it, the buttons, the shoes, the petticoats, shifts, shirts, stocks, gloves, mitts, scarves, fichus, bum rolls, stockings, corsets, aprons, hats, cuffs, belts, buckles, etc., as well as the gowns, frock coats, waistcoats, cloaks, and capes, and you apply the same mathematical approach, you will have an idea of what we REALLY do.

Because once you find all 24,000 of those buttons, they have to be sewn on. And once you and your team spend countless hours on EBAY in the evenings and on weekends buying shoes that look as close as possible to 18th century shoes, you have to trim, buckle and bow them, to look something like real 18th century shoes, that can go on camera and don’t cause the audience to laugh you off screen.

Look at an entire costume, from the skin out, and do the math.

I am not sure if I am even supposed to say any of this out loud. Did the boy who shouted out, “But he has no clothes on!!!”, get stoned to death, marched off to prison?

But I am going to say it, what the hell? That is the beauty of social media. There are no walls, we are all one. We all share, and everyone is part of the process.

Let the light shine into the darkness.

 

 

Claire – The Gathering

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Photo Nov 25, 10 22 10Claire, The Gathering.
OMG…THIS dress!!!

First of all, we had to sort of slam this on the mannequin because everyone is in deep on S2.

But, when I look at the dress, I just see a zillion crazy problems. Not with the dress itself, but with the making of the dress. This was done waaaaaaay back when. We had slammed together all of Claire’s costumes in two weeks, which was utter madness, and then we were shooting. Since Cait was in every single scene of season 1, making this dress was our first go round with trying to get fittings with her.
When you make a dress, first you make a toile, a dress out of muslin (calico/UK). That is to fit on the actor and work out any kinks, make any changes. It’s a rough draft. Then you make it out of the actual fabric, and you need two fittings, one to make sure it is all going well, now that you are in fabric, and then a final fit, just to double check everything. And then you need the time in between fitting to do the actual work.
So, it takes 2-3 weeks, with the fittings interspersed.
It is impossible to get Cait for a fitting. Impossible. It requires a million phone calls, negotiated schedules, missed fittings, “maybe we can do it at lunch fittings”. It is like being a negotiator for the U.N. And poor Cait, exhausted from running around in Scottish winter, wearing a “shift”, the last thing she needs it to be standing for an hour while a dress is being pinned onto her.
But it has to be done. Finally, after much hand wringing and threats it happens.

Then there was the fabric. You have to order the fabric, it is just not waiting in a store. You pick ten fabrics, call the mill, and see what they have in stock. That takes a while, because they aren’t on film business schedules. And the embroidered fabric. I had bought a meter in London. I liked it, but wasn’t totally sure about it, and I didn’t know what tartan I would end up with. But when the tartan finally came in, it was a pretty good match with the embroidery. But when we called the fabric store, they were all out.
Then the true panic began. We needed a MINIMUM of two meters, really more than that, because you always get a little extra just in case.And we needed a second dress for the photo double. We decided that we would do a digital print of the embroidered piece, to use on the double, and somehow magically stitch extra strips to make a sort of border to extend the fabric. It was ridiculous, but we were out of time and out of options. Very early in the game, everything on fire, daily crisis management, madly trying to make ALL the costumes for everyone at the Gathering. To make it more enjoyable, there was a ton of focus on the dress, because it was the first time everyone was dressed up. Television shows LOVE a party (or a wedding)
So there was just a wee bit of pressure.

At the final hour, the store called up and said that they had found 6 meters in India. FANTASTIC, who cares that it costs as much to ship it overnight as the actual fabric (which already was insanely expensive).So in it came at the last minute and we made that dress FAST.

Anyway, it all worked out in the end. I love the combination of plaid and flowered embroidery. You can find that kind of mix, often in 18th century peasant costumes, but I took the leap that they might have had that in Scotland. I think it works.
I like the dress, but it was definitely a product of circumstance. Made by master craftsmen, but hampered by the growing pains of the show.
It is interesting to see the journey from this dress to the green plaid dress, to the wedding dress and beyond.
We have come so far and become so much better as we learn the show.

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THIS Costume Gets a Dedicated Post

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Because it is one of the best costumes on the show! Wedding dresses and dashing heroes get all the fan fare, but this kind of costume is what it is all about. No People Magazine or Vanity Fair pieces, no hours of debate over necklines, fabric or bum rolls. And that is a good thing, because then we can really have fun.

Just a glorious, glorious costume. One that we are INCREDIBLY proud of in our department. One of my favorite characters in the book, I couldn’t wait to do his costume. This is the kind of costume you can be totally free with, because no one is looking, no one cares about the beggar. It was and is a source of design joy.

Hugh Munro. DAMN, I love this costume. Look at those Beggars Badges, the textures, the layers, the pure craft of it all!

Ladies and Gentleman – Hugh Munro.

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People have been asking to see the pleats.

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James Fraser

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Jamie Wedding Hero

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So, what can I say. He looks friggin great. The boy becomes a man, because no woman wants to marry a boy!

Not exactly sure what they did to the color when they shot this pic, but it has been bugging me. I tried to get it closer to the actual color. His coat is not green, it is blue, much closer to the color of his waistcoat, though it does tint a bit to the teal.

This is the first time we see the Fraser tartan. Since we had made the decision not to do the Victorian “clan tartans”, I felt that we still needed to honor the book and put in the red (and gold). It was important to me. The Fraser tartan is similar to the McKenzie, being from the same area, but still needed to be set apart.
We gave him a beautiful diamond stock pin, and did the most exquisite embroidery on the cuffs of his shirt.Just to get a little glint of metallic to pick up his pin, and Claire’s dress.

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He is a most dashing, romantic and confident man. What every woman wants.

Sam wedding closeup

And because they cannot possibly be separated.

Cait Wedding dress

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The Ring

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A controversial topic. Though about leaving it off the blog as I do not want this to blow up into a “bun fight”, but that would be silly to do. It is an important part of the wedding and deserves to be included.
Many of you may have heard the podcastwhere Ron and I tell the story of the ring. He had written in the script that the ring was made from a nail, and I flipped out. First of all because I didn’t want it to change from the book, and argue changes a lot with Ron. But it is his show, and he has story considerations that are important in terms of how you structure a drama for the screen. This is his area, and he is a genius in it, so I make my case and then let him do what he is so good at. He has respected my opinion a lot and has made many compromises to accommodate our fan perspective. I absolutely trust him on this front.
Anyway, after much shouting and stomping, he agreed to forego the nail, and we started searching around for another option, and one of us came up with the key.
Then came fifty million key ideas, I will post later.

In the end we settled on this one. Personally, I love it. I am not a fan of ornate jewelry, but my taste is not the point, it is about what a village blacksmith could make in a couple of hours. I also wanted something that would reflect Claire, and what we have tried to do with her design wise. Simple, elegant, and somewhat masculine, as a way of setting her apart as a modern woman catapulted into the 18th century. If you look carefully, you will see it in all of her costumes. She is never frilly. I always imagine her removing or rejecting all the bows and fripperies so common at that time.

**** I forgot this, it just came to me. There is the scene where Jamie and Claire are having sex, and he is most possessive. Her arms are thrown back and she is aware of her two rings scraping against the wall. That scene informed the design of the new ring.That scene was in my mind as I began the concept.

Anyway, here it is. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE be respectful in your postings. So far we have maintained a very lovely tenor here. There will be, and should be disagreements, but let us all take deep breaths on controversial topics. I promise I will. Maybe we can all imagine that the person we are speaking to is sitting across from us, and think if we would say that to them in the same room.

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Mica

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Many of you have been asking about shaving mica. I don’t know if there is a great way to describe how to do this.

But if you look closely at the large rock, you can see that there are very fine, thin layers. We VERY carefully slide a needle under a layer, and slowly pull it off. It is not easy, but you get good at it after a while, and it becomes very habit forming. Then you get carried away seeing how many times you can slice a layer. But if you do it TOO many times and take it down to only one VERY thin layer, you lose the refracting quality, and it just becomes flat and shiny.

We really wanted it to refract light, so we stopped at two or three layers on each shard.