Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

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




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-





To this-




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.

14 thoughts on “Creating a World…What we do. The Devil’s Mark

  1. PaulaLovesCO

    Terry, aftet watching The Trial episode for 100th time, I noticed the shoes Claire was wearing in the hole. They look like big slippers. Could you please elaborate.on the shoes. Thank you, Paula

  2. dennasus

    There is not much more to say than THANK YOU for giving us these fascintating glimpses into your work. You all are doing such a marvellous job and I love reading about it and learning more and more about the whole process. I know some people might say knowing too much about what goes on behind the scenes of a TV prodcution takes away the magic of watching it, but that’s not the case for me. I still find it fascinating, or maybe even more so. Thanks for sharing your experience with us…

  3. Purl99

    Besides all the scuttlebutt about the knitting items which I find interesting as well as silly. I find the costumes to be stunning and along with makeup and sets to be so much of the story too. The casting is perfect and beyond my expectations. I use to work community theater back in teen years and early 20’s and always chose the costume department because I always felt that the actor came alive within the clothes and I loved to watch that transformation.

    You and your rock’in crew have outdone themselves and I am so looking forward to Season #2!

  4. Anne H.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us. I have never really thought much about all of the behind the scenes activity needed for a show… till now… and now I find that I can’t get enough info. I watch each episode many times, first I just watch and absorb, then on subsequent viewings I pay attention to acting nuances, costumes, yes on the extras also, some of the day actors are familiar from previous episodes, scenery, time of year it was shot based on leaf development on the trees, sets, costumes, music. I think Bear outdid himself on 112! And last, but not least Ron’s podcasts. It also pleases me that Sam manages to take opportunity to compliment you and your team frequently. Your blog adds so much to an already stellar experience, Thanks again!

    1. bwismer5

      Anne, you have echoed my thoughts exactly! What an amazing world I am learning about! Having been a book reader for many years I was excited about the series, and the results have been spectacular and – in every way – better than I could have imagined! But with the openness of the production team and the cast to share on social media, a whole other layer of information and knowledge has been presented. It makes me just appreciate the efforts of this team even more! Thank you so much, Terry, for all your hard work and for taking the time to share with all of us!

  5. juliesheil1

    I just love learning the process you go through to create this magical Outlander world. Geillis’s black raven dress ticked so many boxes witch, temptress ….
    I am beyond impressed.

  6. NaomiLike123

    Terry ( can I be so familiar !?), ‘absolutely love what you did here!! When you see the women in the courtroom, yea, you NOTICE, for instance, the torn sleeve, but you & your team are so amazeballs that the viewer actually BELIEVES IT ( never thinks ” oh, that great team, look what THEY did….”!! TYSM for all your hard work; you really do MAKE US BELIEVE!!!!

  7. hotscot

    Yea, I’ve been looking at the extras’ costumes more & trying to imagine how they were created. Also, when Geillis’ dress was muckied up I thought, “oh, dear”, it’s such a shame it had to be ruined like that.

  8. LisaW

    I never thought about how important it is for all the people in the background to be so “real”. It must be so rewarding to know you are working with two people who understand your work so perfectly.

  9. Cris

    Gooseflesh 😉 while reading this post i felt like i was there, You made me see all these fascinating astonishing amazing details through your eyes, wowowow, I could not agree more, details make everything real, feeling it real makes me love it, TYSM for sharing, lol from Italy.

  10. woolfarmgal

    Thank you for this post. I showed it to my son who has made a small career out of being an extra on historical pieces, and he was appreciative of your descriptions about what goes on in the process of dressing the background cast. And was tickled at the term supporting artist. I have seen a little bit if what the extras went through during the filming of John Adams and it was much as you describe. My son was 12 back then and they had him wigged, and with some kind of ragged hat britches and all stained and a bit torn. Even the teeth needed to be stained. He was a street peddler. And the film makeup folks were amazing. Working on the bus down to the shoot in Williamsburg on each of the extras. I felt very privileged to get a glimpse into the artistry as to what goes on behind the scenes.

    And your descriptions take me to the workings of this amazing production. I feel very privileged indeed that we get a glimpse through your eyes as to what effort and detail and artistry is involved. What exciting work!

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  12. Ah, the word synchronicity! Reminds me of my creative workshops with Julia Cameron.

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