I spent a lot of time looking at a LOT of 18th century French Costumes.
The vast majority did not feel like Claire. They felt like Louise. They felt like any member of the French aristocracy, but not Claire. Cait and I had worked pretty hard to maintain a sense of who Claire was, when she was flung into another century. In S1 Claire was given was given hand-me-downs by Mrs Fitz. She didn’t really have a choice and was probably too shell shocked to care anyway. All she was focusing on was surviving and figuring out how to fit into a foreign land. Once she married Jamie, we started to give her a little bit more stability in her costumes. They change, they became a bit more solid. It didnt feel like a giant leap that she would have had some things actually made for her, but even then she was still focusing on navigating this strange world and on getting back to her century.
In season two Claire has made the choice not to go back to the 1940s and to stay with Jamie. They are crafting a life together and they have accepted this mission to go to Paris. There is a commitment to a time a place and a marriage. She is committing to remaining in a time that is not hers. But the heart of the story is still Claire, and how she maintains that heart in another century. This is not the story of the woman who gives up her identity easily. So it seemed essential that once again we look back to the 1940s for our inspiration.
The question I asked myself – What would Claire have been wearing if she hadn’t travel through time? I started looking at fashion from postwar Europe. This is the world Claire would have lived in. The direction we needed to go came pretty fast. I found it in the house of Christian Dior.
It is probably the most singularly exciting moment I’ve ever had as a costume designer.
I was looking at all of this incredible fashion and because I had been doing a show about the 18th century, I was able to see for the first time how directly the fashions I had been working with, connected to the fashions of the late 1940s. Fashion is cyclical, but I had never before connected those particular dots. The first thing that jumped out at me was a picture of the Bar Suit.
Designed by Christian Dior, it is one of the most iconic pieces of fashion history. I knew the suit, everybody connected to clothing in any way knows the suit. But for the first time I saw that it was an 18th-century riding suit.
If you look at the pictures it is absolutely clear. Christian Dior had clearly looked back to the 18th and 19th century to find his inspiration for the New Look and further research confirmed that.
Once I had that the rest was easy.
Claire and Christian Dior came from the same time the same place, the same generation. They had both fought in the same war. They had both known women’s clothing of the 1940s as very masculine. Women were wearing suits that were cut very similar to men’s suits. Wide shoulders, narrow hips, women were wearing trousers for the first time as they entered the work force en mass for the first time in history.
The new look was quite controversial. Women actually demonstrated in the streets against it. It reintroduced women into corsets, wasp waists and very very full skirts. Women had been liberated from that kind of constrictive clothing and didn’t want to go back into it. But ultimately back into it they did indeed go. And a fashion revolution was born. Many argued that it was a backlash against emancipation, and was forcing women back into the VERY traditional and repressive roles of the 1950s. The population was depleted, men were coming back home, to women dressed in ways not considered very feminine. The traditional world needed to get things back on track, society needed to be rebuilt, babies needed to be made,and women needed to go back to their place. How fashion reflects history and politics is a fascinating study… for another day.
Politics aside, It seemed logical to me that Claire would do in the 18th century the same thing that Christian Dior had done in the 20th century. He stripped the traditional 18th century riding habit of all of the embellishments and details and decorations all the bows the bells and whistles. He took it back to its basic Silhouette and that became the Bar Suit. I decided to have Claire look at the riding suit and do the same. She never saw the actual Bar suit obviously.but her reaction to the original riding suit of the 18th century, could plausibly be very similar to Dior’s, a man of her time. It was a suit after all, something she would have seen as the most familiar garment in the 18th century. It was a garment designed for a practical function, and Claire is a practical woman.
So we just put Claire in a recreation of the Bar Suit. I have never had a costume so perfectly define a character and fit into a story so seamlessly before. I still marvel at how absolutely perfect it is. When I told Cait what my plan was she just broke into this huge grin . She knew the suit, knows fashion, and she could easily see where we were headed, and was delighted.
I didn’t want to make something that echoed the Bar Suit, I wanted to recreate it. I wanted to fire a shot across the bow, and announce what we were going to be doing in S2. Make no mistake, it was a statement. I knew that when it hit the airwaves it was going to cause a commotion.
She is perfect.
It is not an original design. It is a copy of someone else’s. I have never done that before, but it worked. It worked, because as I say ad nauseum, it serves the story.
We stayed as close as possible to the original, with the exception of the hat. I decided to go with black. I thought it looked better. I question that choice, sort of. Maybe it was my subconscious need to put something of my own view in there.