Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Reply To: Hair thread!


she gave poor Germaine a girl’s name for an entire book 🙂


random thoughts, in no particular order:

1771, American/Virginian tenant farmers (i.e., the working poor)

1. shift (chemise), stays, first one or two petticoats are all underwear. You’d never go out in public with just those on. Until your cap was on, your arms covered, and your boobs covered you would be–in essence–going out in your g-string and bra. (that picture of me on the whatcha making thread? totally in my underwear.) BUT if you were working on your own farm or your own house and your neighbors lived far enough away, you very might well work in your stays and petticoats. think of it like a sports bra, you might wear it to do the laundry but you probably wouldn’t entertain guests or go to the grocery store in it.

2. stays. front or back closing? who knows. women were never idiots. if you lived alone or without a ladies’ maid or without your sisters in the house with you you’d probably make yourself front-lacing stays so you could easily get in them yourself. You can get in back lacings by yourself, usually by using a slightly different threading pattern, but it is awkward–like scratching your own back, you can get it done but you might miss spots. Though I have both kinds I mostly use my front lacing stays because when my husband/ladies maid isn’t home I need to be able to get into them easily by myself. the lacing in the back stays where it is and I loosen the front enough to shimmy it over my head and then lace the rest up by myself. It is a PITA regardless. Did I say women weren’t idiots? Now that I think on it they probably should have done away with the stays.

In the end, front lacing stays aren’t as smooth as back lacing ones. If you had someone to help you you would choose back lacing.

And never forget that your 18th century stays weren’t to make your waist small or for bust support, they were worn because 1) that was the style and until style changed you were naked without them and 2) for back support–think of them as the weight-lifting belt of the 18th century.

2. you would never, ever go out without your fichu/neckerchief. the boobs only come out at night and at formal events.

3. skirt length depended on your class. Working people (common people, poor people, most people–depending on how you want to define it) would wear shorter skirts. Easier to do chores in shorter skirts–also not set yourself on fire.

4. all your skirts and gowns would have slits in the side to be able to access your pockets. 9″-10″ on the top of each skirt is open.

5. pockets are tied around your waist, over your stays, under your petticoat.

6. most women wore gowns for day-to-day (gown in this case meaning ‘dress’ not your prom or wedding gown, obviously!). gowns opened in the front. they were almost always secured by straight pins but people did have gowns that tied or laced. almost all gowns for working/farmer/poor women would be a linen or wool robe à l’anglaise or a closed-front gown.

7. short gowns (imagine a very loose fitting jacket that would fit to your waist because it was gathered by your apron strings) also closed in the front. same deal as gowns. jackets, by contrast, are more fitted than shortgowns and most often wouldn’t be worn by farm women since it would, in the end, be more fabric to have a separate skirt/petticoat.

8. the bodice (think renfest clothes) was, if worn, and extra layer in the cold. Despite the st. pauli girl you wouldn’t go out in your underwear.

9. we have this idea that people all wore the same thing, but they didn’t. the “cap” was totally dependent on what you liked. some people looked good in (what were later called) mob caps, some looked good in dormeuse caps, some in lappets. you wore what looked good on your face shape. (I look like death in a lappet, can rock a dormeuse if it’s not too frilly). the cap acted not only as a modesty-item but also to catch sweat when you were cooking over an open fire.

I have two 2s and I’m too lazy to fix that. So, again, remember I’m talking POOR FARM WOMEN IN AMERICA right before the revolution. And i’m talking real life, not TV. Poor Terry has to walk this fine line between historically accurate and what looks good on TV.

I’m seriously in the midst of a wicked insomnia so let me know what I missed and what else you might like to know.