Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Reply To: Questions????

Terry Dresbach

Lots of thoughts. A favourite topic, actually.

How dress is chosen to send messages is utterly fascinating to me, and I believe the heart of costume AND fashion design. Somewhere in the world people must just wear clothing to protect them from the elements, but I have no idea where that place is. Since the beginning of time humans have used clothing to denote wealth and status. Clothing is a simple, portable device to tell everyone what and who you are. It has ALWAYS been a way to let everyone know your economic and social status. Not until very recently in history could most people afford to buy clothing for no purpose other than decorative. That was a concept that belonged to the wealthy. For most clothing was a very practical consideration. Would it keep you warm, dry and would it last. It was a precious commodity that you took care of and wore until it dropped. (I wrote about this idea on the blog)
It really wasn’t until the industrial age that we saw mass production decrease the cost of clothing manufacturing. Clothing has become cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. Today anyone can be fashionable. The ability to manufacture clothing for mere pennies in sweatshops overseas has removed the last barrier to fashion available to the masses. ANYONE can wear torn jeans.
That said. The wealthy always make sure that they don’t look like the masses. These days it is by underdressing. Overblown, ostentatious clothing is left to the likes of The Kardashians and other Hollywood celebrities. The uber wealthy tend to downplay their clothing these days. Mind you if you look carefully you can see the money, but often in the material not in the wow factor.
I remember a few years ago, Ron and I were sitting in a NYC restaurant and I pointed out to him the woman sitting behind us who I said was insanely rich. He said, “How can you tell, she has on jeans and converse???”
I said, “well if you ignore the state of her hair, skin and teeth that reveal generations of good food and health , look at the jacket thrown on the back of her chair.”
It was paper thin leather, it looked like liquid leather. I have no idea what kind of leather, but it had been impeccable tanned. But it was also the way it was so casually hung. Most of us might carefully what was probably a $5.000 jacket, but she had it thrown across the chair, dragging on the floor.
I had a VERY wealthy friend who looked down her nose at buying clothing in department stores, and her favourite place to shop was at Goodwill. Her clothes were fantastic. She bought old slips and dyed them outrageous colors and wore them over jeans with some 80’s leather jacket, all bought for pennies.
Of course this sent a very clear message. “I am not one of you, you don’t know how to do this” “If anyone with cash, can buy an over the top outfit, I will make sure I am different”.

So, I believe you are correct in your assessment. Clothing will ALWAYS denote wealth and status, but just not in the way you might expect.