Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Q & A



Okay. Copied a set of questions to answer, which I will try to do now and again. If you want me to answer a question, you really do need to sign into the forum, and ask in the topic thread.
I am not going to answer questions on this page.

A couple of topics come to mind:
1 – Given the Paris/Versailles setting for part of DIA, I’m guessing you’ll have options to rent costumes that you didn’t for other settings. What is the thought process around that?
Not really. One of the biggest shocks and challenges that hit us when we started was the terrifying realization that there was not a lot out there to rent. First of all it is a somewhat limited stock to begin with (what DID they do with all of the costumes from Marie Antoinette?), but there are fifty billion shows currently shooting in the UK. The Uk is giving really great tax breaks to studios who shoot here, so it is a stampede from Hollywood to the UK. And it used to be that American television wouldn’t touch a period piece, even a few years ago, no one wanted to do one. But now with the success of GOT, Downton Abbey, etc. everyone is vying for the same studio space, crews, costumes, set dressing. It is insane. So you stand in Angels looking at racks of clothing being held for other productions, and cold, icy, fear descends.
No one is going to believe it doesn’t exist, because no one ever knows what we do. Not even the people we work for. How the hell are we going to make it all, because that is what we are going to have to do.
So it was a breathtaking challenge in S1, and a lot of those extras costumes were truly lipstick on a pig. Thank God for plaids and arisaids, careful arranged fur pieces and a lot of scrambling. I think we had 40 extra costumes when we started and have been making more at a breakneck speed.
We actually have 160 now. Our biggest extras day so far has been 300. Do the math.

Season 2 has struck terror in my heart since before I agreed to do it, for this very reason. I turned down the show because of it. No television studio is prepared to do Versailles. They don’t know period costumes any more than any other average person on the street, and the elaborate, exacting detail required to do the French Court is beyond the scope of an American television show.
So, I have scratched, whined, kicked and yelled for a year about it. We finally were heard and I presented a kind of insane plane on how to make 1000 costumes, which we are embracing. Can’t go into too much detail yet, because we haven’t pulled it off yet, and there are a lot of hail Mary’s, crossing of fingers and perhaps a few ritual sacrifices before we know if we can pull it off.

We will make all of our principal costumes, because that is what we do. Claire’s costumes need to be Claire’s, and Jamie’s need to be Jamie’s. They need to be costumes made for Outlander, not Pirates Of The Carribean.

2 – Do you develop your sketches/ideas chronologically based on the story, or do you have some idea of potential shooting schedule, and (presuming it’s out of order) design that way? or something else?

I am so incredibly lucky on this show to have the book and to know it so well having read it multiple times over the years. Usually you just have to wait until the scripts come out, and pray you have enough time to make the costumes. There is also a shooting schedule that is SOMEWHAT reliable, which tells you which date scenes shoot. But it often gets changed around, and there you are nagging on doors again, telling people they are not going to ba able to shoot that because the clothes will not be ready. 80% of this job is negotiating, I could work at the UN.
But on this, since I know the story, I have a general idea of what is needed and have been able to build “closets” for our cast. So, I know there is going to be a Gathering, or a wedding, things I would not normally know on a show that is not based on a book.
It is a very complex tapestry that you have to weave. Costumes tell Day Night, when they are on the road, they have to tell character, and you never really know what a script or the requirements of shooting are. So, you may not initially plan for a fur timed coat, or a green plaid dress, but then the scripts come out, or the temperatures drop, and you have to add things at the last minute that were not planned for. There is a lot of scrambling and flying by the seat of your pants.

3 – Do you ever pick DG’s brain about costume?
I have enough brains to deal with. I am grateful that Diana appears to trust me.

5 – Are there any un-explored topics from Ep1-8 of S1? Besides putting on the kilt, that is?
I am sure there are.

6- Another idea … your To Do list had “construct season 2″ as an item … what does that mean/entail?
It means to make or build, we will design, pattern and make, is what we call “construct”.

7- When do you sleep?
I do on occasion. Not enough. We function mainly on adrenaline. Then when we stop, we crash.

8- Not sure if this is going to appear next to the relevant question, so I’ll repeat just in case. Regarding your team of makers…when production gets underway do they all come over to work in Scotland? You have mentioned before that you have no control over employing makers from the UK and would love to if you could, but I also remember you saying you’d purchased knitted bits directly from online makers…..I’m confused, because surely buying from them and commissioning someone to make an item amounts to the same thing. Doesn’t it?
I’m asking because I weave inkles, ( ribbon, tapes etc) that are frequently used for historical garments, both practically and for embellishment, trimming etc. and would love to be able to work on some inkles for Outlander!

We have to employ makers from the UK. To bring in makers from around the world would mean a massive headache in terms of immigration issues, and I believe there are UK restrictions about such things. So we hire a team of makers who come to work ever day on payroll. They are permanent employees. We rarely contract to have things made for us by outside vendors, but do on occasion. For example Dougal’s hats, or Claire and Frank’s sweaters.
Now, I can buy retail items from anywhere. If I was on a contemporary show, I wouldn’t make a pair of shoes, I would go buy them. It is a little trickier on a period piece, because there is not a line of 18th century clothing at Marks and Spencer. But I can buy things here and there, and do. I have purchased knit pieces, jewelry, and definitely fabric. We buy shoes and stockings, things you can’t see on camera, and all sorts of ribbons, trims, buttons, clasps, etc.



Terry, will time constraints allow for embroidery during season 2? 18th century France has so many possibilities, but I know you have a ton to do and only so much time to do it in.

Going off of that, is there room for extra help? I have heard that knitters couldn’t volunteer because of legal difficulties, but if you had ‘intern’ embroiderers stitching your designs, would that get around the legal issues? I’m only asking because it sounds like you could use extra hands, and there’s a fairly sizable (and skilled) community of historic embroiderers who would love to contribute to this kind of project.

The Plimouth jacket was largely stitched in this way – volunteer embroiderers were vetted for skill, then came to the jacket and volunteered their time to stitch on the designs with the materials provided. I don’t know if this could actually work on Outlander, but as an embroiderer I have loved the costuming, your creative vision, and am really looking forward to season 2!

Thank you so much for your kind offer. I get so many of these and they are most appreciated. My very first fan interaction was to reach out to fans at the start of S1, when we realized that rentals were so limited and were trying to figure out how and where we were going to get everything in such a short time. My idea was to include the fans in the making of caps, aprons, all sorts of accessories. Not only would it be helpful, but I loved the very spirit of it. After all it is OUR communal show. How awesome would it be if everyone was involved.
But alas, not to be. Giant corporations just don’t allow for such organic occurrences.
I would just kill to be able to utilize all the skilled hands out there, but it is just not going to happen.

I can’t accept goods, I can’t accept labor, and I can’t even hire fans.
We will all have to just enjoy each others company, and I will continue to find motivation in your support. The film business is a very interesting business. The positive reactions I receive, are mainly from all of you. We usually toll away with little or no recognition. This is a whole new world, where we get such a significant and immediate response to the costumes. To be so appreciated and to know our work is meeting with everyone’s approval is a very novel experience. If we are lucky, we hear good things about our work, around awards seasons, if not, most of get our approvals from being hired again. Other than that it is usually the sounds of crickets chirping.

So please know what a significant amount you all contribute to our morale and to our motivation! I print out a lot of your comments and post them on the walls of our lunchroom and hallways. Our hardworking crew reads them and it matters. It matters a lot.
Thank you all!!!


How many yards of fabric were in the wedding dress? Do you have someone on staff that weaves the special fabrics for you? I’m guessing season 2 will see much more in the way of fancy gowns, will you get most of your fabrics in Europe or do you already have ideas and ship from LA?

The wedding dress had 12 meters of fabric. We did have an amazing weaver in London weave fabric initially for the dress, in wool, but it just proved to be too navy to wear.

We will see a lot more fancy and elaborate gowns because it was, and still is the center of fashion for the world.

I brought back books and books of same fabrics from Europe, to make clothes from. I will design and choose fabrics then my team will purchase and begin to make the insane number of principal costumes.


24 thoughts on “Q & A

  1. chloegirl4chloegirl4

    Absolutely amazed. I truly never realized how much time & work goes into costuming. You & your crew have done a wonderful job. I have faith you will rise to the occasion magnificently!

  2. kladislauskladislaus

    I am hoping season 2 mirrors the book and we get to see those fabulous styles from the 1960s in the beginning. I might have a few pieces still kicking around! My question is, how many people do you have on the manufacturing end? It’s one thing to design and bring the materials together, it’s another to sew it all up. How many seamstresses do you have? It took me ten hours of solid machine work to put a Red Queen costume together for an eight year old back in the day when I did that sort of thing. I can’t imagine the sewing hours for one 18th century Parisian gown.

  3. rhonnie.b@xtra.co.nzrhonnie.b@xtra.co.nz

    Hi Terry, just got back from my holiday in Australia & see your post. I repeat, is there anything that I can do to help? I have a degree in Fashion, have done film costume work, can pattern make, cut, sew pretty much anything, can knit, crochet, embroider (badly), screen print, deconstruct & embellish, needle felt, felt, in fact there is not much I can’t do with textiles (all modesty aside). It can be reletively easy for a New Zealander to get a UK work Visa & I would be on a plane tomorrow if the chance to work for you arose & the chance to do what is my one true love, costume work. If there is some chance that i could do some outwork, that would be fabulous as well. Just a thought & a far fetched dream for me but I thought I’d put it out there.

  4. AvatarAnne H.

    Terry, thank you so much for doing this! These insights are absolutely fascinating. The forums are also a fantastic way to connect with others and have, or read, intelligent discussions about anything remotely Outlanderish. Thank you, again!

  5. Avatarann foley

    Hi Terry! Love your blog – it’s been such a pleasure to read! I’m in awe of what you & your crew produce for each episode – truly spectacular work! In answer to your question about the Marie Antoinette costumes, I believe they are at Tirelli’s in Italy! Enjoy your hiatus! Can’t wait to see what you & your team create for season 2!

    1. AvatarFabCamilla

      No bother,! Marie-Antoinette is a totally different fashion anyway, not the same time period, might get stockings and shoes and men hats but is all.
      about 40 years between DIA and Marie-Antoinette, different king, different style. Even the furniture totally changed !

  6. Luanne UttleyLuanne Uttley

    Given the mountain of work that goes into each and ever scene, I have only begun to appreciate the numbers of unsung heroes that work in the industry whose names no one ever knows. For the UK our Outlander experience has been video clips that we’ve managed to see and trailers. I hope that once we finally get to see the production that the discussion of what went into making the costumes etc… won’t be yesterdays news. We so wish that we could have made this journey together. Having said that, the costumes I have seen in stills etc… have been works of art, stunning and I am in awe of the detail in each and every one of them. It hasn’t been easy by any means but I do hope that the blood sweat and sleepless nights have paid off and knowing that your fans are happy with it helps with moving forward into the next adventure. You said that Diana seems to trust you and that goes for you fans as well. Glad you are having a little change of scenery and we will be here cheering you on for season 2. I haven’t been around much because of work but I am reading and catching up. Lots of love to you and yours xx

  7. Avatarfirstlove

    Hello Terry,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to even do a fan Q&A for Outlander costumes. It makes such a difference on screen and the story for each character being told by their costumes, visually cannot be over appreciated. You have set the bar for other Period Dramas to follow, as far as this fan is concerned.

    May the universe work in your favor dear lady. xoxo

    Yours truly,
    Sarah 🙂

  8. AvatarLizzieB

    Thankyou so much for these updates, Terry! I’ve loved seeing one of my favourite books coming to life, and thank the crew from the bottom of my heart for the stress, the late nights and the tears.

    I majored in costume construction as part of my theatre degree. While I went on to be a stage manager, the love of period costume has never left me, and I’ve marvelled at the work you’ve done. One of the great things about theatre is that your work is rarely seen up close, so finishing doesn’t have to be so precise, so I’ve been overwhelmed by the detail on the Outlander costumes. I’ve watched each episode three times, once to experience the story, once to focus on the music, and once to concentrate on the costumes. I have been known to shout at the TV in excitement of a small detail! I’ve forwarded your blog to the current costume teacher at my former college, who has in turn made it required reading for her third-year students as they complete their period wear unit.

    I’m crying on the inside for your crew for the Versailles scenes. I still have flashbacks to sewing the boning channels on 18th century stays, and I wobbled a little on one of the channels that made them all a bit wonky. Total rookie mistake. None of the bones would fit in. I cried.

    Thanks again – I’m loving the details on your blog almost as much as the show. Almost.

  9. Pingback: Q & A Terry Dresbach - Outlander Italia

  10. AvatarOutlanderItalia

    Hi Terry, this is awesome, thanks for taking the time to answer our burning questions!

    I’ve tried to reach to you via Twitter but I guess it was not the smartest move 😉 I would really like to translate this post (and some others, in the future, maybe?) for our Italian Community (that goes with the name OutlanderItalia). Is this something that could bother you or are you okay with getting your posts translated for non-english speakers? It goes without saying we usually credit back pics, texts and everything else to the original post.

    Thank you again for your consideration, time and passion!


  11. Purl99Purl99

    Thank you for all the time you are investing in this site and in us the fans of the show. I am always amazed at watching a book or idea come to life on the screen, sometimes one shutters and groans and then there is the joy of what we are seeing with Outlander. You, Ron and the rest of the cast and crew have done an amazing job with this. I cannot wait for DIA to come to life. And PLEASE include the sausage…I wet my pants laughing every time I read that chapter…love it!!!

    My daughter is a seamstress and designer who sells on Etsy, as many do. She does many re-construction of thrift finds for Muslim ladies. They wear quite elaborate dresses for weddings and other functions but at the same time must be covered completely except for their hands and face. I watch her in amazement thinking the skills I taught her at age 11 (she is 27 now) have exceeded mine. I love to watch what she creates. At 16 she took my sewing machine (I use to design figure skating costumes) barricaded herself in her room and came out with a wardrobe, prom dress within a weekend and without patterns. She has been creating and earning a living since. Amazing kid!!!

    I do have a question. Did you start sewing and creating when young and where did your inspiration come from?

  12. Katiscotch22Katiscotch22

    I’m sure you know how much we appreciate your blog and answering all our questions. I CAN NOT wait to see the fabulous costumes I know you will create for Season 2. I’m still loving all your creations from Season 1

  13. AvatarMonicaP

    Terry, when you mentioned renting costumes .. Dangerous Liaisons came to mind, but seeing as that move was done in the late 80’s .. I guess those costumes wouldn’t be in the best of shape. I guess the other issue would be that one costumes designer’s idea of a period piece in the late 80’s probably wouldn’t be the same as your ideas and vision 20+ years later.


  14. Avatarrebekka_palmer

    Hi Terry,

    I absolutely LOVE the show! The work you and your team have done on the costumes is amazing. Please keep up everything you are doing because it is a pleasure to watch. It was great to see the behind the scenes bit after the show about the wedding dress and your blog is fabulous!! Looking forward to season 2!

    As a knitter I have really enjoyed all the accessories especially on Claire. If you are ever looking for someone to help make some of your knit pieces please let me know!


  15. AvatarMissvickie

    I love your description of “lipstick on a pig”. I can tell you, though I’m sure you already know, that from our perspective the costumes are perfect. (Because, what do we know? We just love the show!) I remember in one of your podcasts you said that you’d go through a lot of work to make a complete outfit in detail, only to have it not make (or barely make) camera time. This was especially true of Letitia’s lovely clothes. I can imagine how frustrating that can be; there’s really no way to know ahead of time just how much, or how close up, a costume will show in camera. So everything has to be done to such detail. I’m amazed, especially in the scenes with lots of extras. Do the math, indeed.

  16. Avatarcbraunnj

    Terry, Love your work. I have sat with my tv on pause studying the costumes. I think it’s wonderful that the cast praises the costumes all the time. It’s about time the costumes get the shout outs!
    Regarding Season 2, in France: Have you thought about renting from Opera Costume Houses? You may be able to find items that would fit the period of the French Court
    (ex. Marriage of Figaro, perhaps?).
    I do work on costumes for Opera as well as wardrobe, I would be very happy to hear from you about your work. And if you need another pair of hands!

  17. rhonnie.b@xtra.co.nzrhonnie.b@xtra.co.nz

    Thanks for answering my question in a beautiful roundabout way, It kind of sucks that you can’t take advantage of all the really talented fans offers of help as there are some truly amazing crafters in the Outlander Fandom world. My dreams are crushed LOL. We think you and your team are totally amazing, we are all behind you 1000% & will be behind you all the way to the end. I’m glad your crew get to see our support because they really deserve it & more.

  18. Avatarudya

    Hi Terry

    Thank you replying to all the questions, and also explaining the complexities of not only doing a mammoth job if the costumes but also with explaining all he corporation bits. We can’t wait to see season 2 costumes and I’m sure it will be just marvellous just like season one . One question do you listen to music when you are sketching?? I mean sort of getting in to the mind set of what you are about to create or is it just quietness?

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