Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Twenty four thousand Buttons.



Two thousand pairs of shoes.

I was doing a little math today when explaining just how big and complicated Season Two is to a friend. I was saying that most people think in terms of finished costumes as if they all just sort of sit somewhere waiting to be picked up by my team or any of the other teams connected to other shows, in some giant warehouse, the size of three IKEA distribution centers. A magical warehouse perhaps, where costumes are grown, like hot house tomatoes, an endless supply.

The film and television business is a magical and wondrous place filled with magical and wondrous thinking. Magic really does happen. “Make it so!!” and poof it appears. Tinkerbell waves her magical wand, and it all appears on a screen.  Click your heels together three times, wriggle your nose,  throw some fairy dust as hard as you can, right into someone’s eyes, and above all else BELIEVE AS HARD AS YOU CAN !!!!! The Emperor is NOT naked!!!!!

Anyway, back to the math problem. Its one of those fun word problems.

If each suit, frock coat, waistcoat and breeches, needs 40 buttons, and you need to make 600 suits, how many buttons do you need?

Answer: 24,0000 buttons.


Here is another one.

If you have 900 extras who need shoes. But you need two pairs of shoes for every extra, because shoe size in not something that can scientifically be predicted, how many shoes do you need?

Answer: 1800 pairs of shoes.


Okay, so that math is simple enough. Now, head on down to that magical costume growing factory and go to the shoe field and pick 1800 shoes. Make sure you go the correct field, because you don’t want 14th century shoes, or 19th century shoes. You need 18th century shoes. And while you are there, stop at the button orchard and pick all those 24,000 buttons off the 18th century shank button trees.

Thank God everything is free!!!!

Ooooops. Looks like you are wrong. The Emperor is definitely naked. There is no magic wand, you are not wearing magic slippers, your bucket of fairy dust is empty, and you just cannot “make it SO.”

It is just math, it is physics. Round pegs, square holes. Blood from a stone, proverbial rock and a hard place. Those costumes don’t exist, there are not rooms of period shoes waiting to be collected, somewhere you have to find 24,000 buttons. And those are not 24,000 random buttons. They are 600 matched sets of buttons in the right sizes, that you can AFFORD.

The shoes? Well you can have them made at £250 per pair, but then there is no money left for clothing. Naked Emperor, again.

Hmmmmm, what does a costume designer and her team of costumers do? They manufacture miracles. There is a very crude saying in our world, “let me just chew up some fabric, and shit out a costume”. I believe the art department has a similar saying, involving wood.

Now if you look at all of it, the buttons, the shoes, the petticoats, shifts, shirts, stocks, gloves, mitts, scarves, fichus, bum rolls, stockings, corsets, aprons, hats, cuffs, belts, buckles, etc., as well as the gowns, frock coats, waistcoats, cloaks, and capes, and you apply the same mathematical approach, you will have an idea of what we REALLY do.

Because once you find all 24,000 of those buttons, they have to be sewn on. And once you and your team spend countless hours on EBAY in the evenings and on weekends buying shoes that look as close as possible to 18th century shoes, you have to trim, buckle and bow them, to look something like real 18th century shoes, that can go on camera and don’t cause the audience to laugh you off screen.

Look at an entire costume, from the skin out, and do the math.

I am not sure if I am even supposed to say any of this out loud. Did the boy who shouted out, “But he has no clothes on!!!”, get stoned to death, marched off to prison?

But I am going to say it, what the hell? That is the beauty of social media. There are no walls, we are all one. We all share, and everyone is part of the process.

Let the light shine into the darkness.



42 thoughts on “Twenty four thousand Buttons.

  1. Avatarirshiiz2

    And THIS is why we, the Outlander fans, , appreciate you and your staff so much!!! Thank you for your dedication to making this show as fabulous as the books Herself has written. Your hard work and attention to detail shows in every scene. Thank you

    1. Katiscotch22Katiscotch22

      Terry, I don’t know how you do it. You are a professional – that’s how you do it!! I’d be suffering sleepless night just worrying HOW and IF I could get it all done on budget and within the required timeframe. Such detail, it all goes into what is making the costumes so magical ergo Outlander is magical. Thanks to you and all of your crew.

      1. AvatarLeslieDiamond

        Costuming anywhere from 75 to 120 students in my high school productions was nightmare enough. Blessings on you and those who labor with you. You must be using fairy dust. Outlander is magnificent and so are you!

    1. AvatarDonna Rose Falk

      You are an artist and feel such an enormous responsibility to get these costumes authentic. They look amazingly beautiful and real and lovingly unique so you have gone even further than the cheap stuff I have seen in the recent historic dramas. I wish I could work for you. Do you need any botanical painters?

  2. AvatarHeidiHo

    Oh, I love those old buttons…and all the costumes on Outlander so far have been gorgeous. Makes me think I was born in the wrong time, except that I really like instant hot water and air conditioning. 🙂 I had no idea you went Ebay shopping to put together costumes. I’m learning so much. Thanks for sharing all this with us Terry.

  3. AvatarAnne H.

    I am currently re-reading DIA, ( just because) and keep thinking ” How the hell are they gonna do That? Or Yikes, Another fancy ball gown!!! Or wow, so many different interiors to build!” This is adding a whole new dimension to the re-read! Thank you so much for giving us this glimpse of the incredibly hard work it takes to put together just one hour! If you don’t tell us, how would we know and appreciate! Thanks!!!

    1. Avatarmaryjomalo

      This is the first television series which has so engaged me with the art of costuming. But this is only because you, Terry, have taken the time to educate and delight us. I’m excited to see the magic resulting from all your and your staff’s hard work.

      1. Avatarsierra18769

        Me too, Maryjo. I have this idea that I could make a mid-1700s lady’s dress for myself. I’ve been looking at patterns and underpinnings and feel somewhat overwhelmed.

      2. Avatarmaureenanne

        Well said! The attention to detail and the focus on historical accuracy is really impressive. This Outlander world that has been created just takes me to a really happy place.

    1. Avatarlaplane

      inaurmountable-sounding is right, mickie513! i would have thought that with so many industries having been generated by the entertainment business, there would have been one that caters to the need for costumes of different eras. but i see that’s not so. terry, kudos to you, and thanks for educating us about what your work is really about.

  4. Avatarsheliadene

    “God Bless you, every one”…to steal a quote!
    You have tremendous stamina. We (fans) do appreciate all the work done behind the scenes. Canna wait to see the results. Tulach Ard!

  5. AvatarFabCamilla

    Anyone searching Claire’s ancestots near Compiègne, coming from Paris can visit the Mother of pearl /buttons museum in Méru
    They have an Online store were you can have custom made neck laces and jewelry and other objects, you MIGHT have mother of pearls buttons made with 19th century tools http://www.musee-nacre.com/fr/boutique-en-ligne (sorry it’s all in French but you can look at the pix )

  6. Avatarsierra18769

    And it’s not just the buttons, the shoes, the corsets, etc. It’s the knowledge. The knowledge that you need when looking at shoes: this pair will do and that pair won’t because X or X or X. I am so impressed.

  7. AvatarHiedi

    Terry- I know you must love what you do to deal with such stressful demands. Please know how much we fans appreciate it. You and your staff definitely deserve recognition and rewards. I will be among those voting for you any chance we get when awards time comes around. Keep up the great work and know how much we love everything you put into the production.

  8. Avatarnsrhoads

    … But I’m guessing, that even with all of those challenges and all of those word problems, you wouldn’t change a thing. You wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
    Good luck with your searches and your word problems.

  9. Avatartanyac

    Super blog post. Great pic too.
    I expect you forgot to mention the little detail that all extra costumes must be DIFFERENT (Or so I would imagine. )
    Thanks for taking the time to educate.

  10. Avatarmlanzotti

    So appreciate your artistry bringing this story to life. Also appreciate you taking time to let us in on the process. Whole new awareness of costuming. I was asked to do period costumes (Elizabethan) for a school theatre. Wondering if I am up to the task!

  11. QueenBeeQueenBee

    History of Costume was my major when I studied at Sheridan Art College, Toronto, circa 1970.
    Just want to let you know that I am absolutely loving Outlander for the clothes… and because my father is from Glasgow.
    I visited Scotland last year for the first time – and saw Inverness, Standing Stones and the fields at Culloden!
    Actually, that’s how I discovered Outlander.

  12. LaurelRubinLaurelRubin

    Which makes my little seamstress fingers itch to help and my Outlander heart want to get on a plane (and I dooooooooonnnn’t like to fly!!) to come be part things and help!!

  13. Avatarmafgreene

    So how tacky would it be for me to post my wardrobe/costuming résumé and beg you to hire me?
    I will gladly drive around the pacific northwest and pull costumes for you. Or fly to wherever and sew on those 24,000 buttons. …


  14. maggiemaggie

    Working as a costumer I once made black silk faille box pleated ruffles for 40 hours. 24,000 buttons sounds much worse (or better) god bless each a every stitch and pricked finger.
    Thank you for these posts Ms Dresbach it’s thrilling to be even this much of a part of this production. Fabulous splendid costumes each and every one.

  15. AvatarDaphnepf

    Hat’s off to you (no pun intended!) on this monumental task. I don’t think I ever really thought how all this came about, and I guess I thought like others that there was a place where all of these costumes could be found. Best wishes. And, so far, so good, as far as Season One! If you aren’t nominated for an Emmy for costuming, no one should be!

  16. Purl99Purl99

    I understand the work involved in planning and obtaining the pieces to create costumes. My daughter is a seamstress/designer she is constantly struggling to come up with new ideas and finding unusual items to create her designs and with a 3 year old it can be daunting.

    The only thing I can say is I know that these costumes will be SPECTACULAR and Thank the Goddess its not 25,000 buttons! Bright Blessings Terry!

  17. AvatarRosie

    You are a marvel! It was wonderful when you joined your husband on the podcasts (especially the wedding episode!) so that we can hear even more details of your amazing knowledge.

    THANK YOU for bringing this to life through period pieces, with little details that just completely enhance the episodes. Please continue with your magic wand. 😉

  18. KnitzyBlondeKnitzyBlonde

    Brilliant, Terry!! Thanks for sharing a little corner of your world. 🙂 Those of us who sew & knit and create, completely understand the hard work that goes into what you do, but so many others don’t. So hearing these fabulous little details really puts the enormity of costuming Outlander into perspective. Sending you all the good costuming, button, and shoe vibes I can. I can’t wait to see all the wonderful goodies you’ll create for season 2! You and your fabulous team are just so incredibly talented!! ~ Sandie/KnitzyBlonde

  19. AvatarCatheryne

    Love the “inside” view that you give us! I would suggest that you and your team spend some time on ETSY.COM looking for those vintage items. There appears to be quite a lot of shoes, buckles, etc on that site! I find etsy.com to be most helpful when there is anything I need of any sort! Thanks for a wonderful job and letting “us” live vicariously thru your adventures of behind the scenes of Outlander!

  20. Avatarclaireokc

    Hopefully this doesn’t offend, but I just finished my coat inspired by Claire’s coat in “The Rent”. I spent numerous days working on the coat and can only barely imagine what it will be like to costume 600 people. Granted they all won’t be in such detail as the major actors/actresses, but still…..it boggles the mind…fittings, alterations, repairs, accessories and all having to be historically accurate. You must have an army of workers to keep up with all this!

  21. AllisonLAllisonL

    It really is a shame that you can’t tap into the huge talent of the artisans who do historical re-enactment. I know several people who could knock out those 24,000 buttons for you, in perfectly period designs, in a few weeks. Thank you for giving us your time to post and update the blog! Please keep this window into the workshop open as wide, and for as long, as you can. It’s fascinating to hear all the details of what goes into a production this enormous. And if you ever need an embroiderer who specializes in gold thread embroidery to donate her work, let me know . . .:)

  22. Appalachia GalAppalachia Gal

    Miz Terry,
    Amazing! I am humbled to grumble about matching a missing button to a favorite shirt/coat. I will definitely look over the great detail,skill,love that are required to create the historically correct costumes/garments. Thank goodness for HD.
    Again,thank you truly.

  23. AvatarNormaTherese

    I know your fans. Just post, “I need shoes that look something like this: [picture]” and you would probably need a warehouse to store them in! They would scour the thrift shops for you!

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