You may have written off Outlander as just another historical-fiction show with a lot of sex scenes, but if you’re not already watching, you’re missing out on strong writing and some truly over-the-top clothing. Costume designer Terry Dresbach is known for her love of period dramas, and she outdoes herself in the new season.
“In season two, we move into a completely different world. We may as well be going from Earth to the moon. It’s a different sensibility. It’s a different universe. The clothing is completely different. The look, the feel, the tone, and our story move radically,” Dresbach says.
It’s hard to create a vision for a show in which nothing stays the same. In particular, Claire, played by Caitriona Balfe, goes through so many shifts that dressing her is a challenge. Dresbach, who has spent most of her 30 years in the business working on films, notes that television in general moves a lot faster than she’s used to. “It’s fascinating because the film business and television business has changed radically with technology and social media. Fans are involved in a way that they never were before, and before, there was no binge-watching. Now it’s enormous and there’s not a lot of time to think about things.”
Having read the Outlander books over 20 times, Dresbach already had a mental image of the characters. She’s used that to her advantage, figuring out the characters and their motivations for each season ahead of time. For season two, she created about 10,000 garments from scratch. “A lot of the rental houses are pretty depleted in terms certain period costuming. There’s no store that sells it all, and there’s no store that sells specific things we needed, like 18th-century buttons or 18th-century fans or hats. We literally were creating fabric.”
For Claire’s wardrobe, Dresbach took inspiration from Dior, Balmain, and Balenciaga to create what she calls “the movement of a modern woman.” Claire’s most pivotal costume of the season re-creates the iconic Dior bar suit, placing ideas from the 1940s in an 18th-century context. Saks Fifth Avenue took notice of Dresbach’s work and will be showing Outlander costumes in the windows at the New York and Los Angeles flagships through Monday. “I found myself five stories below ground level in the bowels of Saks, sawing the arms off mannequins, creating harnesses, making wigs,” Dresbach says. “Standing in the window when the curtains went up and seeing the crowd stop was really exciting.”
Without giving away any season-two spoilers, expect a lot of drama between Claire and Jamie. Still, Claire will remain as strong as ever. “As a reader, I was attracted to this very feminist story of a strong, interesting woman who is thrown into these insane circumstances and the resolve and determination she has to survive. To see her with a man who likes her independence and is willing to learn from her and want an equal partnership is such a rare thing on television.”
Outlander season two premieres on STARZ on April 9.