Images courtesy of Sony Pictures Television.


May 8, 2015

Valli Herman

Terry Dresbach is trying to keep warm in her chilly stone house in Scotland, where the veteran Costume Designer has been working for two-and-a-half years on the time-travel historical romance, “Outlander.”

“If a costume designer loves a challenge, this is a challenge of costume design,” said Dresbach from Scotland. “The lead character is a woman from the 1940s who travels back to the 18th century.”

The Starz original television series, now in its second season, is adapted from the “Outlander” multi-genre book series by Diana Gabaldon. The story begins with Claire Randall, a British WW II army nurse who travels through time to meet Jamie Fraser, an 18th-century Scottish warrior she is forced to marry.

Dresbach came out of a comfortable retirement to start the project for her executive producer husband, Ronald D. Moore. The couple moved to a country house, where Dresbach can get a real feeling for the life and climate of the characters she dresses.

“There is almost no research on 18th-century Scotland,” she said. “A lot was wiped out by the history that this story is about–a cultural genocide. Most of what you see is a Victorian interpretation of 18th-century Scotland. There really isn’t much to go on. Forensic is the best word to describe it,” she said.

“You’re having to guess what it looks like and sell it to an audience and have them believe that this is what it was,” she said. “I think I’ve gotten as close as I can.”

Knowing just how cold and damp the countryside can be, Dresbach reworked her original designs to reflect reality.

“I took an 18th-century shape and reinterpreted it in the fabric that would have kept people alive, which is wool,” she said. Her maidens and horsemen are wrapped in heavy, thick wool, “which provides its own challenges, let me tell you. But our actors are warm on set, wearing layers and layers of wool, while the crew freezes in our fancy North Face gear,” she said.

Still, Dresbach had a significant advantage when starting the project. “I’ve read all the books multiple times,” she said. “What you see on the screen are the characters I’ve had in my head since the 1990s.”

For a key wedding scene, Dresbach put the heroine Claire in a silvery linen wedding dress that slyly references the gray skirt suit she wore to be married in the 1940s. Replicating a fairly modern suit was the easy part. For the gown, she shaved chunks of sparkly mica and attached them to the petticoat “so there would be shimmer coming through without sequins,” she said.

“I knew they did embroidery with mica, but it was usually in furnishings,” she said. “So why not do it for a dress?”

“Outlander” is on Starz, Saturdays at 9 p.m.

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