Outlander: See the season 4 costumes that Terry Dresbach worried would be 'dull'
Totally dull: That's what Terry Dresbach (pictured) originally imagined it would be like to create costumes for season 4 of Outlander. Now she can't talk enough about her designs, some of which remain on display at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia, through Dec. 2. "I thought it was going to be the dullest because I had the fourth-grade textbook pictures of colonial America in my head," admits Dresbach, who, together with Nina Ayers, created this season's New World wardrobe. "What we did was nothing like that, and it was really exciting. I think it's the most exciting season of all."
“There was a moment at the end of season 3 where I kind of turned to everybody and went, ‘I can't dress them like they are in the American South while they are shooting in the winter in Scotland. Everyone will die,’” Dresbach recalls. "They can't wear little cotton dresses. Men used to take off layers because of the weather in North Carolina, but you can't do that in Scotland. So we literally had to change the season in the script so we didn't kill 300 extras and 25 principal cast members. It allowed us to dress them in warm clothes. And that was before we knew it was going to be a horrible winter."
“There's a scene in the book that I used for Claire's wardrobe. It's where Jocasta says, ‘I'm gonna remake a bunch of my old dresses for you,’” explains Dresbach. "That’s what people did. It was very rare they went out and spent money to buy fabric. It was very, very expensive and very hard to get. Jocosta would just go into her closet and say, ‘Well, this doesn't fit me anymore, we'll just cut it down and remake it.’”
What was trending
"The trends were the same [as overseas]," explains Dresbach. "If you were a wealthy North Carolina plantation owner, you would've had your clothes made in Europe and sent over. You would have your fabrics imported from Europe. The Southern plantation owners, as an interesting political and historical aside, were forced to import fabric from the U.K. to dress the slave population. They were not allowed to use fabric that they manufactured themselves. They spent a fortune importing wool to dress people that they don't consider worthy of anything less than the barest of scraps."
Putting it together bit by bit
"There's a whole lot of things that come into play" with clothing in the 18th century, Dresbach says. "You have the people who came in with the clothes on their back, the French bring in their stuff, the British bring in their stuff, the Swedish bring in theirs. Clothes are changed because people wore less layers. You had people who only had the clothes on their back, so they'd go to the secondhand flea market and buy more clothes that all came from this sort of melting pot. They sort of created this patchwork quilt. Literally, patchwork was a big thing. You have a whole lot of clothes that kind of get thrown into the center of the room and then everybody grabs whatever they need and puts it on."
Dressing the natives
Creating costumes for the Native Americans "was the hardest thing. It was like dressing the Scottish Highlanders," admits Dresbach. "You're talking about two groups of people who were in a genocidal war. Part of that genocide was to not only wipe them out physically, but to wipe out their culture. I researched it for a year and talked to different people in different tribes. I spent a lot of time talking to the Smithsonian. At one point somebody at the Smithsonian said to me, 'If you're asking me about the Cheyenne or the Navajo, we can give you a lot of information because there are photographs.' But the Eastern Woodlands Indians were virtually wiped out, and the people who would've kept records of them were the ones who were wiping them out. The little bit of records were burned down in a library during the Civil War. It's crazy."
Getting it right
"We really crossed our fingers while trying to give as accurate a representation as humanly possible while being able to sleep at night," Dresbach says. "It was a hugely important thing to us to get this right and not to buckle into any bad stereotypes. And it was distressing to find out that I couldn't have a 100 percent verified 'this is what happened.' I had to pull together a little bit here and a little bit there. Tribes got merged. Tribes got relocated. Tribes got annihilated. You know, you have a tribe that's been moved to Canada, that started out in North Carolina, and they've been merged together with a Canadian tribe."
"I have always dressed Brianna in my clothes that I wore," Dresbach reveals. "Some of those things are direct knockoffs of things I wore. I had a leather suit in the fifth grade that I tried to put Brianna in, and it didn't work. I wore all of that sort of mod, London-inspired [clothing] in the late ’60s. I was in grade school, but my mother was a fashionista. I know there will be fans that will think I dressed her like a hippie and freak out. I don't think she was a hippie; I think she was a 19-year-old girl in 1970."
Dresbach has decided to step down from her high-profile post as Outlander’s costume designer. In fact, she was never supposed to stick around this long in the first place. “I told Ron [Moore, her husband] before season 1 started that I would stay until he found someone else to replace me and then I needed to go home. Somehow he never found anybody and I lived in Scotland for almost six years, at which point I was past my expiration date. At a certain point it was, ‘Okay, I want to get Claire and Jamie to the New World. I want to see them at Fraser's Ridge, one of my favorite parts of the book. I'm gonna get them to America. Then I can go.’”