On Saturday night's Outlander, the Fraser wedding was thrown together in less than 24 hours under the duress of having to return Claire to the deviant Black Jack for further questioning, but planning what the wedding party would wear on their big day has been going on for months, perhaps even years.
"I'm a fan of the books for 20 years and I'm very aware of the massive significance of this wedding for the series. As Diana [Gabaldon, author of the book series] says, it's about a marriage not a romance so the marriage is the foundation for the whole thing," costume designer Terry Dresbach told Yahoo TV. "It's the heart of the story, the thing that grounds these two people so I knew that the wedding dress had to be spectacular. Ron [D. Moore, executive producer and her husband] kept saying over and over, 'This has to be the moment. It has to be romantic and beautiful. It has to look like everything that we want this wedding to feel like.' So I've been working on it since day one of this project."
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It paid off as Dresbach declared, "It is the most amazing and beautiful dress I have ever been involved in the design of. It is sitting in my office in the corner on a mannequin. I look at it every day and can't even believe that we made this."
Below, she gives a behind-the-seams look at the gown as well as at Jamie's knot-tying kilt in his family's colors, Claire's nuptial night dainties, her simpler 1940s wedding suit, and the ring.
Did the design start with the book?
I had always seen clothing in my head as I read the books. It was interesting when I started to design it because I'd realized I'd never paid attention to the clothing descriptions. When I went back and read it again, I went, "Oh wait, that's not what I had in my head." There came a moment when we all had to decide if we were going with the descriptions in the book or going to do the look that we wanted. This dress is not what is written in the books exactly. When we make choices that are not exactly as they are in the book, they are never done casually or dismissively. They're always done with tremendous consideration because we're fans too.
Where did inspiration come from?
It is based on lots and lots of research. We looked at a million pictures. They didn't wear dresses that we would perceive to be wedding dresses today. They didn't wear white dresses at that time. People got married in blue and all sorts of things. We wanted to create something that would hit a perfect point in between the accuracy of the period, which would have not been white as that's an invention of the Victorians, and the expectations of the audience who want to see a proper wedding dress by today's standards. We chose to do it in silver and metallic. I feel like we found a way to give it a traditional feel of a modern wedding dress, but done in an authentic fabric, color, and shape for the 18th century.
What was the process?
I've never designed anything the way I did this dress. It is cliché to say but it was so organic.
It began with a million pictures on the wall of 18th century gowns that I loved and close-ups of details like pleating, stomachers, and different kinds of embroidery. Then we began the process of playing with it. It was trying five different sleeves and looking at 10 different kinds of embroidery. Then we built it on the mannequin, which is when I started really sketching and pulling it together as a singular piece.
All in all, we calculated that if one person sat down and made it, it would have taken about 3,000 hours. It was insane. After this was all done, we laughed about how long it would have taken if it would have been the real world.
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Was all smooth sailing or constant tweaking?
My daughter was in town visiting while we were doing this, and would go, 'You guys have one idea on one day and then you throw it out and start with a different idea the next day.' We would come up against a challenge and then we'd have to solve it. Like we wanted the dress to shimmer, but didn't want to use sequins because that wouldn't have been accurate. So we had to come up with a whole new technology, which was to take mica rocks, shave them into paper thin pieces, apply them to fabric, and then put it behind another fabric to achieve a glimmer that would give us the look and feel that we wanted. Also to achieve the shimmer in candlelight we wove with metal thread.
The embroidery has metal in it? Never heard of such a thing.
It isn't used anymore. It was done in previous centuries.
You find the resources you need as you go. We'll be talking about something we want to do or some reference we found and somebody in the department will go, 'Oh you know, there's this thing.' Liz, the head of our embroidery department, worked on the embroideries at Sterling Castle and she had done something like that.
[The style] is meticulous — you're literally taking bands of metal and weaving them into the embroidery. We made hundreds of leaves and acorns that had to be embroidered down the front of the dress. My crew joked frequently that they were going to have to pour whiskey in their eyes like women of 18th century to keep from going blind.
I imagine, in contrast, designing Claire's '40s wedding outfit was much easier?
Oh yeah. I have pictures of my mother and my aunts when they got married, Caitriona came in with a picture of her grandmother when she got married. It is the post-industrial age so it's a streamlined masculine and modern suit with padded shoulders and a matching fedora.
We wanted it to be the polar opposite of the 18th century gown as there's nothing frilly about 1940s Claire. There's actually nothing frilly about 1740s Claire either. Both pieces have in common a structure and clean architecture to them. Neither are soft or loose. We were taking a period that was very ornate and elaborately embellished and still retaining the character of Claire. We wanted people to feel like despite not having much choice in the matter, our character would still be happy wearing the dress.
She spends a considerable amount of the episode in her underthings.
I maintained from day one that the lingerie is just as important as the moment when we first see the dress because this is what she'd be wearing when these people who don't know each other that well and who have been forced into a marriage become intimate.
Now people usually get right to naked in shows. It's like they can't wait to get those clothes off. We lose the sensuality and beauty of undressing. There's nothing sexier than that slow unlacing of the corset. It builds anticipation and the delayed gratification makes the scene all that more sexy and special. I knew I wanted the underclothes to have tons of texture. I wanted to make people want to reach through the screen and touch her.
There have been pictures released of Claire in her corset, stays, and chemise and everyone thinks it's the gown because they're so elaborate. But this was a period where garments under your clothes were also beautifully crafted and embroidered usually for the pleasure of the person who was making them. Back then every woman knew how to embroider and sew and they weren't killing time on computers or watching TV. Should you be lucky enough to have any free time or wealthy enough to hire other people's free time, you would get these intricate details put on pieces nobody saw.
Her corset and stays are made from an incredible panel of embroidery that I found at Portobello Road on one of our occasional forages through antique places. I didn't buy that panel for anything to do with the wedding. When it came to figuring out what she was going to wear under the dress, it hit me that I already had it. I dug through a bunch of bins until I pulled out that piece. It was one of those moments where you just know that you've got it right. Then came the perfect petticoat and perfect little ribbon around her neck.
I'm guessing at this point all of you can make kilts in your sleep.
Yeah, pretty much.
Given that, was Jamie getting a wedding kilt important in the scheme of things?
What the groom is wearing is never as important as what the bride is, but there is a line in the book I will never forget. "And then the sun came out in the form of Jamie Fraser." This is the moment when we see him as a man that she might want to marry and not just as a rough-and-ready poverty-stricken Highlander, and in that sense his clothes were really important.
Sam and I worked really hard on deciding how he would wear the kilt. You'll notice that he wears it differently than he ever has before — up and across his shoulder with a diamond pin on his stock. We wanted to give him drama, power, and the sense that this is a solid guy. This is the first time we see the Jamie that goes to court in France and is a laird. It is essential for the audience, especially the audience that hasn't read the books, to notice the change and think, "Maybe this guy isn't all that we thought he was."
What tidbit can you share about the ring?
Ron wanted it originally to be carved from a nail. It was like 2 o'clock in the morning at our house and we were fighting about it. I was like, "A nail? That isn't romantic. We are not doing that. Out of the question." He thought it was a great idea, but I realized that what he wanted was for it to be made out of some item that they pulled together and spontaneously made into a cool ring. We came up with a key to Lallybroch. It feels like Claire and is the opposite of her other wedding ring. It's rough and not ornate. It feels like Scotland and our show. As with everything on our show, there's no detail too small.
She's wearing gold on one hand and silver on the other, which I think is great symbolism for this woman who loves two men.
How does this job rank on your résumé?
I have never been as committed to any project as I am to this one. You go into a show, do the necessary research, and have a concept. I have spent my whole life wanting to do the 18th century. That's a costumer's dream so I came armed with all my books and research and sketches. And after a week of being here, I thought, "Throw this all out the window. This is irrelevant."
Scotland is another character in our show. It is present in every choice we make. I don't ever want to leave Scotland. I am struggling with the fact that I am going back to L.A. at any point. You cannot live here without having the landscape around you take your brain, open it up, and tromp in. It doesn't fade into the background. This location demands to be noticed. You start with the climate. It is clear that in anything lightweight like silks, people are going to freeze to death. You have to move to wools. The colors are informed by where you live. We didn't buy every single thing in Scotland. We certainly did try, but there isn't a tremendous amount of research on what the Highlanders were wearing. So the next best thing is asking what the people here are doing? What were they taught to make as the descendants of the 18th century Highlanders? What kind of truth and authenticity could they bring to the project that a book will not be able to tell me? It adds a texture and believability to the project.
Now that the wedding is behind you, what will be your next big challenge?
Season 2. I started designing that five months ago before I knew for sure that we'd get a Season 2 because I know how enormous it is.
We are in the middle of making a thousand extra costumes. Most of the principal costumes have been designed and are ready to be made and we don't even have scripts yet. I can only do that because I know the books so well. [Spoiler alert!] I know they're going to be at the French court, in their apartment, in the hospital. I make it all in calico and when we get the scripts we'll move into fabric. But we are poised and ready. Otherwise, we would all die.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.