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Season 2 of Starz’s time-traveling drama Outlander, based on the blockbuster novels by Diana Gabaldon, has been bigger in every way. There are more locations (like a lengthy trip to France early in the season), more intrigue (such as Claire and Jamie’s attempts to stymie the Jacobite Rebellion), more action (remember Jamie and Black Jack’s bloody duel?), more tragedy (one word: Faith), and, of course, more resplendent period costumes. And Claire’s famous Red Dress moment was just the tip of that particular iceberg. “The standard we set was to make Season 2 be a remarkable fashion show,” Outlander costume designer Terry Dresbach tells Yahoo TV. “Every costume had to be spectacular. Whereas in Season 1, we only had one really crazy over the top costume — Claire’s wedding dress — here, every costume is crazy and over the top.”
But Dresbach, who is married to Outlander showrunner Ronald D. Moore, is quick to add that all that craziness is always rooted in historical fact. She and her team scour historical texts from the era during which the majority of the show takes place — the 1740s — and in the process turn up such surprising details as the fact that 18th century fashions were more scandalous than many would suspect. “Everyone thinks that if the [19th century] Victorians were so uptight, people must have been even more uptight when you backwards in time,” she explains. “Actually, there is evidence that women [from the 18th century] wore dresses below their nipples, which were pierced and adorned.”
That bit of intel inspired a memorable scene from early in the season when Claire and Jamie attended a royal ball thrown by King Louis XV and gaped open-mouthed at a woman with swan piercings on her nipples. “That was an iconic moment from the book that we absolutely had to do. There was a moment where I was making the swans out of clay at home, and my kids came in and asked what I was doing. I said, ‘I’m making swan nipple rings,’ and they went, ‘Okay, that’s it. We’re out of here,’” Dresbach says.
Dresbach’s kids might not appreciate her faithfulness to history — or the Outlander books — but the show’s passionate fanbase adores her for it. At the New York premiere of the show’s second season, held in April at the American Museum of Natural History, a crew of fans decked out in their own homemade Outlander-inspired costumes cheered and applauded when she entered the theater. “I talk to the fans every day on Twitter,” says Dresbach, who maintains her own Twitter feed, as well as one devoted exclusively to costume discussions. “They’re a tremendous group. I constantly get pictures of the things they’re making. A really rewarding exciting piece of this is they become part of our team in a way.”
Dresbach is equally enthused by the positive response within her branch of the TV industry, which hopefully bodes well for Emmy recognition in the category of Outstanding Costumes for a Period, Fantasy Series, Limited Series or Movie. (Outlander’s first season received its sole nomination for Bear McCreary’s score.) “[Those awards] are voted on by my peers, so they will look at the show and know what we had to do,” Dresbach explains, citing Penny Dreadful, The Knick, and Vikings as series that she particularly admires for the costume work. “I feel like I’m in really good company these days. That’s ultimately the most rewarding thing — when people who do what you do understand.”
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