Warning: This story contains spoilers for the second episode of Outlander Season 2.
The biggest star of tonight’s episode of Outlander didn’t have a single line of dialogue, but nevertheless spoke volumes. We’re talking, of course, about the red dress that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) wears to King Louis XV’s royal ball at Versailles, a stunning gown with a plunging neckline that also causes Jamie Fraser’s (Sam Heughan) jaw to plunge. Fans have been longing to see this particular dress modeled in three dimensions since author Diana Gabaldon first described it in detail in the second Outlander novel, 1992’s Dragonfly in Amber. And the show’s costume designer, Terry Dresbach, went into Season 2 knowing she had to make their two-decade wait worth it.
“Ron [Moore, Outlander’s showrunner] was like, ‘You don’t have to do it red. We could make it some other color,’” Dresbach tells Yahoo TV in this new video interview. “And I’m like, ‘You must do the red dress! They’ll come and burn us at the stake if you don’t.’” (That would be a particularly unfortunate ending for the pair, since Moore and Dresbach are married and raising two children off-screen.)
With the decision already made for her, Dresbach set about creating what she describes as a “very tricky costume.” Among the factors she had to take into account were the discrepancies between the actual 18th century French gowns she researched and the dress that Gabaldon invented in print, as well as finding a shade of red that would dazzle the eye without being too “intense” on film. Dresbach says that she took her inspiration from the 1940s rather than the 1740s, since that’s the time period the show’s time-traveling heroine hails from. More importantly, she made a point to keep the dress itself simple, even if the design process wasn’t. “When you’re dressing someone like Caitriona Balfe, you don’t have to go overboard,” she says. “You just sort of need to frame her and that’s what we tried to do.”
For her part, Balfe tells Yahoo TV that she needed slightly more assistance with her #RedDress moment beyond being properly framed. “It was a big dress — 4-feet wide” she remembers. “I had to perfect the art of walking sideways. It’s a work of art, but it wasn’t the easiest piece to wear.” Dresbach confirms that the red dress, like so many of this season’s outfits, demanded a lot of “maneuvering”: “We had many, many test runs, because the actresses can’t get through the trailer doors!”
But none of that awkwardness is evident that first time Claire appears in that red dress, descending the stairs where her husband stands, his mouth agape. “I had seen Cat moments before that shot, sort of crab-walking down the corridor,” Heughan says with a laugh. “The dress was so wide that she couldn’t get through the door! But in that moment on the stairs, she looks spectacular. You don’t have to act too much when you see her wearing that dress.”
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.