Intern Report: Costumes on a Voyage

Today’s post is brought to you by our summer intern Caela Castillo, who helped install the Art of Television Costume Design exhibition. Caela is a graduate student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the MA Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, and Museum Practice program. She also has an MA in History and Public History from Loyola University Chicago. She has previously interned at the Museum at FIT and the International Museum of Surgical Sciences in Chicago, and has contributed to exhibitions in California, Chicago, and New York. Her research interests include late 19th and early 20th century Paris; she is currently working on several research projects, including the life of Nancy Cunard and 1920s fashion magazine Art, Gout, Beauté.

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Outlander costumes designed by Terry Dresbach on display in the FIDM Museum. Photograph by ABImages.

Currently on view in the Art of Television Costume Design exhibition are five costumes from season 3 of Outlander, which airs on Starz with costumes by Emmy-nominated designer Terry Dresbach. The show, based on the best-selling novels by Diana Gabaldon, tells the story of a 20th century woman who stumbles back in time to 18th century Scotland. Season 3, based on the third book in Gabaldon’s series, is aptly titled Voyager; the costumes in this season reflect the journey the characters take across time and space. As a fan of both the Outlander books and show, I was excited to be able to handle the costumes as an exhibition intern for the Museum, and use my knowledge of the story and its characters to accurately dress the ensembles. Knowing the context of the costumes and the actors who wore them was an important factor during the installation of this exhibition. Since mannequins rarely resemble actual humans, it took several hours to prepare each mannequin and have the costume fit well. An hour of that was attempting to get Jamie’s boots on uncooperative mannequin feet! Being able to recall specific details about the costumes helps the dressing process and allows us to provide a more vibrant exhibition for visitors.

J081718A-0572ACostumes worn by the characters Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe), designed by Terry Dresbach. Photograph by ABImages.

IMG_9487Detail of Jamie’s boot.

I liked that we had a variety of costumes from different periods of the show: Claire’s 1960s shift dress from Brianna’s graduation, her 1960s ensemble she wears during an argument with Frank, whose costume from the same scene we also have, Claire’s “batsuit”, and Jamie’s 18th century costume that he wears from the middle to the end of the season. For a series that’s known to have passionate and loyal fans, some were outspoken about their opinions on the costumes for the third season, which aired last fall. As a fan myself, I understand the expectations I have when a novel is translated into film or television. However, as a fashion historian and someone with knowledge of how a costume department runs, I am aware that there are many factors at play. Outlander’s costumes are placed into the “period” category, but instead of dealing with one time period, Terry Dresbach and her team must design costumes from different centuries, cultures, and geographic regions. Not to mention that these costumes must photograph well, allow the actors to move comfortably, withstand stunts, and carry the characters’ stories through the season. In a recent interview, Dresbach commented on her response to fans who criticized the costuming, explaining, “It wasn’t so much defending but trying to get people to understand what the point of costume design is, which is to serve the story.”[1]

MV5BYzFiYThjM2EtMGY2Ni00YWUwLWEwM2QtOTlkNGZkODg0M2I5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), Outlander, Starz, 2017. Photo by Aimee Spinks, Image Courtesy of IMDB.com.

IMG_9490Detail of Claire’s “batsuit” costume.

The focus of season 3 is Claire and Jamie’s voyage from Scotland to Jamaica in hopes of saving Young Ian. Along the way, both characters meet many challenges which inevitably take a toll on their costumes. The costume that Dresbach and executive producer Ronald D. Moore refer to as the “batsuit” (because its many pockets are reminiscent of Bruce Wayne’s utility belt) is Claire’s main look for much of the season. In a behind-the-scenes feature Moore remarked, “Terry spent a lot of time and thought figuring out what type of fabric it would be, what the design would be, how it would be comfortable for Claire to wear, and also utilitarian and would have pockets and things where she could hide – secret pockets – where she could hide stuff and also would have a zipper where the corset was, so it was just a great idea, great concept, and it was a really nice match of costume design that marries into story and character for the show.”[2] Dresbach acknowledged that this costume was a challenge for her as a designer, because it was meant to look like Claire – an inexperienced seamstress – had made it herself.[3] She explained to the Museum team that this was the reason behind the uneven seams on the garment. This was a delightful bit of background knowledge, and upon closer examination I could see how this element of the story indeed displayed itself in the seams of Claire’s “batsuit.”

MV5BN2M5YjgwYmYtZjJhOC00ZWU4LThjNjItYjQ3NWRlNDc4Y2Q1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_Sam Heughan, Outlander, Starz,  2017. Photo by David Bloomer, Image Courtesy of IMDB.com.

IMG_9489Detail of Jamie’s 18th century costume.

After I posted pictures of the dressing process on Twitter, Dresbach gave me helpful feedback on tying Jamie’s neckstock from her popular Outlander Costume account – which was much appreciated since I haven’t had the chance to tie many in the 21st century! Other examples of Dresbach’s attention to detail can be seen in the darning of Claire’s blouse and Jamie’s frock coat, and in the patching of Claire’s petticoats. The historical accuracy of mending and re-wearing garments is also the reasoning behind the limited number of costumes worn by Claire and Jamie in the second half of the season. Historically, textiles and clothing were costly and therefore were mended, saved, and repurposed for generations. This is written into the storyline in episode 309: Jamie brings a trunk of Claire’s old clothes, which he kept for sentimental reasons and to be worn by other women in his family. These garments come in handy when they arrive in Jamaica and have proper attire to wear to the governor’s party. Executive producer and writer Toni Graphia states, “That way we can see Claire in some of the old favorites and have new things evolve as we go along.”[4] This evolution comes back to the characters and their journey.

MV5BYTA0YzkxY2UtNDk3YS00ZDljLTgyYzgtNGU0MTg1NThkZDVlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), Outlander, Starz, 2017. Photo by David Bloomer, Image Courtesy of IMDB.com.

Claire, a strong and perceptive woman, ensured the garment she took through the time-travel stones would be functional, made of weatherproof material and equipped with a multitude of pockets for her modern medical instruments. Jamie, always practical and hardworking, has to mend his clothes after working on the ship and keeps the most important objects close to him in his sporran. While Claire and Jamie wear the same ensembles for much of the season, these costumes show the progression of their journey and the immense amount of research and work completed by Terry Dresbach and her team.

IMG_5853Caela Castillo in front of the title wall of the Art of Television Costume Design exhibition!

 

 

[1] Lynette Rice, “Outlander costume designer reflects on the show’s only Emmy nod”, EW.Com https://ew.com/tv/2018/07/12/outlander-costume-designer-terry-dresbach-emmy-nomination/ accessed September 12, 2018

[2] Inside the World of Outlander, Season 3, Episode 5, Starz, October 8, 2017.

[3] Lynette Rice, “Outlander costume designer reflects on the show’s only Emmy nod”, EW.Com https://ew.com/tv/2018/07/12/outlander-costume-designer-terry-dresbach-emmy-nomination/ accessed September 12, 2018

[4] Inside the World of Outlander, Season 3, Episode 12, Starz, December 3, 2017.

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