Outlander is a historical drama television series based on Diana Gabaldon's novel series of the same name. Developed by Ronald D. Moore, the show premiered on August 9, 2014 on Starz. It stars Caitríona Balfe as Claire Randall, a married World War II nurse who mysteriously travels back in time to 1743 Scotland.
The show is known for its stunning cinematography of the Scottish Highlands, as well as its elaborate period costumes that bring 18th century Scotland to life. This article will dive into the intricate historical details and custom design work behind the costumes featured in Season 1 of Outlander, with a particular focus on the use of tartan and other elements of 18th century Scottish fashion.
Claire's Highland Dress Transition
When Claire first travels back in time to 1743 Scotland in Outlander, her modern 20th century fashion is a stark contrast to the period clothing worn by those around her. As she acclimates to life in the past, Claire adopts traditional Scottish garments befitting an 18th century Highland woman.
Some of Claire's most iconic gowns from Season 1 include the green wool arisaid she receives at Castle Leoch, a red tartan dress gifted by the MacKenzies, and the blue silk gown she wears to attend the Duke of Sandringham's ball. These dresses feature long skirts, fitted bodices, elbow-length sleeves, and laced corsets typical of the time period.
Claire's wardrobe transitions to incorporate more layers including shifts, stays, petticoats, and side hoops to achieve the fashionable silhouettes of the mid-18th century. Fabrics like wool, linen, and silk reflect materials available in Scotland during this era.
While not 100% historically accurate, the costumes allow some creative license in their vivid colors and adaptations of traditional styles befitting Claire's modern sensibilities. As costume designer Terry Dresbach notes, "We're telling a story. We're not designing a history lesson." Overall, Claire's Highland dresses transport viewers back in time through their intricate details.
Tartan has a long history in Scottish culture, dating back to at least the 3rd century AD. The patterns and colors of tartan designs were used to distinguish between Highland clans. Over time, tartan evolved into a symbol of clan identity and Scottish pride.
Traditional tartan patterns consisted of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. Each clan had their own unique tartan design. For example, the Fraser clan tartan features red, green and blue bands.
When designing the costumes for Outlander, the show's designers researched historical Scottish tartans. But since the story's Fraser clan tartan didn't actually exist in the 18th century, the designers created a new custom Outlander tartan. This allowed them to accurately reflect Scottish fashion while giving the fictional Fraser clan a unique identity.
One of the most iconic elements of Outlander is the use of tartan patterns. While clan tartans have a long history in Scottish culture, the "Outlander tartan" was specially designed for the show by costume designer Terry Dresbach. As she explains, "There are a lot of misconceptions about tartan. Modern perceptions of clan tartans did not exists during Outlander's 18th century period" (InglesBuchan). Since the real Fraser clan tartan was likely not around in 1743, Dresbach worked with the official tartan authorities to create a fictional Outlander tartan that still aligned with history.
The Outlander tartan has similarities to the modern Fraser tartan, using some of the same colors like red, blue, green and black. However, the shades and stripe patterns are distinctly different. This custom tartan allowed them to take creative license while still representing the Fraser clan in the show's storyline. Fans can now purchase skirts, scarves, blankets and more featuring this special Outlander tartan design.
The elaborate costumes in Outlander showcase a remarkable attention to historical detail and custom design work. Costume designer Terry Dresbach went to painstaking lengths to create authentic looks across all social classes from the 18th century Highlands. Her team hand dyed hundreds of yards of fabric, wove tartan patterns from scratch based on historical research, and constructed corsets and gowns modeled after examples from museums. According to Dresbach in an interview with Eternal Goddess, "I have 30 years of research under my belt. Every costume is scrutinized down to the smallest detail." The costumes aim to reflect the era's style while still allowing actors to move freely during action sequences. For example, Claire's gowns feature hidden splits in the skirts for horseback riding scenes. While some small creative liberties were taken, Dresbach ensures the overall look captures a true sense of rugged Scottish life in the 1740s.
The women's fashion seen in Outlander provides an intricate look into 18th century Scottish styles. Claire's wardrobe transitions from 1940s British nurse to Highland lass throughout the first season.
Initially Claire wears modern dresses and suits. But once she travels back through the stones, she adopts traditional Scottish women's garments of the period. This includes loose fitting gowns called shifts made of linen or wool, topped by tightly laced corsets for shape.
Over the corset, Claire wears conical shaped stays known as "pockets" that created the desired cone shape silhouette. Petticoats and stockings complete her Highland ensemble. While the fabrics and accessories are more rustic, the layered style mimics popular 18th century court fashion.
As an herbalsit and healer, Claire's rough spuns and wools reflect her rural life at Castle Leoch and travels. But living at the MacKenzie castle provides her finer wool tartans and linens dyed with local plants. The plaids and tartans follow regional styles and patterns, and she incorporates more embroidery and ruffles over time.
Claire's progression shows how Highland women adapted their traditional Gaelic dress to increasing European influences in fabrics, accessories and silhouettes. The layers, natural fibers and tartans ground her in the rugged Highland surroundings.
Men's Highland Attire
The male characters in Outlander showcase many historical elements of 18th century Scottish Highland attire. Jamie Fraser, played by Sam Heughan, is often seen wearing a belted plaid, which consists of between four and six yards of tartan fabric wrapped around the waist and then pleated into a kilt. Over this is a wool waistcoat and linen shirt with cravat. On his feet are tartan hose and leather brogues with buckles (Culloden Battlefield). Other accessories include a sporran (pouch) and sgian dubh (small knife), and his hair is usually tied back with a leather thong.
Jamie and other Highland men also wear wool jackets and long coats, often in tartan fabrics. These are typically made of heavier material for protection from the elements when living outdoors. Hats include the Scottish bonnet, usually with a Border tartan band, and tam o'shanter caps (Colonial Williamsburg). The elaborate and colorful accessories paired with tartan plaids make for striking Highland outfits befitting of Outlander's 18th century setting.
Atelier Serraspina's Outlander Collection
At Atelier Serraspina, we have created an entire collection inspired by the intricate costumes seen in Outlander. We utilize the official Outlander tartan designed for the show to achieve an authentic 18th century Scottish look.
Atelier Serraspina's Outlander collection includes gorgeous skirts, shawls, and outfits featuring fitted bodices, and full skirts. Our collection provides lovers of Outlander and Scottish history many options for integrating the show's iconic tartan into stunning historical fashions.
Outlander artfully brings the intricate details of 18th century Scottish Highland fashion to life on screen. The stunning costumes designed for Claire, Jamie, and the ensemble transport viewers back in time. While not 100% historically accurate, the show takes care to portray the essence of Highland styles from the fabrics to accessories. The custom-designed tartans add a unique touch. At its core, Outlander is a love letter to Scottish history and culture. Fans around the world have embraced the show's vision of 18th century Highland life. From the swish of a tartan kilt to the glint of a sporran, Outlander's wardrobe choices invite us to step through time.