Outlander – Everybody Chill


Some promo pictures for the upcoming third season of Outlander recently dropped, and I wanted to address them, since they have apparently caused a stir:

The issue apparently is that Claire is wearing what looks like a modern button-down shirt with an 18th-century skirt.

No, it’s not historically accurate.

I am OK with this.

We here at Frock Flicks have said from the beginning that we want to see more historical accuracy in film and television, and Terry Dresbach and her team do a good job with the period. I find more things about the costuming I can quibble with in a show like Harlots (2017) than I’ve ever found with Outlander. And frankly, this is a story about a woman who goes back in time through a magical stone circle, for cryin’ out loud!

Yes, the photo shows Claire in what is possibly a modern button-down shirt with an 18th-century-esque skirt. Yes, we are aware that this is Not Historically Accurate in any way, shape, or form. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the costume designer knew this, too. In fact, if you’ve read the books or watched the first two seasons, you would be used to Claire’s tendency to mix-n-match the 1940s with the 1740s when it comes to her clothes. We’ve covered the dresses in Season Two that were directly inspired by Dior’s Bar Suit, and we’ve talked at length about the other myriad of ways that the designs that Claire wears in the show are meant to look like someone from the 1940s got thrown back in time 200 years — which is pretty much the basic gist of the plot.

Blackadder confused

I know, it’s confusing when we stick up for costume flicks.

Why am I OK with this?

Frankly, Claire has to stand out — she’s the main character, after all. She has to stand apart just enough so that the audience gets that she’s just a little different, just a hair off here or there, because she’s from the future, yo. I think it’s fair to say that the show actually pulls this off really well in terms of letting Claire’s personality come through in subtle ways that are evident in her costumes. Now, do I like every costume Claire wears in the show? No, but that’s not to say that they’re bad designs. I’ve always maintained that, when it comes to costuming, Outlander manages to pull off the right combination of historical reference, character, and modern aesthetics without crossing the line into WTFrock territory.

Even when it comes to The Red Dress — there was clearly a real concerted effort to deliver this big deal dress to fans of the books by trying to take a description of a gown written by an author who doesn’t sew or wear historical costumes, while still maintaining cohesion with the show’s established aesthetic. That’s not easy! I give props to the show for attempting to find a balance between 20 years of expectations built up by fans of the novels and establishing a cohesive design aesthetic that appeals to contemporary viewers, all while not throwing historical accuracy entirely out the window.

Outlander (2014-)

Claire adheres to my personal motto: Always be the girl in the red dress at the ball.

And finally … Never judge a series by its promo photos.

I’ve fallen into this trap numerous times, even on this blog, where a promotional photo of a show starts making its rounds in the historical costuming community and everyone loses their shit (guilty as charged!) because it’s not historically accurate. Over time, however, I’ve learned to reserve judgement for these promo photos, because they’re typically out of context and, in the case of the promo photo above, more of a fashion magazine spread than an actual snapshot from the show. Who knows if this was something taken directly from the new season, or if it was pulled together by the stylist in charge of the photo shoot? There could be a perfectly valid explanation why Claire is dressed this way (Hint: She’s From the Future).

1987 Blackadder the Third

I know, it’s a difficult concept to grasp.

In fact, readers of the novels will know that Claire goes back to 18th-century Scotland wearing a dress made by a 1960s designer, complete with zipper up the back. This is quite possibly the only time I will ever be OK with a zipper in an 18th-century period piece, and honestly, I’m kind of hoping that that detail stays in the script.

gunne sax ad

I may be the only person on the planet hoping that Claire shows up in the 18th c. wearing something like this.

1960s Gunne Sax dress

Editor’s Note: I’m imagining this Gunne Sax type of ’60s dress on Claire when she returns to Jamie!


Oh, and because some of you have asked, sorry, we aren’t doing recaps or podcasts for Outlander season three. That was a one-time deal for the fancy French fashions in season two! But we’re watching and will check in with the show when we can.


Got opinions about the new Outlander before it starts this weekend?


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

22 Responses

  1. ladylavinia1932

    I doubt very much that this outfit will end up in the series. It looks like something that the actress is wearing for a photo shoot for a magazine.

  2. Desjardins Anne

    I appreciate your keen observations about fashion, historical accuracy and movies. I love Claire’s red dress (inspired by Dior New Look style) in season 2 of Outlander. But, I wonder, the color red in these days was often related to whore, prostitution..Is it not akward to suggest that in an event like an official presentation to King Louis quinze ?

    • saffireblu

      I know I’m really late to the party, but ‘red = prostitution’ is a bit more of a modern association (I don’t know when exactly it first came in however; possibly with the whole Puritan red A = ‘scarlet woman’/ Adulteress from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel).
      Red was considered a ‘healthful’ colour, from the Middle Ages & into the early 20th c; it was actually a really popular colour because the dyes- from the commonly available madder & alkanet were pretty cheap.
      As I’m far from an expert, I can’t make any definitive statements, but I’ve seen the lazy presumption of red dress = prostitute in a few movies/ series- & yet never the historical reality: that of sumptuary laws- they differed between countries, territories & centuries, but it would be interesting if it was shown, because… the law actually required women who were whores to don these items
      ie. Roman era prostitutes wore togas &/ or yellow wigs, apparently.
      Again, special forms of dress for prostitutes & courtesans were known in the 13th century: in Marseille a striped cloak, in England a striped hood, & so on. I don’t know that they were specifically required to be a certain colour, or not.
      Over time, they were often reduced to distinctive bands of fabric attached to the arm or shoulder, or tassels on the arm.
      Later restrictions specified various forms of finery that were forbidden (like pearls, in Venice), although there was also sometimes a recognition that finery represented the working equipment (& capital) for a prostitute, & they could be exempted from laws applying to other non-noble women.

  3. Leigh

    I think Terry has said on Twitter that a stylist not her department dressed Cat/Claire like this for the shoot. She also What the Frocked Jamie/Sam in just a shirt in public.

    And I totally want the zipper. And Jamies face when he undoes it.

    • Broughps

      Unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to get the zipper dress. Not from what we’ve seen in the previews anyway. Too bad it was a great scene.

      And yes these clothes (Jamie and Claire) are for the ET photo shoot.

      • Eleri Hamilton

        I’ve always loved the idea of the floofy Gutenberg dress with the zipper in the books, but I’ve also always thought it was a little out-of-character for this super competent, detail-oriented women. She’s going to carefully plan out what she brings, have a cloak special made, but she’s going to go with an off the rack dress? I think, given the show’s concept of Claire’s hand in designing her clothing, going with a store bought dress would feel even odder. So I’ll suck it up and deal (unlike some others I see absolutely handwringing in agony) if there’s no zipper scene.

        (otoh, I wouldn’t put it past them to manage to have the zipper dress, and manage to keep it completely under wraps before it happens.)

        • Broughps

          We see in the trailers the outfit Claire is wearing when she meets Jamie. It’s the white blouse and blue skirt. No zipper dress.

        • Emily

          I sort of think we will see it, because it’s a moment of really nice comedy in the book and it sort of re-sets their relationship, because there’s a LOT of weird that happens quickly once Claire shows up in Edinburgh at that print shop.
          I can also see how the dress works–she probably doesn’t want to spend a fortune on authentic clothes, and who does she think can make them, whereas Roger has access to the coins and she will need things like that. The dress can look a little weird–like her bra being “from France”–but the money’s gotta be accurate, or Claire’s screwed.

  4. picasso Manu

    I stopped (and when I say stopped, it was the crash headfirst in a wall stop) even considering to like that thing when I saw my first pic of the famous dress… Hint: not the red one.And I ALSO shot to the ceiling in fury… Never thought I could be insulted on my country’s behalf for a dress in a TV show, but I apparently could.As for that red monstrosity, I don’t care what mental gymnastics the costumer intends for us to go through, it was too short and that slit in front! And don’t tell me about time travel, cause I don’t think women in the 40s 50s were showing at high society functions with their boobs hanging out.
    I know the we french are supposed to be debauched and all slightly gay at the same time (not sure how that works), but Versailles was NOT a high end brothel, for God’s sake. Any woman turning up at a high function dressed like that would have been kicked out before the king could lay eyes on her….puff! puff! puff!… Okay, rant over.

    • Maquis

      Terry was following the book description. Diana gave such a complete description of the iconic dress that fans would have been up in arms if it had been tweaked.

      • picasso Manu

        Is that so? I went back to the podcast… So where is the charmeuse chemise? Because if the woman is wearing a chemise in that picture, someone’s gotta tell me where it is.
        And I don’t think the equivalent of a XVIII century mini skirt was mentioned either.

        • Lady Hermina De Pagan

          Ok, I loathed that red dress also. However, Terry did say, she ran short of the red fabric that was used for that dress. So she made it a little short and told the Director of Cinematogrophy not to shoot below the waist.
          What really frosted my flakes is that there is another red dress that was worn later in the season that would have been better for this scene

  5. MiladyMcB

    Honestly, I’m happy you’re not doing the re-caps. There are so many of those. I come here for the costume critiques (complete with picture examples of the real articles.) Thanks for doing those!

  6. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m okay with the shirt too, Ms Dresbach has mentioned in her OutlanderCostume Twitter tweet that there was a stylist on the photo shoot who chose the clothes.
    And I’ve added Starz app to my Tablet to watch Season 3🐅🐕🐍😇
    But my question is are you still going to recap each season 3 episode with pics and stuff? I’m okay with not podcasting season 3 of Outlander, but please podcast season 3 of Horace, er Poldark. I’m crazy about the pug.

  7. Am

    I think I read somewhere that the outfit Claire wears (which you see the skirt of here) was inspired by The African Queen, among other things. It’s supposed to be a sort of all-purpose kind of outfit. Not sure if Claire travels back in this (but from the promos, it looks like she does instead of a Gunne Sax sort of thing).

  8. terrydresbach

    See, there is a perfect example of why I don’t do book descriptions anymore! Did it once.
    Thanks for the smart and well thought out article, guys!!!! Love what you all are doing these days. Really great stuff. Nuanced, interesting!

    I’m still up for that interview.

    -Terry (costume designer, not costumer/ Outlander)

  9. Outlander Lover

    From what I read in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, Sept 1, 2017, showing Claire on the cover, the writer of the mag. article credited the photo outfits/dress to 2 females and the male photographer himself. I don’t think the choice of outfits Clair had on had anything to do with Terry Deisbach, costume designer of “Outlander” series.

  10. Anna Bolic

    And now, of course, we know that the blouse is something she was wearing when she came back from the 1960’s as part of her home-made “batsuit,” and that she borrowed it from Brianna.