Claire’s Vandyke Dress in Outlander Season 2


Our recent post discussing the costumes in S2E2 of Outlander has generated some interesting conversation on the topic of one outfit in particular. No, it’s not the red dress. Nor is it the 1940s-Meets-1740s Dior-inspired dress. Nope, it’s this dress that appeared for all of a hot second on screen:

2014 Outlander season 2

Seems that not many of our readers/listeners were aware that this is actually based on a certain fad in the 18th century for “Vandyke” dresses. The dress that Claire is wearing seems likely inspired by the following portraits by English artists John Vanderbeck and Thomas Hudson:

"The Honourable Anne Howard, Lady Yonge" by John Vanderbeck, 1737

“The Honourable Anne Howard, Lady Yonge” by John Vanderbeck, 1737

"Portrait of a lady", John Vanderbank, 1731.

“Portrait of a lady”, John Vanderbank, 1731.

"Portrait of Lady Frances Finch", Thomas Hudson, 1741. Via the Huntington

“Portrait of Lady Frances Finch”, Thomas Hudson, 1741. Via the Huntington.

Vanderbank and Hudson were capitalizing on a trend for 17th-century costume that had taken hold by the 1730s. It’s in interesting topic to delve into, and one that seems terribly modern if you look at it in the same sense that contemporary fashion looks backward constantly for inspiration (in other words, 1960s = 1920s; 1970s = 1930s; 1980s = 1950s; 1990s = 1960s-70s; 2000s = 1980s; 2010s = 1990s… Everything is derivative! Nothing is new under the sun!).

So what portraits were these artists referencing, you ask? Probably this one by Peter Paul Rubens of his wife in the 17th century:

Portrait of Helena Fourment by Peter Paul Rubens, 1635, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Portrait of Helena Fourment by Peter Paul Rubens, 1635, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

However, in its weird way, the fashionable people of the 18th-century referred to this style of dress as “Vandyke,” after, of course, the 17th-century Dutch Master, Anthony Van Dyck. And Van Dyck painted a number of portraits from the first half of the 17th century that seem to have inspired elements of the styles seen 100 years later:

"Lady with a fan," Anthony Van Dyck, 1628.

“Lady with a fan,” Anthony Van Dyck, 1628.

"Portrait of Princess Henrietta of Lorraine," Anthony Van Dyck, 1634.

“Portrait of Princess Henrietta of Lorraine,” Anthony Van Dyck, 1634.

"Portrait of Anne Cavendish, Lady Rich," Anthony Van Dyck, c. 1630.

“Portrait of Anne Cavendish, Lady Rich,” Anthony Van Dyck, c. 1630.

Now, obviously, if you compare the Vanderbeck and Hudson portraits and the Rubens and Van Dyck portraits side by side, you can see there’s a lot of differences between them. In case it’s not obvious, the reason is that they were taking a 17th-century silhouette and translating it using an 18th-century aesthetic. So the differences in proportion will make it seem like we’re talking about two distinct styles, but we’re really not. Honest. The Van Dyck costume was totally A Thing in the 18th century — they just weren’t interested in recreating an exact replica.

You can see reference points in a number of other 17th-century portraits such as this Netscher portrait from about 1650:

"Portrait of a lady," attributed to Caspar Netscher, c. 1650.

“Portrait of a lady,” attributed to Caspar Netscher, c. 1650.

There’s also this Rubens self-portrait with his family:

"Portrait of Hélène Fourment," Peter Paul Rubens, 1635.

Rubens, his wife, and two sons. 1635. Via the Met.

This trend seems to have continued throughout the 18th century. In the 1780s, we see George Romney repeating the look in his portrait of Lady Milnes:

"Portrait of Charlotte, Lady Milnes," George Romney, c. 1788.

“Portrait of Charlotte, Lady Milnes,” George Romney, c. 1788.

And again, in his portrait of Isabella Hamilton:

"Portrait of Lady Isabella Hamilton," George Romney, c. 1780-1790.

“Portrait of Lady Isabella Hamilton,” George Romney, c. 1780-1790.

Now, whether or not these gowns were actually worn in real life, or if they were merely relegated to the status of “fancy dress” (i.e., costumes) or were allegorical (i.e., imaginary) is debatable.

I fall on the side of “probably not worn for everyday wear,” as there seems to be a bit too much “retro” compared to the contemporary mid-18th century fashions. It would be a lot like you or I lounging around in our houses in Victorian clothing. Short of being a Victorian fetishist, it’s not going to be something the vast majority of 21st-century women would be doing. So, it’s one thing to have your portrait made wearing an antique style of dress, but it’s another to wear it out and about.

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this little art historical detour from our usual snarky discourse.


I’d like to thank Trystan for her help in compiling this little collection of Vandyke dress portraits. She’s sort of obsessed with this style and assures me that eventually she will get around to writing a research paper on the topic.



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.

21 Responses

  1. Lexi

    I love these posts where you can combine totally fascinating factoids where I learn something new and you garnish with a side of smartypants snark. Thanks you for creating this blog!

    • Kendra

      On behalf of all of us, including Sarah who is currently off the grid, thank you!! You just warmed my cold dead heart.

    • Anna

      Just fyi, “factoid” is a word for something that is passed around as a fact, but isn’t actually true:)

  2. Gail

    It’s mainly costume for fancy dress/masquerade … and has been the subject of many an academic paper/dissertation lately. It all started, however, with Aileen Ribiero (Courtauld) as it was the subject of her (long-ago) dissertation.

    As an art historian who also worked in historic dress, many art historians simply can’t tell what is historic vs. fashion vs. theatrical. My advisor used to playfully hit me over the heat with a piece of paper saying “it’s obvious to you!”

    Anyone here going to be at CSA in Cleveland?

    • Kendra

      Sadly not this year! I will be presenting at the Dressing Global Bodies conference in July in Canada…

  3. AshleyOlivia

    I love that Vandyke dress. I really hope it appears again so that we can see it in more detail!!

    • Sarah Lorraine

      In general, yeah, Princess Seams are wrong. But look at the seaming detail on the bodice in the 1731 Vanderbank portrait… I think that’s what they were basing the construction off of.

  4. Susan Pola

    Thank you for the information. This is one of Claire’s dresses that I loved. Her swanlike neck is definitely channeling Audrey Hepburn. Besides she totally rocks in the scene in the dress.

    BTW hope Sarah had fun at SCA event. Tourney? And will she be attending Pennsick?

    • Sarah Lorraine

      It was the West Kingdom Golden Beltane celebration! We made it 50 years! GO US! Anyway, no, I won’t be at Pennsic this year, like all the 23 past years of my SCA involvement, because it conflicts with Costume College and it’s too far and it’s too hot and too expensive. SOME DAY I WILL GO.

      • Susan Pola

        I, too, would love to attend Pennsic; however, there are a few things preventing me: A) My allergies; B) My allergies; C) My allergies (see where this is going ?. And I really cannot take the heat.

        Was the Beltane celebration fun? Bet the clothing was more accurate than 1) Reign, 2) Elizabeth (both Cate Blanchett movies) 3) White Queen.

        Looking forward to Episode 4 podcast. Louis really rocks the uniform.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Ha! I’ve been wanting to do a series of “This dress was based off This portrait” posts for a while now. I think you just gave me the title… ;)

  5. Susan Pola

    I’d like to see several posts on ‘This dress …’ I bet you would find several good ones.

  6. Alison Campbell

    Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay also painted several Van Dyck dress portraits, similar to the Thomas Hudson ones. However, both Ramsay and Hudsen employed Joseph Vanhaecken as a drapery painter, who seems to have cornered the market in Van Dyck frock pics.
    Also, according to the National Gallery of Scotland book on Ramsey, the picture above by Rubens, and was of his sister in law but was commonly believed to be Rubens wife painted by Van Dyck when it was acquired by Walpole, the prime minister, in the 18th century. Hence the naming of the outfit,
    Interesting stuff.

  7. Lisa

    This is my absolute favorite dress out of all of them! I am trying to find a pattern for it, or something similar. Any suggestions?


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