If you’re a fan of the Outlander book series, you’re probably an even bigger fan of the hit TV show. And even though we have to wait until April for the season two premiere, we don’t have to wait for a first look at Claire’s big fashion moment — the red dress moment, to be more specific. (Yes, that red dress.) We have all the exclusive details surrounding the scandalous design from the on-set costume designer, Terry Dresbach.
In the second book of Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveling Outlander series, Dragonfly In Amber, Claire, played by Caitriona Balfe, and Jamie, played by Sam Heughan, embark on a new life in 18th century Paris, where they trade their grubby Scottish garbs for high-fashion couture and a life of luxury alongside King Louis XV. And just like in the first season, the Starz TV series is keen on staying true to the book’s details — even down to the costume design. Which is where Dresbach’s style skills come into play.
“It was very different in Scotland. We did skirts and bodices because we needed to give [Claire] as much mileage out of as few clothes as possible. [Her wardrobe] was very practical from day-to-night dressing and in-season,” Dresbach tells PeopleStyle of Claire’s style evolution in season two. “But in the 18th century, a wealthy person would change their clothes multiple times in a day, so every time Claire goes somewhere, she has a new gown, every time Jamie goes somewhere, he has a new costume. We really play with the idea that everything was about fashion for the wealthy — not for the poor.”
Dresbach adds that now that Claire has the funds to dress the part, fans should expect to see her in more formal ensembles, fit for high-society dinner parties and galas.
“It’s a high-fashion show — it really is the 18th century version of modern couture with a twist because Claire is not a woman of the 18th century,” she tells PeopleStyle. “So we got to play with her clothes a lot. Every time she walks onto camera, everybody should take a gasp. Everybody should say, ‘I cant believe she’s wearing that!’ It’s highly dramatic.”
And as fans of the book series will point out (and have been (im)patiently waiting for), there’s one “highly dramatic” ensemble that stands out among all the rest: the infamous red dress Claire wears to meet King Louis XV at the Palace of Versailles.
The gown, which Dresbach describes as “scandalous, powerful and sensual,” is an extremely low-cut (so plunging that in the book, Jamie tells Claire he could “see all the way down to her rib”), scarlet-colored silk design with a voluminous, caged skirt. And, according to Drebach, the most difficult aspect of the design process was finding the perfect shade of red, a true red, for the piece.
Specifically speaking, Dresbach says she and her team went through about 75 different shades of red before landing on the final vibrant hue.
“We looked at every red silk out there, from every manufacturer,” she tells PeopleStyle. “We dye a lot of fabrics on the show, but then we ended up finding photographs of this red or that red, and we finally dyed a red sample that we really, really loved, but sometimes when you dye silk it changes the way the fabric works, so then we were now looking for somebody who manufactured a silk in the same color that we’d come up with in our dye room just to make it even more difficult. But we did! It was remarkable, it’s a beautiful red, it’s a classic, classic red. It’s a Valentino red, it’s a Givenchy red, it’s a fashion red.”
And once the shade was finalized, it was time to sketch out the gown, which, Dresbach says, took about two hours to complete. Then it was time to make the dress, which took about two months to complete with the help of 15 members of the design team.
“We kept [the dress] absolutely dead simple — very clean and very modern in its design,” she tells PeopleStyle. “In 18th century France, because there aren’t a ton of references for brilliant red dresses, we just played. The thing is, with red, it’s such a decoration in and of itself, then as you can see it’s a very simple design because if you put a lot of stuff on top of bright red it just becomes busy.”
But unlike the gown Jamie outrages over in the book, which was considered too scandalous for his Scottish upbringing, Dresbach says the set’s dress was designed to be worn without a corset, in order to stay as true to the book as possible.
“That was the biggest task of all because with the nature of construction of clothing in the 18th century, people think that you can see a lot, but you actually can’t because it’s a corset that’s there like an iron, cement wall,” she explains. “So we had to design a dress that Claire would have come up with on her own, where she made the decision that she was going to go without a corset, which would have been a scandal. That’s the only way that we could stick to that line in the script that was so important to everybody.”
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Fans will also notice that Claire isn’t the only character getting a wardrobe upgrade this season, according to Dresbach. The costume designer says fans should expect to see a much more sophisticated style palette on Jamie.
“In order to get an audience with the king and to be a ‘commoner,’ you have to be incredibly wealthy — you can’t waltz into the king’s chambers and introduce yourself,” she explains. “So [Jamie and Claire] are very, very well-funded, and one of the first things they do is get new wardrobes. [Jamie] can’t go in there looking like some sort of barbarian — he has to go in there looking like a member of nobility. We’re suddenly going to see a very different Jamie.”
She adds: “Jamie, the character in the book, is an educated, well-traveled man. He’s lived in France, he’s been educated there. So one of the great things about Jamie, along with Claire, is that we see new sides of him, and we come to understand the he’s a long way from that stable boy that he was when we first met him.”
If this isn’t enough to tide you over to the Starz’s show premiere on April 9 at 9 p.m., PEOPLE, along with Entertainment Weekly, are giving you the exclusive first look at season two in the trailer, below!
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