In my recent podcast episode “The One Where They Go To Oz”, I made the comment that I loved episode 202’s parallels to the movie The Wizard of Oz. As a viewer, you really do feel as though Jamie and Claire were sucked up in a giant tornado and dropped into this foreign land of Paris. Scotland is a simple country with very few occasions for extravagance in the average person’s lifetime. Now our two heroes have been plunked onto an alien planet where glitz and glamour are the new norm, and it gives everyone an extreme sense of whiplash. This is made the most apparent in the world of clothing and accessories.
The fashion industry was at its zenith in the 18th century — especially in Paris, France and it was not uncommon for the newest fashion periodicals to circulate at a rate of every ten days! This meant that as soon as something was “in style” it was almost as quickly “out of style” creating a revolving door of the newest shapes, materials, and accessories. During the reign of King Louis XIV, dress shapes were more sleek and simple, but after King Louis XV took the throne, simplicity was thrown out the window, and the age of wide skirts, bold colors, wild patterns, and decorative lace and bows took over. Jamie and Claire made their grand entrance into the world of the French Court in 1744, during the heyday of King Louis XV, so for the purposes of this particular article, we will keep our exploration of French fashion around this time period.
Men’s fashion has not evolved much over the years, but it did get a makeover in the early 18th century when the loose-fitting pantaloons gave way to the much more form fitting breeches. In their earliest forms, breeches were tied at the knee with a bit of ribbon, but the advent of buttons soon changed that
Buttons, which could be made of anything from goat’s hair to silk to precious metals soon became popular for fastening breeches at the knee and at the waist, although gold and silver buttons and trimmings began to dip in popularity with the transition between the courts of King Louis XIV and King Louis XV. In the late 17th century, large wigs were also very fashionable among nobility. However, in the 18th century, the size of wigs began to decrease significantly and by 1800, wigs were deemed extremely impractical and only used for formal occasions.
Jabots, a bit of frill or lace surrounding the neck of a shirt, replaced the muslin cravate sometime in the 1730s, and neck cloths tied at the back with a pendent in front also became popular. Adjustments were also made in men’s clothing for extracurricular activities.
For instance, turning coat tails outward and buttoning them for the purpose of keeping them clean and contained during riding became a common practice. We see this most often in the redcoat costumes in Outlander — particularly Lord John Grey in season three and Governor Tryon in season five.
Women’s fashion in 18th century Paris is a goldmine of fabrics, colors, and silhouettes that make any fashion nerd’s heart swell. The most popular women’s style of the mid 1700s was an item called the contouche–a wide overdress often made of silk or wool. This overdress would fasten to the petticoat either at the breast or all the way down to the floor. Younger women would often where gauze or embroidered muslin contouches with a petticoat of contrasting color underneath.
In 1740, contouches, or saque-back dresses, began to be made with a lining that formed a close-fitting bodice attached to the dress in front and at the neck. This style of dress was extremely popular among the court of Versailles, and had several variations. Claire’s goldenrod dress, and the dusty purple dress she wears while visiting Faith’s grave in 207 are examples of a style known as robe à l’Anglais because it lacks the pleating of the more complex robe à la Français. Claire’s emerald green dress at Versailles during the La Dame Blanche trial in the star chamber is a robe à la Français, while the turquoise dress she wears in the carriage on her way to find Jamie in the Boi de Boulogne is a much looser fitting robe Volante.
Women’s undergarments and morning attire were a land unto themselves. It was popular in the early 18th century for women of standing to have what was referred to as “morning toilette” where women would be bathed and readied for the day. This affair would often take hours, and became something of a spectacle throughout the 1700s. During morning toilette, women would often wear a type of contouche while having their makeup and hair done for the day. This garment is similar to that of what Louise is wearing during the famous “waxing” scene in “Not in Scotland Anymore”, or Claire’s gorgeous mustard dressing gown.
The base layer of any woman’s garb was the shift. Made using a variety of different linens based on geographic location and social standing, the shift was the most frequently laundered piece of clothing a woman owned, and did not stand the test of time very well. In some cases, it was not uncommon for a bride to receive six dozen chemises as a wedding gift. Stockings were also an essential part of 18th century clothing, but due to their private nature, even noble women would put their stockings on without the aid of maid servants. Before the age of elastic, broad silk ribbons were often used to hold stockings in place and keep them from riding down.
The final piece of the undergarment ensemble is perhaps the most important — the corset. While every other aspect of a woman’s underthings could be changed up to three times a day, the corset always remained, and was viewed as a staple of the wardrobe because it created the desirable silhouette of a plump bosom, narrow waist, and curvaceous hips.
Certain dresses in a women’s closet needed one final undergarment known as a Farthingale. This contraption came into style in 1725 and was comprised of a series of hoops with two pieces of steel fixed into the top hoop to create a large uniform, semicircle skirt shape. The smallest of Farthingales were approximately 5-6 metres in circumference and 3 metres tall. Size variations all had identifiable names including la culbute, la bout-en-train, and la tatez-y. Lovers of Outlander can view a Farthingale silhouette in all it’s caged glory a la Claire’s famous red dress. Having seen my fair share of Farthingales in museums across England, I can’t image walking in one of those things. Luckily they went out of style after 1750!
When it came to formal day wear, women had a variety of options to accessorize their look. Because of the fashionable low necklines of the day, many women wore fichus or neck clothes to make their dress less revealing. Up until the early 18th century, it was customary for women to cover their hair, so mantillas, a type of veil covering the top of the head and draping down the back, was a common accessory until approximately 1750. However, by far the most common type of accessories were broad brimmed hats called bergeres and gloves. These served to protect women from the sun and facilitate the desired porcelain complexion of the day.
One item that can always be counted on to spruce up an outfit is outerwear, and there were several different types of cloaks, coats, and jackets women of the 18th century held in their repertoire. Light silk jackets were often used as accessories and came in a variety of colors and styles. The casaquin was a close fitting coat with long basques, or tails. These were often worn for semi-formal events such as hunts, walks, or luncheons. You can see an example of a casaquin on Annalise in 205 “Untimely Resurrection” — which bears a stunning resemblance to an 18th century casaquin on display at the Palais Galliera in Paris (probably it’s inspiration).
Possibly my favorite accessory of all the Paris costumes is a jacket worn by Claire in 204 “La Dame Blanche”. It is known as a Brunswick which is classified as a hip length jacket with a high neck-line and hood. This particular number has fuchsia embroidery that really pops, and I LOVE it!!
The idea of creating 18th century Paris in all it’s fashion glory was a bit daunting to Costume Designer Terry Dresbach, and plans were put into motion half way through Season 1 filming to get ahead of the curve for the much more demanding Paris setting. To give you an idea of just how much work went into the Paris costumes, an average Scottish costume takes 2 – 3 weeks to make, and a French costume takes a solid 2 months from start to finish. To meet this demand, production came up with a simple solution. All patterns for “extras” would be made commercially. Then all the detailing (dye, trim, buttons, and accessories) would be added in house to give each background costume a unique twist.
Because the bulk of the shows costumes are for background artists, this was the first major hurdle for season 2 prep. Going into the off season, Dresbach and her crew already had the measurements of their principal cast (Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe), so work shifted to designing and creating their costumes. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Terry Dresbach admitted Sam Heughan was extremely concerned, given the nature of 18th century fashion, that he would be wearing pastel colored, extravagant costumes for the majority of the Paris story line. However, Dresbach wanted to keep true to Jamie’s character and instead went for elegant, heroic, and masculine with rich materials in variations of black, grey, and blue.
Claire’s costumes are some of the most gorgeous costumes I have ever seen on screen, and given the nature of her character, Dresbach was able to take some creative license with her clothing. Claire is from the 1940s, so while the basis of her costumes lives in 18th century France, you can see slight details of her fashion inclinations in the clothes she wears. For instance, French Designer Christian Dior designed an iconic suit in 1946 that very heavily inspired Dresbach, and by extension Claire’s character. The only real difference between Dior’s version and Dresbach’s version lies in the skirt length. It’s a fantastic piece that shows the influence of 18th century Parisian fashion into the 20th century and back again! Another example of artistic license was used in the famous Red Dress which had neither bra nor corset, and took over 15 yards of red silk to make! Can you say cartridge pleating?
Most of what you see on screen in Outlander’s Paris was made in-house including fabrics which were dyed, embroidered, and painted, buttons, petticoats, hats, shoes, gloves, purses, and fans. All in all, 30 workshop employees created over 10,000 garments in preparation for Paris filming, and I don’t think I’m alone in my awe of their work. The show does a fantastic job of researching the time periods and locations the characters inhabit. While it may create more work by sticking to time-period accurate techniques, materials, and designs, it certainly looks fantastic, and history buffs like myself definitely appreciate the effort! Check out the gallery below for more incredible costumes from season two of Outlander!
Until next time, Cheers!!
All Outlander Images from Outlander-Online
French Fashion and costume history of the 18th century
French Elegance — How Did Women Dress In The 18th Century?
Fashion History Timeline — 1740 – 1749
The Artistry and Design of 18th Century French Fashion
Outlander Exclusive: How This Dior-Inspired Dress Was Key to Unlocking Season 2’s Time Travel
‘OUTLANDER’ COSTUME DESIGNER LOOKED TO DIOR AND BALENCIAGA FOR SEASON 2
The Making of Outlander: The Series: The Official Guide to Seasons One & Two