As fellow, or should we say "Sister," feminists, Terry, we salute you! Your work is amazing and we're so thrilled that you, and all of the women of Outlander, are getting the recognition you deserve. Heartfelt thanks to Diana, Cait, Lotte, Laura, Nell, Annette, Maril, Anne, Anna, Toni, Claire, Simone, Suzanne and all of the other fab women associated with the show for giving all of us role models we can be proud of!
As Told to Justine Harman, Elle
Outlander wardrobe designer Terry Dresbach delights in the restrictive nature of period clothing—and the effort its removal requires.
COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES TELEVISION
You may not know this, but it takes a village to create a killer sex scene. All week long—in celebration of the forthcoming Golden Globes and ELLE's annual Women in TV issue—we'll be putting the women and men responsible for prime time's most sizzling moments in the hot seat. From the actors (hello, Scandal's Tony Goldwyn!) to the costumers to the prop stylists (yoo-hoo, sex toy specialist on Broad City!), we're getting up close and personal all week long. This is Masters of On-Screen Sex.
First up: Terry Dresbach, the wardrobe stylist for Starz's thrice-nominated, irrefutably sexy time travel period drama, Outlander. After working in the industry for 15 years on projects such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Shield, Rounders, and Prozac Nation, Dresbach left Hollywood due to the pressure to, in her own words, "make it tighter, make it shorter, make it lower cut." Now, as head designer on Outlander, she's doing things her way.
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"The biggest constraint that you always have in the business is not so much what the costumes are going to do—because most peoples' clothing don't do things, they just have to be—but it's about having the time to make them. And being married to the show's executive producer [Ronald D. Moore], being able to go, 'Are you going to do this scene, are you going to do that one? Are we going here? Are we going there?' And then you know the wonderful thing about being on this show is that we have not modernized it, we have not contemporized it.
Ron has been very, very clear that he wants things to be as realistic as possible. So that dictates how the costumes function. We have to have a separate room for our lead actress, Caitriona [Balfe], to get dressed in, because her costumes don't fit through her trailer door. So it's not about figuring out a way to do a contemporary television show with the expectations that most contemporary TV has but rather doing it accurately. So, if you're getting dressed, it takes 45 minutes and you need someone to help you. You can't pop in and out of costumes the way that you can on a contemporary show. There is no scene where someone unbuttons their dress and drops it on the floor. We have to train everybody on how to get in and out of clothing. You need a maid to come in; you need your ladies maid to come in and help you get dressed.
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Hollywood has this bizarre relationship with women's clothing and needing it to come off and fall to the floor the minute that you look at it. Well, that doesn't work in the 18th century. It takes 20 minutes to unlace a corset. So, something like the wedding scene becomes a very different beast. The people who make the show and the people who watch the show have to approach clothing very differently than they're used to, and it can be difficult for them. I mean, we have things in the writers room where they're like, 'And then he rips open her corset,' and I'm like, 'No, actually, you don't rip open the corset. Try it. Here, I'll put it on a mannequin, try to rip that sucker open. It's not going to happen.'
"IT'S A SLOW UNLACING. IT'S A SLOW
REVEAL. IT'S SENSUAL. IT'S NOT SLAM
SOMEBODY OVER A TABLE."
From day one we had many discussions about making it contemporary and I kept saying, 'You don't need to make the 18th century contemporary.' It's one of the most beautiful, sexy periods of fashion, and it takes you to a different time. It's a slow unlacing. It's a slow reveal. It's sensual. It's not slam somebody over a table. I think people are tired of that kind of sexuality. I'm tired of it. We've been doing that for decades now, and it's just exhausting.
COURTESY OF STARZ
I quit the business because I was so sick of it. I quit the business because I was so tired of the pressure to make everything sexy. It didn't matter if it was a 65-year-old librarian or a 20-year-old college kid. Make it tighter, make it shorter, make it lower cut, we need to see cleavage, we need to see cleavage, we need to see cleavage. As a woman and a feminist I really got sick to death of it and I quit the business. So coming back for Outlander was a really interesting trip for me. I only did it because Ron was at the helm, and I knew I wouldn't have to play in those tired old fields.
In today's world what we need is easy-access women; we have sexualized women through clothing in a way that puts every other century to absolute shame. Women are dressed today in ways that are just about being sexually available. I want to know which actresses in Hollywood haven't had to do the requisite shot wearing a man's shirt on a bed with her finger in her mouth. It's so relentless. In Outlander, when we did the scene in which Jenny had to get rid of her milk and we showed a lactating breast, that got banned or censored in Canada. People flipped out. We have boobs parade across the screen every freaking day, it's just boobs galore, but heaven forbid you show a woman nursing.
I'll just say this: You don't have to be naked to be sexy. This show is sexy, and yet we don't make sexy clothing—we just make clothing that's accurate to the period. It's about the actors. It's about the scene. And it's about the writing. It's not about somebody's breasts."