Outlander Style: Best Laid Schemes

Posted on May 18, 2016

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As we said in last week’s costume review, once you’ve established the major costuming themes and motifs in a TV show, you’re pretty much stuck reiterating them over and over again. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be very effective themes and motifs, would they? This makes for thoughtful, considered costume design, but it doesn’t always make for the most scintillating observations about those designs week in and week out. But let’s do it anyway, because we never know what’s going to shake out once we start digging deep.

For the second episode in a row, Claire’s dominant color is blue, which evokes madonnas of religious iconography, not to mention Master Raymond’s use of the word as a term of endearment for her. This is extremely notable because of what happens at the end of the episode. All of these madonna-blues, which evoke imagery of motherhood, are foreshadowing her miscarriage.

 

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Blue as she works in the hospital …

 

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Blue as she visits Master Raymond and implores him to watch out for himself…

 

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And the same blue as she poisons Jamie.

This work-a-day dress went from being a healer’s uniform to a poisoner’s uniform.

 

 

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Blue as she debates plans and schemes with her men.

As an aside, note how Murtagh’s costuming is pulled into the foreground of the story. It’s important for the viewer to note that he’s being dressed in a manner he detests, and that can only come across if his costume design up until this point has been consistently rendered and so different from this costume as to be immediately noticeable.

Anyway, back to Blue Claire:

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Now this is somewhat interesting to us. In every scene in Paris in which Claire is in the company of other women, she is always dressed drastically different from them. Her clothing frequently displays motifs and design elements that would be more at home in the 1940s than the 1740s, exhibiting a stripped-down simplicity that situates her apart from other women of the era and allows for the viewer to always see her as the most modern person in any scene. And yet here, her dress is far more like the other women’s dresses than unlike them. It’s still relatively gewgaw-free, but she doesn’t stand out as starkly here as she has in other scenes with Louise and her friends. For once, her neckline, sleeves and stomacher are all more or less repeated in the other women’s costumes. She even has the Watteau back, which is not something she tends to wear often in Paris.

Here, in a scene where her modernity and knowledge of future history (you’ll pardon the oxymoron) causes her frustration in dealing with these women, all of these elements almost read like “I tried to fit in with you, but I really can’t.”

 

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It’s even more interesting to note that this same ensemble, unlike virtually all of the ones she wore to “work,” does not transform into a more workable “nurse’s uniform” style of dress. The fact that it’s unlike a lot of Claire’s dresses, especially the dresses she wears to the hospital, contributes to the sense of imbalance and unease permeating the episode. Things just don’t feel … right, somehow. Like an apron over a watteau-backed gown.

Note that she isn’t wearing her anti-poison stone here, even though she was shown wearing it at Louise’s – which in itself is notable because it’s the only time we saw her wear it this episode. We could take its absence here to mean she doesn’t feel threatened at the hospital  (which seems likely) or we could take it to mean that her miscarriage wasn’t necessarily a naturally induced event and the fact that she wasn’t wearing her protection might have had something to do with it (a leap, to be sure).

Anyway, let’s check in with the boys, shall we?

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Not much to note here except the usual themes of Jamie looking like a priest in comparison to the more flamboyantly dressed men of Paris. Note that Charles is dressed head to toe in gold, which is notable considering how his storyline is entirely about securing funds for his rebellion. Also: it’s probably just a coincidence, but Le Comte is serving up some serious Gainsborough “Blue Boy” realness in that first screenshot.

 

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This is what we call oppositional costuming, where two characters in a scene are wearing costumes that almost seem like rebuttals or rebukes to each other. In this case, themes of light and dark are playing out in the figures of St. Germain and Jamie, who are very similarly dressed, but in oppositional color schemes. We’ll see this play out again during the duel:

 

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Light and dark, day and night. The interesting thing to note is that the hero of the story is the one in black and the villains are the ones in light and washed-out neutrals. It’s not so much about denoting good vs. evil as it is illustrating the vast (and opposing) differences between the men.

The flip side of oppositional costuming is … oh, let’s call it “harmonic costuming,” wherein two characters are dressed alike to show a bond:

 

 

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Did you notice on your first viewing how similarly they’re dressed? Costume designer Terry Dresbach has been getting a lot of mileage out of Claire’s “nurse uniform” of a vest over a puffy-sleeved white blouse, both as a way of underlining her medical training but also as a way to stand toe-to-toe with her two male co-conspirators, who wear waistcoats and puffy-sleeved white blouses in practically every scene. The fact that she and Murtagh match almost perfectly is a great way of denoting the connection these two characters have now; the coming together for a secret so large and strange that they’d be thrown into an asylum if any of them tried to seriously argue for its truth in mixed company.

 

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And one final point that isn’t about analyzing the costumes in a scene but about showing how important costumes are. We didn’t see Jack Randall in this scene but we didn’t have to. Any viewer would’ve recognized that coat immediately. And in fact, showing the coat without showing the wearer made the scene seem all that more ominous. Jack Randall is less of a figure in this scene (in fact, he’s not a figure at all) than a concept to be feared. And rightly so.

 

You can listen to our interview with “Outlander” Costume Designer Terry Dresbach here.

For more discussion on your favorite shows, check out our TV & Film forum.

We ask that you please not discuss any aspect of the books at all in our comments section. We are here only to discuss the episodes of Outlander the TV series that have aired up until this date and nothing else. If you’d like to discuss the “Outlander” series of books check out theOutlander thread on our Books forum.

[Stills: Outlander/Starz/Tom and Lorenzo – Photo Credit: Courtesy of Starz]

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