Going into this week’s deep dive, we sense that it will be a scattershot affair. The world of the Frasers gets thrown into serious turmoil – more so than usual, and that’s really saying something – and subsequently, things felt disjointed somehow, both from a structural sense, in terms of how the story beats played out (so much time on Jack Randall’s re-introduction, followed by Claire’s betrayal of Jamie happening totally off-screen) and in the costuming. The intrigue and competing agendas swirling around Jamie and Claire are getting so thick that the costumes themselves seem to be referencing alliances forged and broken, warring armies, callbacks to earlier confrontations, and even religious iconography. All very appropriate both for the themes of the story and the time and place in which it’s set.
The color for Claire this week is blue. She will wear other colors, of course, but blue repeats significantly not only in her costumes. but in the costumes of quite a few of the other characters. The blue, gold and white of her sleepwear and dressing gown situates her quite well in her surroundings, which are predominately blue and gold in this scene. This works on several levels.
First, it underlines her status as mistress of this house, someone who is fully committed and engaged with this lifestyle. But it also could be said that the matching color schemes tie her down to the house, make her feel literally a part of it, as if trapped or limited by her role.
We realize these sorts of ideas get extremely subjective and interpretive – and don’t necessarily reflect the thinking of Terry Dresbach, Outlander’s amazing costume designer – but our whole take is that this kind of picayune meaning-derivation is also a good way to work your way through the actual themes and motifs of the story itself and to show how all the elements of a filmed text – not just the actors and the words they say, but the lighting, art direction, cinematography and yes, costume design – work in tandem to tell a story.
Note that the blue, gold and white motif plays out again in a second, very similar scene. This time, with the bonus of religious iconography with the apostle spoons. That’s notable because to us, Claire is working a semi-ironic “Madonna” look. Both of her blue-and-gold dressing gowns over a white simple gown evoke countless Madonna paintings over the last millennia-plus. And of course, “Madonna” is what Master Raymond calls Claire, for reasons of his own. This is ironic for two reasons. The first is that she is also referred to as La Dame Blanche in this story, pretty much the reverse of the madonna figure: a witch. The second reason it’s ironic is that, while she’s pregnant herself …
… her entire storyline this episode revolves around the breaking up of another romantic relationship in order to secure a bloodline more beneficial to her. Like La Dame Blanche, it represents the exact opposite actions of a traditional Madonna figure. And yet here she is, parading around the story in massive blue cloaks and regal blue dressing gowns, a twisted madonna figure meddling in other people’s bloodlines and families.
But we shouldn’t get too caught up in this motif, because it’s not the only thing Claire wore this episode.
This would appear to be the third purple outfit Claire owns, making it her most predominant wardrobe color in France. As we’ve noted before, all of her ensembles are almost shockingly devoid of embellishment and frippery in comparison to the other women in the story, establishing Claire as a knowledgeable and more modern character than the others. Mary is once again costumed to play up her innocence and vulnerability, as well as her fussiness and naivete. As we’ve noted before, there’s an inherent imbalance in a scene with one dressed character and one character dressed in bedclothes. It evokes sickness and vulnerability while placing the dressed character on a slightly higher level somehow. Claire has the knowledge and sensitivity to treat Mary more or less as a modern rape victim would be and all of that is bound up in the costumes they’re both wearing.
The purple’s notable for another reason:
Not only does it call back the purple the Comte wears in a later scene, but it’s worth noting that he is wearing the same ensemble he wore when he confronted Claire outside Master Raymond’s. And since Claire strongly suspects the Comte is behind Mary’s attack, the similarity in color tends to underline their enmity toward each other.
Note that Mademoiselle Elise’s blue-and-gold gown calls back to Claire’s waiting-for-Jamie-to-get-home ensembles. Literally the Madonna/Whore complex played out in costumes.
This dress was the biggest sartorial bomb-drop since her famous Versailles red dress. Look at those two ladies passing in front in that last shot. Almost every element in their gowns differ from Claire’s in some way. Different neckline, different sleeves, different bodices, different skirts, different hats, different gloves. They don’t look like they belong in the same century – and that is entirely the point. Claire looks like some MGM starlet in a 1940s period drama, like Greer Garson or Vivien Leigh.
Look at how she, Jamie and Sandringham are all rendered in shades of brown; a very tenuous, more or less faux alliance rendered in costuming choices.
Interestingly, Claire’s dress also manages a tenuous connection with Annalise’s. Their pinks and purples coordinate very nicely with each other even as Claire’s dress once again looks like it landed from the moon when compared to the dress of Jamie’s ex. Again: every single element differs. Sleeves, neckline, bodice, skirt, hat.
Another nice effect these costumes have is to practically drown you in 18th Century femininity, which makes the next several entrances into the scene all the more acute. Annalise looks like a cupcake and Claire is almost literally a walking garden. Who or more notably, what enters the scene next?
A TON of military uniforms, a wall representing both the ultimate 18th century idealized males and the ultimate in danger: kings and soldiers, all having a dick-measuring contest right in front of her. Suddenly, Claire’s big MGM flowers look … not ridiculous so much as grossly incongruous. This tends to quite accurately underline her feelings in this scene, which could justifiably be summed up as “I WANT TO BE ANYWHERE BUT HERE RIGHT NOW.”
Jamie makes a nice partner to her here. They both stand far apart from all that primary-colored military finery in their earth-toned outfits. While Claire’s garden tends to paint her very much as an outsider, Jamie’s cooly neutral tone helps to underline his calmly collected point of view while his relatively unadorned coat matches Claire’s modern and no-frills aesthetic.
And it isn’t remotely surprising that he’s wearing his kilt, his symbol of power, while confronting his nemesis.
Just look at the way he sits in it when he gets home from challenging Randall:
These neutrals and earth tones carry through to the final scene as Murtagh joins in to underline what must always be noted about them. Like Sandringham and his rich brown coat, these nature-based colors signify their non-French status. And that sense of uneasy alliance.
Once again, this dress tends to render Claire even further outside the proceedings. All of that visual noise comes up against the simple neutrals of Murtagh and Jamie. She is the actor at the center of this drama. It all centers around her choices, which makes it all the more reasonable for her to be the one your eye goes to in every scene.
You can listen to our interview with “Outlander” Costume Designer Terry Dresbach here.
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[Stills: Outlander/Starz/Tom and Lorenzo – Photo Credit: Courtesy of Starz]