This character of Outlander had a pretty large number of gorgeous Scottish clothing pieces. Though, historically, it isn’t accurate because most of the people in the 18th-century Scotland had only 1 or 2 sets of clothes at one time (and even during their adult life). But due to such a diverse assortment of Claire Fraser’s stage costumes, we can find out a lot about the clothing traditions of Scotland, local clothing crafts, and fashionable designs in the mid-1700s. In this article, we will look at Claire's costumes from Season 1.
This material is based on the video from a YouTube channel “Costume CO”. A dress historian and material culturist Brenna Barks also helped to create this analysis. Another expert is Sandie Russo from “Knitzy Blonde”, who has created some of the Outlander knitted garments.
The costume designer Terry Dresbach stated in her blog that she “settled on 4 skirts and five bodices, that Claire wears regularly” in Season 1.
And that's outside of her other special occasion dresses, like her wedding gown.
From a historical point of view, Brenna Barks says, “People didn't own that many clothes back then, so Claire's changing as frequently as she does is inaccurate. She would have had several shifts so that they could be washed, but depending on your status – and Claire has nothing in this world but what Colum MacKenzie gives her until she marries Jamie – you might only own one gown. There are funerary records of people having to be buried in their clothes because it, being their only suit of clothes, it wasn't even worth trying to resell as it was so tattered and worn”.
Terry Dresbach and her team made the decision that Claire needed more clothes to further the story along and to also establish the passing of time. So she stated that she achieved this by largely using separates and accessories to make it appear that Claire had more clothes than she did.
Let’s start with Claire's underpinnings or her foundation garments. So when Claire first arrives at Castle Leoch in a state of her 1940s underdress, Mrs. Fitzgibbons is tasked with finding Claire something appropriate to wear. As an audience, we get to discover alongside Claire, what goes into an 18th-century ensemble.
The first garment a woman wears is a linen shift. Since this garment is closest to the skin, a woman might own multiple shifts that would be laundered as needed.
Next, a woman would wear a pair of stays (which essentially is a boned bodice and the precursor to the corset) that she would put over top of her shift. These ones here are linen, with center-back eyelets so that the lacing is done up in the rear.
Here are some examples of 18th-century stays. Like Claire's, this set of American or European stays lace at the back and are seamed at the center front.
These 18th-century silk rear-lacing stays are Spanish and would have been worn by someone of an upper status.
This gorgeous set of stays from England date between 1730 and 1740. The stays are made of silk moire, a silk cording, and ribbons, with a linen lining. It's from a display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California.
Here's an example of silk 18th-century cord-quilted jumps from Augustus auctions. As an undergarment, jumps were a less restrictive alternative to stays because they were less boned or a non-boned bodice. The jumps did provide some support but didn't create that conical shape, like the stays.
In this image, we can see that the boned stays create that conical shape, so desired in this period.
Next, Mrs. Fitzgibbons adds a bum roll, which is a crescent-shaped pad that exaggerates the silhouette and creates a rear shelf, once the skirt is on.
The final undergarment is a petticoat, again usually made from linen. Brenna says that in lieu of a bum roll, lower-class women might wear “possibly multiple petticoats to keep warm and get the bulk at the hips that was in vogue at the time”. The outer petticoat might also denote the name of the skirt.
In Episode 2, we see Claire's first 18th-century look, dressed in a velvet bodice with detachable sleeves and a pleated tartan skirt. The choice of velvet is unusual since silk velvet would have been imported and very expensive. And she's wearing this outfit with some wrist warmers.
The sleeves are laced to the bodice with spiral lacing an offset hand-worked eyelets.
If to talk about the use of spiral lacing vs criss-cross lacing, Brenna Barks says, “I've never seen the criss-cross lacing. I think because it would make the armscye too tight for movement since cross lacing is usually used to tighten things. It could be done, of course, but I've never seen it done in portraits”.
Also, the lacing is only done over the shoulders and not at the underarm to allow for greater movement.
The center front bodice, meanwhile, is fastened with hooks and eyes.
Still used to this day, especially on women's lingerie, hooks and eyes go back to the medieval period. Here's an example of a hook&eye closure on a late 18th-century bodice from Augusta Auctions.
It's also possible that the bodice is laced on the inside of the bodice where, like in this 18th-century dress from Augusta Auctions, the linen lining has hand-worked eyelets.
The jacket has a little pleated peplum at the back that flares out over her bum roll. This bodice is similar to the French “Pierrot”, which is a short jacket with just a ruffle or flounce added to the back.
One of the most popular aspects of Claire's costumes are her knit mitts, cowls, and other knitted accessories.
Brenna Barks says, “The weight of the yarn was entirely too thick. Chunky knits is a thing now, and it is traditionally a thing in Icelandic and a few other Scandinavian/Nordic knitting traditions. Scotland, in particular, is famous for its intricate patterns in thin yarns: Shetland lace, Fair Isle sweater. All require very light yarns and small needles. Not to mention that a spinner was judged for years by how fine they could get their wool”.
“And the knitting needles of the time were so small they were literally called “knitting pins” and they basically look like a fine gauge sewing needle, just very, very long. Everything was too bulky, and they were clearly modern interpretations of garments at the time: lacy and other sorts of mitts were worn, but they weren't that chunky, usually more delicate; cowls and even scarves were not a thing, women would have worn shawls and fichus”.
Here are two examples of Shetland knits discovered on a man's body found at Gunnister in Northmavine in Shetland in the late 17th century.
Amazingly, the purse has three bands of decorative Fair Isle pattern on the main body.
According to The Victoria&Albert Museum in London where the gloves and pouch are exhibited, “Knitting probably came to Shetland from England, as English words were used for the earliest knitting terms. By the beginning of the 18th century, the islanders were trading hosiery in exchange for money and goods from Dutch and German merchants. Knitters manufactured large quantities of coarse woolen stockings and blankets, as well as the finer work upon which their reputation rested”.
The V&A states, “The early knitters produced stockings, caps, and scarves. Sweaters in the Fair Isle style, as we know it today, were not produced until World War I”.
So here are two caps, also from the Gunnister man. The cap on the left – worn by the man, and the one we see on the right – from inside the man's clothing. Both caps are knit in a stocking stitch pattern – one row plain and one row purl.
Of the design team’s choice to use heavier knits, Brenna says, “I definitely think it fits with the aesthetic they were going for, if not the historical accuracy”.
There was also such info that the decision to add these knit pieces was a way to keep actor Caitriona Balfe from freezing to death while shooting on location in Scotland.
Historical accuracy aside, Sandie Russo of “Knitzy Blonde” says that all of the knits for the show were made in Scotland by local knitters.
This cowl, Sandie says, “It is actually knitted. The fur is spun with some yarn and then knitted into a cowl. The animal fur is incorporated with the yarn as it is spun. The fur tends to stick out (like angora does) making a soft fluffy yarn to work with”.
And Sandie thinks, it's mink. And mink yarn can be found online but it's very expensive, she says. And like angora rabbit, the mink isn't harmed in the removal of the hair.
Here is another set of mitts that Claire wears. Sandie says, “We've jokingly called all the Season 1 knitwear, ‘Mrs. Fits knit bits’. The fingerless mitts or gauntlets are basically a tube of knitted fabric that slide over the arm and allow the fingers to be free for work. The mitts can be completely fingerless/thumbless… [like these ones seen here] …or can have thumbs”.
Here's a studio shot of the bodice with and without the cowl, and it's matched with a chocolate-brown woolen skirt.
This very popular costume consists of a brown wool bodice and the same tartan skirt from before. This is the only tartan skirt that Claire wears in Season 1. The other skirts are all made from a solid wool fabric.
Here's an inspired tartan fabric called “Mist&Stone” that's produced by GK Textiles Ltd. It can be purchased by the yard. And, like the Outlander tartan, it's made from 100% Australian merino wool and it's milled in Scotland.
The shape of the bodice is similar to the “Casaquin”, which is a derivative of “casaque”, the French word for “jacket”. The casaquin is shorter than the caraco.
“The Chocolate Girl”, a 1743-45 work by Swiss-French painter Jean-Étienne Liotard, wears a casaquin jacket, petticoat, and apron.
Here's an example of this style of bodice from the 1740s. This British bodice is made of silk and it's on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Here's another stunning bodice from Augusta Auctions. This French blue silk brocade bodice dates from 1750 to 1770. The space in the center is where the stomacher would be inserted.
Here's a good close-up of the bodice. So, not unlike the historical samples with cuffs, these have two-piece set and sleeves that are split. The space in between the opening of the bodice is filled with the stomacher, which is a stiffened and sometimes boned triangular piece. This one appears to have vertical bone channels.
In this image, Claire is inserting the stomacher between the stays and the laces which keep it in place.
Here are a few stomachers to show you.
This embroidery/white work linen stomacher is a very early 18th-century example from Augusta Auctions, and it dates between 1700-1720.
Here are two beautifully embroidered silks stomachers. The hand-sewn English stomacher on the left was made between 1730 and 1750 from blue silk taffeta, embroidered in colored silk. While the mid-18th-century stomacher on the right is American. And both of them have non-functional criss-cross lacing detail.
The stomacher would be pinned to the lady’s stays or to the inside of the bodice to hold it in place. Some stomachers, like these examples here, have silk tabs to help keep the stomacher in place.
Claire adds to her outfit this check shawl, which she's kept in her basket.
This knit shrug covers Claire's upper arms and shoulders. Sandie Russo says, “It's basically a knitted piece of fabric that is folded up and stitched on the sides only to make armholes”. This item is created using “… super bulky yarn, super big needles, and the garter stitch”.
Here's a studio shot of this shrug. The color of the yarn has an ombre effect.
In this scene, Claire is wearing the same bodice but with a different stomacher – this one embroidered.
It appears that she isn't wearing a shift underneath the bodice.
Here it is again in Episode 3, with the knits added back in. But this time, she's wearing another embroidered stomacher.
In Episode 5, Claire adds this waffle-weave type fichu. Fichus are usually triangular shaped, but this one might be a half circle.
Here it is again in Episode 12. You can see that she tucks it into her bodice between the laces to keep it in place.
Here it is again in Episode 5, but she's also added this very faint tartan wrap.
While this looks similar, this is actually a new bodice. It's slightly more olive drab than the other bodice, but also it has almost no peplum.
Here are great close-ups. You can get an idea of what the fabric looks like. The stomacher and laces are also new. This bodice has elbow-length sleeves and just a wee bit of flair.
Here's a studio shot with another cowl that, according to Sandie, is the most popular item from Season 1.
Sandie says, “This is actually what we could call an infinity scarf. It's a long scarf that is joined at the ends to make a large circle. Clare wears hers doubled up so it appears to be a cowl”.
She adds, “The Claire cowls are basically made from super bulky yarn, held doubled, and then knit on super chunky needles”.
Here is Claire in the same old bodice from this Episode 2 scene. The outfit has been dressed up with the addition of drop earrings and a choker. The choker might be made from woven trim.
Here's a better look at it again. Though, it’s hard to nail down the color, because this new stomacher looks brown or maybe burgundy.
Here is the same bodice again in Episode 10. Not only does she have this burgundy embroidered stomacher, but also braid. So, it's possible that they took the existing bodice from earlier in the season and then adjusted it.
Terry Dresbach says of the collar, “I don't remember exactly how this came to be. I remember discussing it with my team, new ways to play with scraps of fabric to make accessories, inspired by using leftover wool from the floor of the mill, to make Hugh Munro’s costume”.
“One day, walking by the very talented Emily's work table, I found a square she had made of woven strips. We decided to see if we could make it into a kind of fichu/collar. That's what I remember, but it's all a bit foggy. I love this piece, and I believe it”.
Here is Claire's surgery costume from Episodes 3 and 4. The sleeveless bodice is an asymmetrical overlapping style. She wears this look with a linen apron at Castle Leoch.
She wears it again at Lallybroch. Each panel of the bodice is cut in such a way as to create the chevron pattern, and the bodice is cropped right at the natural waistline.
The neck and armholes are finished with matching piping and the shoulders appear to have a contrasting panel.
In Episode 3, Claire dons a new blue bodice and stomacher. This bodice appears a lot throughout Season 1. And by the way, this bodice, as opposed to the brown one, looks great in every situation: interiors, exteriors, broad daylight, and low light. And it's also a nice contrast with the more earthy colors of her skirts.
From Episode 14 to 16, Claire wears this ensemble pretty much until the end of Season 1.
Like her velvet bodice, it has detachable sleeves that are spiral laced to the bodice.
Here's a rear shot where you can see the multiple seams that create the shaping. This bodice is more like a “Pierrot” jacket because it has no skirt at the front, just this pleated flounce at the back.
Here's an example of a late 18th-century Pierrot from Christie's Auction House.
This bodice looks similar but it's actually a new look. This one is cut nearly identical to her brown casaquin bodice that she wore earlier in the season.
You can see from this scene in Episode 8 that it has the same pleated peplum in the back. The color of fabric of the bodice looks like it might have been dyed with woad, which is a natural vegetable dye produced from the leaves of the woad plant. The use of this dye goes back to the Vikings.
If you look very closely, you'll see the wool actually has a little bit of red in it, too.
In Episode 4, Claire adds this linen apron and short capelet to the look. Sandie calls this knit item “Claire's hunt capelet”. She says that this knit item is made with “Again, bulky yarn, big needles. This is basic knitting and purling…”. The collar end edging is called “seed stitch”.
And she's wearing it again here in Episode 5, with a gray woolen shawl.
In Episode 5, Claire swaps out her knits for this fichu. As we have stated before, this was a very commonly worn item in the 18th century.
Essentially, it's just a triangular piece of linen that's worn around the neck and then tucked into the bodice. Claire likes to tuck hers in between the lacing of her bodice.
Here are two fichus. The Italian lace fichu on the left comes from The Met and dates between the 18th and 19th centuries, while the British fichu on the right is from the V&A and it's made of cotton and dates the third quarter of the 18th century.
The Calico Acts of 1720-1721 banned the import of most cotton textiles in England as a way to protect a thriving domestic linen industry. The Acts were eventually repealed in 1774.
You can see that Claire is wearing another set of gray mitts.
Here's a pair of British gloves from The Met that Terry Dresbach used for inspiration. These cotton gloves are dated circa 1770.
Here's a close-up shot.
In an image from Episode 8, we see a rare shot of Claire's brown knit stockings, held in place with a garter.
She's also wearing a new pair of front-lacing stays.
These stays aren't nearly as restrictive or tight as her other stays which create more of that conical shape.
In Episode 10, Claire adds the shawl which, according to Sandie, “is a very large triangle shawl, made from a boucle yarn, and has tassels on the three points/corners”.
The boucle yarn is yarn that is spun to look like raw curly wool.
In Episode 4, Clare wears this new brown tartan bodice and this capelet. Sandie says, “I call it the Claire's Castle Cape… But this is actually two pieces. It's a short cape and separate sleeves”. Sandie also says that it's “just a finer yarn, a worsted weight, so the knit is tighter. Yes smaller needles”.
And that’s about it for the 1st season. Of course, we couldn’t analyze every single one of Claire’s costumes, but we tried to cover the main and most interesting garments.