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Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
Outlander returns on Sunday for Season 5, which will see Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) continuing to navigate the perilous political landscape of colonial America. Clothing of a particular color will massively factor into identity, as Jamie has to grapple with wearing the uniform of those he originally fought against. However, as it is Valentine's Day, we thought we would do a special Outlander flashback costume celebration in preparation for their next adventure — and what better garment to honor than one resembling an actual heart on the most romantic day of the year?
More than 300 years ago, Paris had a reputation for decadent style and it remains a hub of innovative fashion. Embracing this aspect in Season 2, Claire wore a variety of showstopping garments while rubbing shoulders with French royalty in a bid to stop funding of the rebellion, already knowing how badly it ends for the Jacobites. Emmy Award-winning costume designer Terry Dresbach and her team created exquisite day and evening attire, which emphasized the difference between the clothes of Claire's past (which is actually the future) and those she wore in the Scottish Highlands. Tartan and muted knits are switched out for high glam, bold color, and extreme silhouettes. A trip to Versailles requires a dress fit for a queen; luckily for Claire, her new friend Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne) has the hook up with an excellent dressmaker by the name of Madame Tabanou.
The red gown is one of the defining costumes of the last decade, which took center stage as the main image of the Season 2 key art — as a Fraser myself, I still get a kick from the "Vive Les Frasers" campaign. A woman in a red dress is a declarative costume choice, whether it is Jessica Rabbit's busty number or Audrey Hepburn's Parisian chic strapless Givenchy frock in Funny Face. It is a statement shade that pulls focus toward the wearer, making every other person in the frame fade into the background. For Outlander, this was a pivotal moment first portrayed in Diana Gabaldon's second novel Dragonfly in Amber, and anticipation levels were high for Claire's next sartorial adventure.
"I can see every inch of you, right down to your third rib," Jamie dumbfoundedly remarks as Claire makes her big dress reveal. As she descends the staircase backlit to perfection, it appears he is at a loss for words out of romanticism, but his old-fashioned point-of-view is underscored instead. The provocative alteration to a typical corsetted look is an unexpected twist for a man from the 18th century and Jamie frets about how much flesh his wife is exposing. Even though a version of this gown had been displayed on billboards and in magazines, the unveiling on-screen is revelatory — not only because Claire shows her independence by scoffing at Jamie's shocked reaction, but also the significance of her helping to design the frock.
Period accuracy is something that is often leveled at historic interpretations when it comes to costume and production design, but Claire is not from the 18th century which allows some level of freedom throughout the series. When she returned to the past from the 1960s in Season 3, her homemade "Batsuit" utilized modern waterproof fabrics and secret pockets. Blending in is important — she doesn't want to get accused of witchcraft again — but so is benefiting from her time period. She also used her special brand of knowledge in designing a dress that would draw the attention of the court treasurer, leaning into certain fashion trends from 1940s Paris.
Christian Dior revolutionized post-WWII style with his debut Haute Couture collection in 1947. Dubbed the "New Look," the nipped-in waist paired with a voluminous skirt accentuated aspects of femininity that had been put on the backburner during the time of conflict and austerity. Dior himself looked back to designs from the era of decadence in France, a time Claire has found herself in. Fashion is always reinventing the past and is undeniably cyclical, which sees Claire finding inspiration in a designer who drew from 18th-century silhouettes. The intersection of past and present is no more apparent than in the clothes we wear; the garment is a fashion paradox as it is unique and self-referential. Sure, Claire wants to stand out at this party to benefit the mission at hand, but she is also taking a moment for herself to revel in her brief fairy tale existence.
To understand the design process better, look no further than the mood board images Dresbach posted to her website, which highlights the visual line between Dior and Claire's scene-stealing look. In this breakdown, Dresbach notes the concerns she had about using this bold shade on Balfe; thankfully, it made her "glow like some sort of natural candle flame." She also included an anecdote from the actress about the difficulty of walking in a dress of this size, as well as the significance of this moment: "It was nice to be able to see Claire explore her femininity, because she's usually such a practical and pragmatic person, and not at all interested in her appearance." For once she is eschewing pragmatism for fantasy, which stretches to her strong accessories game, and pairing diamond and ruby teardrop earrings, red lipstick, and a scarlet fan elevates her look further. The latter gets switched for a larger handmade fan featuring deer imagery as a compromise to Jamie's cleavage objections.
Full glam Claire has the intended effect when court treasurer Joseph Duverney (Marc Duret) becomes intoxicated by the Versailles newcomer. He is also intoxicated in the traditional sense, temporarily causing him to lose his mind and then his wig after Jamie pushes him into the water. "I told you that dress would bring us grief," Claire's befuddled beau remarks.
The grief caused by the garment is all in Jamie's mind, which isn't even the biggest head-turner of the night — that honor goes to the diamond-encrusted, NSFW swan nipple gown. The title of the episode is "Not in Scotland Anymore," and this moment underscores the dress etiquette that is very different in these circles; sexuality is more overt and dressed up. Earlier in the episode, hair waxing is introduced, which leads to Claire's "honeypot" makeover. Jamie is still dealing with the trauma he faced at the hands of Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) last season, but there is some levity in his discovery of what Claire has done before visions of that moment return to haunt him. Red is the color of romance, but it also a warning that cannot be ignored. At the end of the episode, Claire is dealing with another quandary; she's just found out that Randall is still alive and has to consider breaking the news to her husband.
Since this party at Versailles, the Frasers have been separated by time and space, but not even quantum physics and 18th-century travel restrictions can keep them apart. Red is making a big return to the color palette in Season 5, but under entirely different and less romantic circumstances. The heady days of haute couture are behind them, but Claire is a knockout in any room. She doesn't need ruby teardrop earrings and a scarlet dress to make an impression.