Lily Absinthe Goes To The FIDM Museum, Part 1

This didn’t start off as an almost-exclusive post about the costume of the TV series Outlander but here it is…basically, we attempted to view a special exhibit of Outlander that was being held elsewhere but due to some incredibly bad luck, we were unable to view the exhibit. Later, we had an opportunity to attend the 10th Annual “Art of Television Costume Design” at the FIDM Museum and what greets us at the door? Some of the wardrobe from Outlander! 🙂 While we don’t do much work in 18th Century fashion, it’s always been a fascinating period and some of the styles influenced styles in the 1870s and 1880s. We hope you enjoy this little excursion. 🙂


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This past weekend, we decided to take a break and and take in the newly-opened “Art of Television Costume Design, 2015-2016” at the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles and we can say that it was definitely worth the time. As a general thing, we like the costume exhibits that are put on at the FIDM Museum because the location is convenient, parking is relatively easy to find, and the admission is free. Yes, free! 🙂

So where to start? Well, just to be completely honest, this review is somewhat selective in that while there were costumes from a variety of shows, there were only a few that piqued our interest. Also, there were a number of TV shows we’d never heard of before (we’re not avid TV-watchers) so it’s hard to comment on those.

To begin, the first set of costumes that caught our attention were a selection from the series Outlander. The series is initially set in 1743s, with some time travel back and forth between the 1940s and 1960, and follows the adventures of Claire Randall as she becomes enmeshed in the events leading up to the Jacobite rising of 1745 (aka The ’45). In Season 1 (2014-2015), the show focused on events in Scotland. However, in Season 2 (2015-2016), the action shifts to France when Claire, accompanied by her husband Jamie Fraser, travel to Paris in an attempt to derail Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to gather support for his rebellion (which was end disastrously with the Battle of Culloden). The majority of the Outlander costumes are from Season 2.

To begin, here’s one of the dresses that Claire wears when she first arrives in France:

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The dress consists of a medium brown bodice and overskirt and a gold/yellow underskirt. The floral designs appear to be embroidered but when viewed closely, it turns out that they are painted onto the fabric. The bodice is small and skirt silhouette is enhanced by the panniers- while not as extreme as some examples we’ve seen, they’re still evident and serve to spread the skirts out to the sides more than the front and back.

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The gloves are especially striking in that they’re really bright yellow/gold gauntlets and the leather is heavier than one would expect. Perfect for riding but a bit too heavy for normal wear. You can also see the painted floral design.

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Here’s a rear view of the dress that gives a good view of the floral design. The floral design is mostly in shades of red, ranging from a light pink/salmon to a deeper wine. One can also see yellow color pops.

Finally, here’s a better view of the underskirt:

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And just because we can, we were able to locate the concept sketch online (we LOVE the internet 🙂  ):

Outlander Costume Sketch1

And finally, were are a few pictures of the dress in “action”:

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Next, we turn to what is probably the most iconic of Claire’s dresses for Season 2, the Dior “New Look”/Bar Suit-inspired dress:

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This is more of a mash-up of 18th Century and 1940s styles than anything that’s spot-on correct for the 1740s but it works (we’re talking about a television production here, not a documentary 🙂  ). We like the design and it seems to work. 🙂

And because we couldn’t resist, here’s the concept sketch:

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And here are some shots of the dress “in action”:

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And just to be complete, here are a few pictures of the actual Dior “Bar Suit” or “New Look” dress (note that this dress was produced in both lapel and shawl collar versions):

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Dior Bar Suit 1947

Live Model

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Dior “Bar” Suit, 1947; V&A Museum (T.376&A-1960)

There are those who have pointed out that Claire first makes her journey back to the 1740s in 1946, one year before Dior released this design and that somehow it’s wrong. Well, as the costume designer Terry Dresbach explains, she was originally inspired by 18th Century riding habits such as these:

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Ms. Dresbach notes that Dior looked backwards to the 18th Century and stripped the riding habit down its basic lines and that Claire would have been inspired to do the same:

It seemed logical to me that Claire would do in the 18th century the same thing that Christian Dior had done in the 20th century. He stripped the traditional 18th century riding habit of all of the embellishments and details and decorations all the bows the bells and whistles. He took it back to its basic Silhouette and that became the Bar Suit. I decided to have Claire look at the riding suit and do the same. She never saw the actual Bar suit obviously, but her reaction to the original riding suit of the 18th century, could plausibly be very similar to Dior’s, a man of her time. It was a suit after all, something she would have seen as the most familiar garment in the 18th century. It was a garment designed for a practical function, and Claire is a practical woman.

So we just put Claire in a recreation of the Bar Suit.

The reasoning behind the dress as detailed above is fascinating and we find little to disagree with- it’s effective and it works. 🙂

But it’s not all about the women…here’s one of Jamie Fraser’s many outfits from the show:

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This outfit is also a bit a historical but it captures the essence of the Jamie Fraser character. The coat is made of leather (it looks heavy) and while it incorporates 18th Century details, is has an almost steampunk/biker look. What’s interesting are the bound buttonholes which match the coat leather- our theory is that they’re not even leather.

Here’s a rear view:

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And now for something very different is a sleeved waistcoat that is worn by the apothecary Master Raymond, a strange somewhat otherworldly character that Claire deals with at several points in Season 2:

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This is an incredible work of art that’s easy to miss when actually watching the show. The waistcoat is embroidered with all manner of supernatural designs inspired by alchemy and early medicine. The fabrics are fairly simple: linen for the sleeves and either linen or a brushed denim for the body. For some excellent close-up pictures and an explanation of the various designs by Terry Dresbach, the costume designer, go HERE.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of our excursion and stay tuned for Part 2. 🙂

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