Everyone knew the red dress was coming. Starz based much of its promotional material on that gorgeous image of Claire in it. Vive les Frasers! And stunning it — and Caitriona Balfe — both were.
But if anyone was unclear on the fact that we weren’t in Scotland anymore, that point was made patently obvious when Madame Nesle de la Tourelle walked in with King Louis XV wearing a dress that was missing most of its front, her nipples adorned instead with some jewelry and piercings.
How did costume wizard Terry Dresbach come up with this dress? Was nipple piercing even a thing in 18th century Paris? And is the person who pierced Madame de la Tourelle’s nipples another time-traveling hint? Read on and find out.
Let’s start by noting this: you can pierce a lot of body parts, parts that don’t necessarily leap to mind when you utter the words “body piercing.” And I decided, after a quick scan, that I wasn’t going to go there. This post is focusing on nipple piercings. If you want to know about other body parts, well have at it. The links here can take you far down that rabbit hole quickly.
Just in case you don’t know what dress I’m referring to or maybe your significant other (based on my man’s renewed interest in all things Outlander after this episode) wants another gander. Here it is.
Photo: Ed Miller/Starz/Sony Pictures Television
Stunning isn’t it? And we’d say that even if the wearer’s breasts weren’t exposed or adorned with swan jewelry. Well done, Terry!
The question is would this kind of apparel actually have been worn in 18th century Paris? Just as Outlanderland is filled with book purists analyzing (and usually bemoaning) every moment the show strays from the book, a subset of historians also note Diana Gabaldon’s every tweak of historical fact. (This is the first moment where I feel compelled to remind everyone that this is a book of fiction, you know that style of writing potentially loosely based on a time period but actually not a historical tome.)
Anyway, the answer for those wondering if this dress is historically accurate is — maybe.
A recent Vanity Fair article talked to Dresbach about what officially was called the Swan Dress but behind-the-scenes was called the Nipple dress for obvious reasons. (BTW have you noticed how her name so fits her profession? Dress-bach? Talk about destiny.) Anyway, Vanity Fair asked Dresbach if Gabaldon drew on historical precedent when she created this dress. Here’s Dressbach’s response:
“She did. I want to kill her for it. It’s all wonderful on the written page, but when you have to try to figure out how you’re going to pull that off, it’s a whole different ball game. Body piercings got back to the Egyptians. It’s nothing new. We think we’re bold, we think we push the envelope, but we have nothing on history. There’s a lot of exposure of body parts throughout fashion since the beginning of time.
“It was hard to find reference material for it, and we weren’t able to locate a lot of paintings where women at that time had pierced nipples so we sort of leapt and went with the books and tried to get as close to it as we could creating it ourselves. It was difficult. There’s no jewelry store that sells it. Those nipple rings were created on my kitchen table out of Fimo clay. There were many, many attempts to make swans that would completely do what they needed to do. It’s one of the most interesting jobs I’ve had in my career.”