Aside from the production design and the storyline, what truly captures the medievalism in HBO’s Game of Thrones, are the costume designs worn in every episode. Most audience viewers do not notice the small details that are put into each of the costume designs. George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, can only transfer into words small handfuls of the costume descriptions, leaving the readers with minimal descriptions. The individual in charge of the series costumes is Michelle Clapton.1 Clapton’s team is made up of Michele Carragher (Principal Costume Embroider) Simon Brindle (Costume Armor Supervisor) Kevin Alexander (Hair design) and Tommy Dunne (Weapons Master). Fortunately for Clapton and her team, they were given the freedom to work apart from George R.R. Martin in the creation of the costume designs. Clapton and her team have had many factors to consider when they were first brainstorming the designs. They mainly had to depend on mixing various cultures in order to create their medieval parallel. In order to create this authentic medieval world for its viewers, Clapton and her team had to implement character development, cultural differences, and geography to every one of their designs accordingly.
What makes Game of Thrones so unique compared to other contemporary pop culture TV series is its ability to absorb its audience completely into the lifestyles of the characters in this parallel universe. In order to create this illusion for its audience, Game of Thrones has intentionally used the characters costumes to symbolically convey their personality traits and historical lineages. The show not only uses their wardrobe, but also uses the characters accessories and hairstyles to depict their meanings. The show takes symbolism to a whole new level, by using costumes to depict character transformations throughout all the seasons.
In the opening episode of Season 1, we learn that Sansa is talented in sewing, which would explain why she is frequently expressing herself through her clothing. It would be easier for her than others to make alterations to her dresses when she becomes influenced by the different styles she encounters on her journey. The Stark family as a whole is repeatedly dressed in different hues of blue symbolizing the warmth and loyalty that course within their house. Their costumes also usually carry embroidery of silver trout and dire wolf’s symbolizing the unity of House Stark and House Tully.
In Season 1, we immediately start to notice that Sansa’s dresses incorporates styles of both the North and the South, showing us that from the very beginning how important it is for Sansa to feel and act like a proper southern lady and win the admiration of Prince Joffrey. Although at the start of season 1 Arya and Sansa are dressed in similar dresses, Arya’s is usually messy and uncared for whereas Sansa’s has embroidery and looks cleaner. After the assassination of Prince Joffrey at the Purple Wedding, we begin to witness a change in Sansa’s expression of self in her attires. She adopts an alias of Alayne and with it a more gothic appearance. She ends up having to dye her hair black in order to prevent people from recognizing her red locks. Unlike previous seasons, she begins to also wear dark-colored dresses symbolizing her reluctance to feel like a victim or prisoner ever again after her experience in Joffreys court. Rather than allowing her various locations affect the way she expresses herself through her fashion she decides to take control and make alterations to her dresses that are entirely hers. This revelation comes to show just how much Sansa has grown to be an independent and confident young woman. In Season 4 episode 8, Sansa debuts her new look in a black fitted dress. The breasted region of the dress has a bark texture that symbolizes the defense she has created for herself as bark does for a tree.2 3 The sleeves and shoulders are made up feathers, not only representing the fearlessness of a crow but also helps her assimilate herself with House Baelish, whose sigil is a black bird.
Since the very first episode, Daenerys Targaryen has also gone through a dramatic transformation that can clearly be seen through her costumes. At the start of the show, Daenerys is perceived by everyone as simply another pawn in her brother’s plan, Viserys, to become king. This was depicted by the way she was dressed in a translucent dress leaving her vulnerable and very feeble.4This all changes after she begins falling deeper in love with her new husband, Drogo, and discovers the truth of the dragon within herself. She begins to dress more like the Dothraki people with a top made of twisted rope and cloth with a split suede skirt and trousers. This messier look reflects her growing power and leadership position she will soon have to step into. Most of the time when she is wearing a dress she still wears trousers underneath symbolizing how she will always be equal to men no matter what.5 Even Daenerys’s hair goes through a transformation related to her experiences. At the start we see her on top of a balcony with long loose curls, but when she married into the Dothraki tribe she adopted the braids into her hair.6 As her character further evolves and accepts her role as Queen of Dragons, the texture of dragon skin becomes more prominent in her costumes such as in this blue dress.
Another character that uses her dresses to deliver a certain message is Cersei. Before Richard’s death, she preferred to dress in hues of blue or gold in order to make herself appear more approachable and kinder.7 She simply wished to be the wife that Richard wanted, but after his death so did her mindset. She began to wear the color and sigil of her the Lannister House, red and embroidered lions, more frequently.8
Overall, the costumes have allowed Game of Thrones to capture the essence of its characters by utilizing fabrics and materials that give the costumes that authentic medieval appearance.
Clapton and her team also manage to distinguish cultural differences through costume designs. Their goal was to display the different lifestyles that are experienced in the world of Game of Thrones. The most profound cultural differences are that between the Dothraki and the people of Westeros. They are perceived to be more savage like and are a combination of different nomadic tribes that came together. Due to the fact they are seen as half animals, they show a lot more skin. They incorporate tall grasses into their costumes because they can acquire it plentifully from the Dothraki Sea. To further distinguish their animal like nature from that of Westeros, they refuse to wear any sort of armory because they believe it simply slows them down in battle. Although they are more savage they too have traditions, such as using pigments of blue and red on their bodies on special occasions like feasts and ceremonies. As for their hair, the men take pride in their long braids unlike in Westeros, because it symbolizes their power and strength as individual warriors.
As for the people of Westeros their hierarchy classes are clearly separated by their costumes. Men in the Nights Watch are expected to wear what they arrived in and it is eventually dyed black. Due to the fact that most of the men there do not have a choice in attending the Nights Watch, the poorer men arrive in thinner jackets and men like Jon Snow, who come from wealth and know what to expect, are dressed in warmer fur coats. As for the women of the night, their costumes do not differentiate as much from those of the servants servicing the rich. Although they wear the same style dresses, what they do with it and how they act is what differentiate these two classes of women.
In Qartheen everything they do is for show. Their costumes are meant to show just how two-faced the Qartheen society is by the way they choose to only place gold leaves and insects onto the front of their costumes but leave the back undecorated. Visery’s costume is the only glimpse we get into what Targaryen clothing may have been like back when they reined King’s Landing. His costumes were very clean-cut and were designed in a way that made it seem as if he were ready for battle.
One of the most vague cultures on the show is that of the White Walkers. Due to the fact that they are part of the sci-fi mysticism that does not usually arise in stereotypical medieval worlds, Clapton has had to use costume designs to carefully intertwine these concepts together. Unlike other cultures, the White Walkers do not wear any standardized armory made of any metals. They depend heavily on their relationship with magic, which has led them to acquire a special type of armory that reflects images of what is behind them. Although this is the case, Clapton and her team decided to go in a different direction on the show and designed the armory to simply be black and dark grey and made from an ‘unknown source’. Game of Thrones manages to capture the differences within every culture and the core of their distinctive attributes, ultimately allowing them to coexist with one another and create a diverse medieval world.
The geographical locations of the characters across Westeros and Essos play an important role in costume characteristics. The classic features of medieval Europe inspire the Northern regions of Westeros. Due to the cold weather conditions in the North, the costumes are made heavier and consist of darker colors than those in the South.9 The Wildings and the men of the Nights Watch also have their costumes made with fur. This is not only to keep them warm, but also symbolizes their courage and strength as well as their primal dominance.10 The people of the North are not as wealthy as those in the South. The cold climates restrict people in the north to farm less frequently and efficiently than their southern neighbors. Many of the women do not wear elaborate jewelry. Their lack of neck jewelry is compensated with elaborately decorated collars. In season 1, when the Stark family held a feast in behalf of the Lannister family, Sansa and Arya were both filmed wearing high collar necklines. Although they both have different embroideries on them, they still use the same colors. Sticking to northern fashion, both collars have a grey base color, but have intricate blue decorations entwined in the fabric representing that shared familial color amongst the Stark family.
Compared to the South, fashion in the North does not seem to be held at such a high importance. At the feast scene in Season 1 Episode 2, we can clearly witness the distinct costume differences between the two clashing regions when Catelyn and Cersei are filmed speaking at the main table. In the scene, Cersei is dressed in a gold dress with a red bandage that wraps around the dress and her neck. Her hair is more elaborately braided in mounds atop her head with two twisted pieces of her hair coming down in pigtails.11 Although her attire is more elaborate than that of Catelyn, she looks more restraint; almost like a captive animal with the bandage wrapped tightly around her neck. On the other hand Catelyn is dressed in a simpler navy blue dress. Her neckline is embroidered in the same collar style of that of Arya and Sansa, but hers is decorated with trout representing the sigil of House Tully.12
Her hair is wrapped back in a delicate braided half up do. Due to their richness in raw materials in the South, they have more opportunities to use a variety of bright colours to dye their clothing. The South has the advantage of having more elaborate costumes could be due to the fact that they are located on a port, which makes it easier for them to trade goods and acquire materials from around the realms. This same concept goes for Essos. Fortunately for them, they too act as a sort of gateway for trade and exchange between the West, East, North and South.
In recent episodes, Arya has adapted her style to that of the Braavos society. When she went out to sell oysters she abandoned her Northern traditions and braided her hair up into two buns on each side of her head, which is the norm there. Although most regions of Essos are wealthy, the most luxuriously rich city is that of Qarth. This is because they are strategically located on straits that separate the Summer Sea from the Jade Sea, which have allowed them to take control of those trading ports and tax the many merchants that are travelling from the west to the east. The climate in this region is very hot, which is why it is normal for women to wear sleeve less dressed with exposed necklines and backsides. The idea of an entire world with distinct geographical landscapes and regions has allowed audiences to better relate to the living conditions these characters are experiencing in this medieval parallel George R.R. Martin has created.
Game of Thrones has managed to separate itself from the bleakness of contemporary TV shows. In every episode, the viewers can clearly witness the blood and sweat that went behind the making of every detail in every garment. Not only are all the costumes unique in the shows entirety, but also every costume is also unique to every individual and culture they represent. Keeping into consideration the character developments, cultural differences, and geographic locations, Clapton eased the process for the audience to further experience the medieval world.
1 Michelle Clapton. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://e.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2014/04/3028226-inline-i-1-creative-conversationshow-game-of-thrones-costume-designer-michele-clapton-uses-clothes-to.jpg
2 Game Of Thrones Costume Evolution: Sansa In Black. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://clothesonfilm.com/game-of-thrones-costume-evolution-sansa-in-black/35654/.
3 Sansa Stark. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://clothesonfilm.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Game-of-Thrones_Sophie-Turner-season-4-black-dress_Image-credit-HBO.jpg
4 Daenerys Targaryen. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://clothesonfilm.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Game-of-Thrones_Iain-Glen-Emilia-Clarke-first-dress_Image-credit-HBO.jpg
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6 Game Of Thrones’ Hair And Wardrobe Secrets Revealed. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://fashionista.com/2012/06/game-of-thrones-hair-and-wardrobe-secrets-revealed#1
7 Cersei’s Blue Costume. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://smatterist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/03-NH2rL3Y.jpg
8 Cersei’s Red Costume. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://smatterist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/10-BHHh9YX.jpg
9 Game Of Thrones – Majestic Costumes – Miss Owl. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://missowl.com/game-thrones-majestic-costumes/
10 Wildings Costume. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from http://felicisrook.tumblr.com/post/46802906227/photos-by-felicisrook
11 Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark. Retrieved June 14th, 2015 from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/348184614918181638/
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