Because Faintingviolet loves me and totally feeds my addictions, I was gifted this amazing costume reference guide from the Game of Thrones series for Christmas. Written by costumer, Michele Clapton herself, the book is almost as long and comprehensive as GRRM’s series. Complete with full color professional photographs, closeups of the costumes, and some of Clapton’s original drawings, this book was an excellent study in both costuming and the intense process that goes into bringing the written word to screen.
Clapton goes through each of the major houses focusing on the research, colors, textures, and styles that she felt would encompass the house creeds and the individual character arcs through the series. Sansa’s, Dany’s, and Cersie’s costumes were my favorite as they had the most drastic changes from Season 1 – 8, and understanding Clapton’s reasons for choosing what she did added depth to the characters’ arcs and the show overall.
The detail that went into outfits that may only have 5 – 10 minutes of screen time over the course of the decade long show is just astounding. For example, the outfit Dany wears to buy the Unsullied looks like a very simple blue dress and cape in the show.
What you don’t realize until you read this book is that the entire dress is intricately hand-embroidered to look like quilted dragon scales.
How amazing is this?
All the costumes have this level of detail – the armor, the weaponry, and jewelry were all heavily thought through and directed by Clapton. To show the breadth of work that went into just one character, I’ll summarize the chapter on Sansa’s journey from young child to political power-house, all told through her clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles:
Clapton’s first outfits for Sansa are made from seamed linens and wools decorated with embroidery. The choice of these fabrics and colors encompass what Clapton supposed the Stark family would have had access to in order to weave cloth and create their clothes. Clapton surmised that based on location and climate of this house, the Stark women would have likely spent the long nights spinning and weaving their own cloth and sewing their own garments which would make the lines less fitted and the ornamentation less opulent as their focus was on necessity and survival.
As Sansa moves to King’s Landing, she adopts clothing similar to Cersei’s outfits in an homage to the woman she’s idolizing. Clapton chose paper-silk as the fabric for King’s Landing as she surmised there would have been immense trade due to the port. Sansa’s kimono dresses are exact copies of Cersei’s and denote the women’s availability to men in the ease with which their dresses can be removed or ripped. The hairstyles that Sansa adopts in Kings Landing also emulate Cersei, differing greatly from the free, loose locks and braids of the North. Sansa’s dresses are always embroidered with nature patterns in an effort to convey that she is a self-taught seamstress decorating her clothes with the motifs of her homeland.
Her wedding dress to marry Tyrion has none of the elements of her other dresses as its supposed to look like its been commissioned by Cersei. Everything about this costume denotes that Sansa is owned by the Lannisters – the embroidery snaking around her neck and torso depict lions devouring wolves, the colors are the Lannister red and gold, and her hairstyle and jewelry are direct copies of Cersei’s during Ned’s execution scene.
Sansa’s costumes take a drastic turn after Littlefinger removes her to the Eyrie, consisting of dyed black cloth, raven feathers, and her sewing needle necklace. Clapton refers to this as the “Dark Sansa” costume where she begins to assert herself, and Clapton utilizes many of the elements of this dress in all of Sansa’s subsequent outfits for seasons 5-8. The fabric for this dress is the same that is used in Marjorie’s first wedding gown, but dyed black. Clapton felt there was a connection between Marjorie and Sansa, and often utilized the leaf fabric in different ways to subtly show the bond they shared. The choice of the heavy necklace and dark, figure-hugging lines give Sansa an untouchable feel. She is no longer at anyone’s disposal.
After escaping from Ramsey and returning as the Lady of Winterfell, we can see Clapton’s theme of Dark Sansa in all the Winterfell outfits – Sansa is back to her wool and linen, returning to Stark grey and the black of the Wall to show her allegiance to Jon. Her belts and the cross-straps of her cape along with the tight sleeves further emit her untouchable new nature and unavailability to the wants of men. Her sewing needle necklace resembles a maester’s chain, and her armored bodice in season 7 and 8 show her total transformation to Winterfell’s ruler. Her black dresses in season 8 also help make distinction between her and Dany’s primarily white wardrobe. Her hairstyles have also returned to their Winterfell roots, and the more loyalty she gains from her people, the more simple her hairstyles become until her coronation scene when it is completely down and all vestiges of Southern influence are gone.
(we see in the cape above, the grey leaf material from Marjorie’s wedding dress)
Sansa’s coronation dress is my absolute favorite of all the costumes in the series. Made from Marjorie’s grey leaf material and heavily embroidered, Clapton uses this last dress (with a screen time of about 2 minutes) to culminate Sansa’s journey. The asymmetrical dress features the weirwood leaves to represent Winterfell, the fish scales of Sansa’s Tully heritage, and an embroidered wolf neck guard cascading into the ‘dark Sansa’ elements of the feathered stole. The weirwood armor of the bodice is a nod to the old Gods of the North from which her needle hangs.
As a Game of Thrones fan, I’m in love with learning about the process of how these characters have been brought to life through Clapton’s extensive research and imagination. As a seamstress, I’m awestruck at the level of infinite detail that went into every stitch and seam for the thousands of costumes produced for this series.
One of the things that struck me most in Clapton’s forward was her commitment to realness. She understood that in order for this show to be taken seriously she had to ground the costumes in as much realism as possible. All of the costumes in the series are based off historical and regional outfits. She researched medieval cloth-making practices, took into account the resources available to each House’s location and the tools available to them before even sketching an idea. She pulled inspiration from global history for the body lines and materials in order to ground this fantastical world in as much reality as possible, in turn, making it accessible to audiences who may not have been familiar with fantasy.
If you liked Game of Thrones, or like movie costumes, buy this book. Leaf through the beautiful photos and enjoy Clapton’s genius. Because she is a genius.