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Game of Thrones: The leading ladies of Westeros' style evolutions

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Far from being a mere aesthetic addition to the show, it’s clear that Game of Thrones' costume designer Michele Clapton has been doing far more than simply dressing Sansa, Daenerys, and Cersei: she's been telling a story.  

Image credit: Bago Games, via Flickr

Beyond the ruffles and the silks, the attention to detail that goes into every costume has proven to us that in Westeros, clothing choices are just as strategic as the battle plans themselves. From Dany’s recent penchant for red threads to Sansa’s increasing disposition towards feathered boleros, upon closer inspection, these costumes tell just as much of a story as any script could.

 

Daenerys: from damsel in distress to damsel crying dracarys 

When we first meet Daenerys, she’s a beautiful but fearful young woman and her clothing reflects this.  She is draped in whimsical dresses of arctic blue and blush pink, the fabric is sheer; Daenerys is exposed and vulnerable.

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But her journey doesn’t stop there; if anything, it’s only just beginning. When in Qarth, her sapphire and gold gowns are worn to appease Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the white-grey hues of her Essos liberation-spree echo her angelic, otherworldly reputation. These dresses are just as much a political manoeuvre as they are a fashion statement. 

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By season three, her introduction to Missandei signals a pivotal moment in which Daenerys finally forms a meaningful relationship with another woman and, in a move poignantly similar to many 21st Century friendships, the two begin to dress similarly - at one point even wearing the same dress in varying shades of blue.  

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By season eight, Dany’s ethereal gowns of her chain-breaking days are gone, replaced by white furs reminiscent of those favoured by her newfound lover (and nephew). Aside from the practical reasons (the North is very cold, after all), it seems she’s aware of the need to fit in and become one of the Northerners if she’s ever to earn their trust and respect.

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More notable, though, is her clothing’s link to one of the most controversial plot points of the series: her descent to becoming the Mad Queen. Throughout season eight, more and more red - the colour of the Targaryens - has crept into her attire for the first time since she was accompanied by her brother in season one. Starting with flecks of the hue in her white fur coat, by the time she dracarys-ed Varys she was head-to-toe in the shade. It's a clear and ever-strengthened nod to her Targaryen heritage; maybe, then, we shouldn’t have been so surprised by what went down in King’s Landing. 

Sansa: from little bird to dark phoenix 

I will not hear a bad word against Sansa, but even I’ll admit that when I first started to watch Game of Thrones she was rather irritating. With bratty tendencies, to say the least, she embodied the sheltered, entitled highborns of many a medieval tale.  Desperate to marry her Prince Joffrey, her pastel gowns and twisted hair made her the image of her beloved mother.

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She is traditional and innocent, changing only to resemble Cersei more than her mother by piling her hair atop her head and opting for more ruffles and brocade in an attempt to impress; she believes her worth is taken entirely from her beauty and her femininity. So committed is she to this persona, she doesn’t even forgo her pretty clothes to mourn her father in traditional black attire. She is well and truly controlled by the Lannisters, from her allegiances to her aesthetic.

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Her innocence can’t last forever though (this is Westeros after all) and for Sansa, her biggest threats have almost always come in the form of her betrothed. It’s not surprising, then, that the last time we see her in signature baby blue is the day she gets her first period. Her childhood is over, and the harsh realities of the real world hit her.  

Her marriage to the sadistic Ramsey in season five is the last time we see her dressed in a light colour but even this dress, with its thick material and full-body coverage, is more reminiscent of armour than a wedding gown. From this point onwards, Sansa dresses only in dark colours and her hair is dyed more brown than red; she is no longer a sweet young lady, but a fighter.

From all of this, though, comes something quite heartwarming: Sansa embracing her Stark-hood. The girl in season one was desperate to become a Baratheon and treated her half-brother Jon Snow with disdain. By season seven, she makes herself dark cloaks and feathered shoulder-pads just like Jon’s, and has reverted to wearing her hair in Catelyn’s centre-parted, twisted style again. She’s found her voice, has endured horrendous abuse, come out from it stronger, and is now both capable and willing to represent the Stark name and lead. Truly, we stan.      

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Cersei: dressed to oppress

Arguably one of the most complex female characters ever to feature on the small screen, Cersei uses her clothing to assert her power and affirm her familial affiliation. The first time we see her at King’s Landing she is dressed in a traditionally feminine manner with a dusty pink gown and long, flowing hair. At Winterfell, she amps up her ensemble, braiding her hair to within an inch of its life and pulling out all the stops in regal reds and gold. She is a Queen, and she wants everyone to know it with just one glance. Catelyn, with her cornflower blue dress and neatly parted hair, pales in comparison.  

 

Cersei is a woman forced into the sidelines despite being considerably more competent than many of her male counterparts and she knows it, as evinced by the numerous occasions in which body armour is integrated into her dresses. Though she is often forced to shelter with the other women and children, she is tenacious and always ready for battle.  

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Her sense of style only changes when her children are involved, be it to compete with - and assert authority over - Joffrey’s wife-to-be Margaery, or to mourn them as they die as prophesied. This in itself is revealing; Cersei, a devoted mother, is cruel and cold to all others, altered only when her children are at risk.  

The power of her clothes is perhaps clearest when she loses them; for her iconic walk of atonement, she is stripped naked and jeered at by her own people. Her clothes shield her and manipulate others: without them, she is vulnerable.  

By the end of the series, Cersei is back in her luxurious ensembles. Her black leather and steely crown are reminiscent of her father and show that she will not go down without a fight. Ultimately, though, she dies under the weight of her own castle, in the arms of her brother, clad in a floor-length Lannister-red velvet cloak: resolute in her loyalties until the very end.  

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The writing of season eight has been lambasted as an unrealistic end to the series.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that what Game of Thrones has to say is expressed beyond the script itself. If I muted the show and just watched a series of pictures I could learn so much about Daenerys, Sansa, and Cersei through their ever-changing wardrobes; if a picture can speak a thousand words, a strategically-hued gown can disclose an entire character arc.  

Lead image credit: Kal242382 via Wikimedia Commons




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