A Game of Clothes

A sartorial examination of the differences between the first season of Game of Thrones, and the first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series

Confession that will shock absolutely nobody that knows me: I am a huge fantasy nerd. When I heard four and a half years ago that HBO was adapting George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I became so excited about the idea of a weekly cable fantasy show, despite never having actually read the books. I tracked down the first four titles in the series, finishing them in record time to become well-versed enough in this fictional universe by the time the pilot episode of Game of Thrones premiered.

When turning x-thousand pages of text into a TV show, there are going to be some changes. Having had these books occupy my headspace before the show aired, I had very clear ideas of how things should look—specifically, the clothes. Martin describes a lot of elaborate doublets and gowns covered in jewels, which brought to my mind Elizabethan fashions. The show’s costume designer Michele Clapton made a conscious decision to mix influences and silhouettes in way that didn’t exist in the books. The showrunners wanted to make a world that was rooted in reality, so different eras were combined in such a way as to create something completely unique. But it wasn’t enough for me to just watch these costumes on the screen—oh, no. As an obsessed fan that loves overanalyzing clothes, I had to pull out my books and figure out what a few differences in costume choices can mean for these characters.

“They dressed [Danaerys] in the wisps that Magister Ilyrio had brought up, and then the gown, a deep plum silk to bring out the violet in her eyes. The girls slid the gilded sandals onto her feet, while the old woman fixed a tiara in her hair, and slid golden bracelets encrusted with amethysts on her wrists. Last of all came the collar, a heavy golden torc emblazoned with ancient Vallyrian glyphs.”

Martin’s costume descriptions are typically pretty brief, so an outsider to the fandom would be forgiven for assuming he isn’t a stickler to detail. (They would be proven wrong by his extensive depictions of meals alone—squirrel stew, anyone?). One thing he does manage to include, however, is references to jewels. Most of these are absent in the TV version, probably because the show spent all their budget on weapons and fake bloods, leaving little for realistic looking baubles. (Seriously, whoever had stock in Fake Blood Enterprises Inc. would be loaded off this show alone.) With little to go on regarding the silhouette, Clapton went with a style she called “Grecian,” evident by the cut and draping. I’m mostly impressed that she was able to find a way to make a dress out of wisps. While plum it ain’t, Danaerys looks like she could float away in a fog.

“Sansa was dressed beautifully that day, in a green gown that brought out the auburn of her hair, and she knew they were looking at her and smiling.”

Sansa wears this dress for most of the show’s first season. The coarseness of the fabric and details on the neck tend to be typical dress of the North of the Westeros (where she is from) compared to the South (the new home to which she is trying to adapt). Her season one wardrobe is, to me, a huge missed opportunity—Sansa is one of the few characters who cares about her clothes a lot, so her lack of costume changes, especially during major events, probably wouldn’t fly with the character. A High Lord’s daughter would absolutely have the money to get a few new fancy duds. In other words: way to cheat us out of some costume porn, TV show.

You’ll notice that Sansa’s sister Arya is also wearing her casual dress, pretty much the only dress she ever wears in the show beyond the pilot. Arya’s clothing is rarely described in the first book, as she’s usually dirty and dressed like a boy. Yet in this dress, her neck detailing is messier and more haphazard than her sister’s, and she has cut off her dress’s elaborate dagged sleeves, making it easier to run around and wield a sword. The girl’s priorities are clear.

“[Ser Loras’s] plate was intricately fashioned and enameled as a bouquet of a thousand different flowers, and his snow-white stallion was draped in a blanket of red and white roses. After each victory, Ser Loras would remove his helm and ride slowly around the fence, and finally pluck a single white rose from his blanket and toss it to some fair maid in the crowd.”

This interpretation was not what I was expecting, though I say that not as a criticism. The flower motifs are still there, but they’re way more elaborate than I had imagined, especially that helmet. When I watched this episode, I had to know: did real knights wear armour this elaborate and crazy for tournaments? Research tells me that yep, they absolutely did.

“The queen wore a high collared black silk gown, with a hundred red rubies sewn into her bodice, covering her from neck to bosom. They were cut in the shape of teardrops, as if the queen were weeping blood.”

The show made a conscious decision not to have black be the colour of mourning in Westeros, despite it being so in the books. My theory is that they didn’t want to confuse viewers with the Night’s Watch, a military order that are only allowed to wear black. Sadly, the viewer got cheated out of seeing bloody teardrop rubies (which, not to be morbid, but DREAM FUNERAL ATTIRE).

Clapton has described Cersei’s gowns as kimono-inspired, with a medieval cut, creating a sartorial fusion unique to this character. She is usually the only one who has her sleeves slashed in a way so that her arms are visible. The necklace here is interesting, because it’s almost a Jazz Age-inspired piece, and wouldn’t look out of place on a flapper.

“By the time he was dressed, his squire had laid out his armour, such that it was. Tyrion owned a fine suit of heavy plate, expertly crafted to fit his misshapen body. Alas, it was safe at Casterly Rock, and he was not. He had to make do with some oddments from Lord Lefford’s wagons: mail hauberk and coif, a dead knight’s gorget, lobstered greaves and gauntlets and pointed steel boots. Some of it was ornate, some plain; not a bit of it matched, or fit as it should. His breastplate was meant for a bigger man; for his oversize head, they found a huge bucket-shaped greathelm topped with a foot long triangular spike.”

It doesn’t really make sense that Tywin Lannister would have had Tyrion’s suit of armour with him on the battlefield, since he had no way to know that Tyrion was going to meet him there, and that Tyrion would actually be forced to fight in any battles, but I’m willing to suspend my belief a little bit there. (Even though come on. Am I the only one paying attention?) My guess is that they couldn’t find a way to make realistic, obviously mismatching armour work in a way that wouldn’t suck for the actor to wear. Let’s just pretend that Tywin Lannister was a Boy Scout back in his younger days and taught to “always be prepared,” keeping a spare suit of armour in his travel bag.

“Lord Eddard stood on the High Septon’s pulpit outside the doors of the sept, supported between two of the gold cloaks. He was dressed in a rich grey velvet doublet with a white wolf sewn in the front in beads, and a grey wool cloak trimmed with fur, but he was thinner than Arya had ever seen him before…Clustered around the doors of the sept, in front of the raised marble pulpit, were a knot of knights and high lords. Joffrey was prominent among them, his raiment all crimson, silk and satin patterned with dancing stags and roaring lions, a gold crown on his head. His queen mother stood beside him in a black mourning gown slashed with crimson, a veil of black diamonds in her hair…”

They don’t bother dressing Ned Stark in any finery in the show; this outfit is the one he gets arrested in. What Joffrey is wearing interests me more. What the TV adaptation lacks in coat-stags, it makes up for in his cloak/doublet hybrid. The costume designers finally throw us a bone, as Cersei is also wearing what I like to call her “I’m a Lannister, bitches” dress.

Sansa is in her southern gown. The silk is finer than her other dress, and the wrap style cut with the huge dagged sleeves is one that is only seen in south of The Neck or in King’s Landing. Her hair is also now worn in the southern style, which is reminiscent of Roman hairstyles. However, unlike other instances when she wears this dress, they have added a metal belt to the ensemble. Metal belts tend to be worn by Cersei (she also has one here). Clapton has said she likes to put her in them because they remind her of armour.

“Dany braised [Khal Drogo’s] hair and slid the silver rings onto his mustache and hung his bells one by one. So many bells, gold and silver and bronze. Bells so his enemies would hear him coming and grow weak with fear. She dressed him in horsehair leggings and high boots, buckling a belt heavy with gold and silver medallions about his waist. Over his scarred chest she slipped a painted vest, old and faded, the one Drogo had loved best. For herself she chose loose sandsilk trousers, sandals that laced halfway up her legs, and a vest like Drogo’s.”

Dany dresses in the Dothraki style in the books to show solidarity with her dead husband—they’re a matching pair. In the show, she’s dressed in another Grecian-inspired gown similar to the one that she wears on her wedding day, which brings us full circle. Her choice of a gown also makes her look more like a queen, and less like a Khaleesi (the title referring to the wife of the khal, which is—oh, go watch the show already). But what I find most compelling is the way her dress evokes Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” in the closing shot, with Danaerys naked in the ashes of the pyre and the dragons hanging in strategic places. It’s a lovely visual treat that reminds the viewers that sometimes watching a filmed adaptation can be worth it. Even if there is a sorry lack of rubies.

illustration // Emily Taylor

The Hats of Barry Lyndon: A Style Supercut

We look under the brim to get inside the head of Stanley Kubrick's period masterpiece

When WORN held its redesign Indiegogo fundraiser last fall, the top perk for support was a style supercut of the bidder’s choosing. One of the supercuts was snapped up by Robert Everett-Green, writer at The Globe and Mail. His choice was a supercut of every hat from Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Here, he explains why.

I was a bit disappointed with Barry Lyndon the first time I saw it. I couldn’t understand why Stanley Kubrick would busy himself with such a slow and stately period drama. But when I saw it again a few years later, I was amazed by its depth and beauty. Somehow I had overlooked every important thing about it the first time around.

Looking at the film on DVD, I kept playing and replaying scenes, trying to figure out what made them feel so saturated with life, sentiment, and meaning. Certain lines became magically evocative, haunting me later at odd moments. I would hear a voice in my mind saying, “Chevalier, though I cannot say how, I believe you have cheated me,” and the yellow light in the Chevalier’s sparse drawing room would come back to me, along with the sardonic tone of his royal victim, and the cheater’s puffed-up indignation. Or I would hear, “Mr. Lyndon, are you ready to receive Lord Bullingdon’s fire?”, and the brutal formality of the final dueling scene would return, and with it, the questioner’s flat civility, and the fluttering of birds under the roof of the out-building where the shooting took place.

I was also fascinated by long scenes in which faces engaged in silent dialogue at a gaming table, or troops waited in mute rows for the enemy to approach at walking pace. So much is said in this film without words, so much speaks that has no voice—which brings me to the costuming.

“Clothes called to clothes, cutting out words and greetings.” This wonderful line, from a memoir by the English historian Richard Cobb, could be an epigraph for Barry Lyndon. “Costume drama” is often a put-down, but in this film, the costumes do tell the story, and in an important sense are the drama. Barry Lyndon spends the entire film trying to push his way up through a society in which clothes transmitted everyone’s status at a glance. His story is that of a man struggling to assemble and maintain the right appearances. The aristocratic widow he manages to marry is so perfectly projected by her clothing that she hardly needs to do or say anything. What Lyndon doesn’t realize is that her inertia is proof she belongs, while his pushing creates an appearance that dooms all his efforts.

Daniel Reis’s supercut of the hats of Barry Lyndon charts the hero’s career through a single article of clothing, and for the most part, a single type: the tricorne, which was the dominant headgear for men for much of the eighteenth century. Lyndon’s rough country tricorne is succeeded by dashing military models (first English, then Prussian), then more aristocratic types with rich brocade. But the apex of his pretension is a baby’s bonnet, wide and flat and heaped with ribbons and plumes, worn by an infant son who is more aristocratic than he is. Barry’s round straw hat, worn at the boy’s lavish birthday party years later, shows that he has “made it” sufficiently to be able to play at dressing in rustic style. The women’s hats range from Mrs. Barry’s kerchief-like nightcap, to the almost crownless straws worn by the country women, to the plumed Gainsborough hats of Lady Lyndon, steeply perched on masses of curled hair.

Kubrick’s costume designers for Barry Lyndon were Milena Canonero and Ulla-Britt Söderlund, who won an Oscar for their work. (Amusingly, Canonero reused one of Lady Lyndon’s hats for Marie Antoinette (2006), for which she also won an Oscar.) But Kubrick told the French film critic Michel Ciment: “The costumes were all copied from paintings. None of the costumes were ‘designed.’” For him, apparently, churlishness in the defence of documentary realism was no vice. But the hats and costumes of Barry Lyndon are powerful not because they can be found in a museum, but because they’re in this film.

text // Robert Everett-Green
video // Daniel Reis

Birth of a Costume Designer

How Clare West revolutionized film fashions forever

There’s a mythical quality to the costumes worn in silent films. Maybe it’s the way the lighting hits them. Maybe it’s the Edwardian and flapper-esque cuts. Or maybe it’s just me, but the clothing always adds a special touch to the filmic experience. It’s surprising then that in the silent film era, costumes weren’t that important. Actors often wore their own clothing, a trend that continued well into the 1930s, and it was common for actors with better personal wardrobes to win better roles (a prime example: Lilian Gish had most of her costumes made by her mother). Things remained pretty much the same until Birth of a Nation, when director D.W. Griffith created Hollywood’s first costume department and hired film’s first-ever costume designer: Clare West.

Along with Birth of a Nation, Griffith later hired West to design for Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages. After making her name, she was hired by the great Cecil B. DeMille and created some of the most memorable costumes of the era. Despite working with the big names, West’s role as costume designer was less than glamorous. She received no credit for her work on Griffith’s films, and was left off the end credits in a few of Demille’s. Still, her costumes helped characters transcend the silent medium, allowing them to communicate through costume. Here are three of our favourite examples of her work:

1 // Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, dir. D.W Griffith, 1916
An apologetic sequel to Birth of a Nation, Intolerance is a mighty long epic spanning four eras, each hundreds of years apart. It was West’s second and final film with Griffith, and while many of the ancient costumes West designed weren’t historically accurate, they left a lasting impression in both their evocative charm and complexity. Particularly striking were the scenes in ancient Babylon, where the Queen was decked out in ensembles that looked more Josephine Baker than anything ancient. The decadence worked perfectly with the over-the-top and complex scenery that Griffith employed, making everything appear larger than life.

My favourite character in Intolerance is the Mountain Girl. She is both jovial and brave, and takes shit from no one. She fights and dies for her city and doesn’t get plopped in to the role of helpless love interest (like most female characters of the era). West perfectly defines who Mountain Girl is through her spunky fruit head dress and leather armour, which is totally reminiscent of Xena: Warrior Princess—only 70-plus years ahead of Lucy Lawless’s time. Plus, she fights in a tin cone helmet. How can you not love her style?

2 // Male and Female, dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1919

DeMille is famous for one quote: “Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.” True to form, his films never lacked outside-of-the-box flair. Many of his movies were popular because of their costumes, which were regularly designed by West. Male and Female was the first film they worked on, and West’s costumes were as over-the-top as the characters in the film. The outfits, particularly those of Gloria Swanson, epitomize the beginnings of the jazz age and the era’s obsession with luxury. The headpiece Swanson wears, and the beautiful silks she rocks, make you want to jump into this film and live like a 1920s aristocrat.

3 // The Affairs of Anatol, dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1921

For this film, West created one of her most iconic costumes for actress Bebe Daniels: a dress in the shape of an octopus. The outfit’s whimsy flawlessly captures the unique visual creativity of Demille’s films. Daniels plays the cool Satan Synne, a high-class prostitute with a chilly demeanor, armed with a bat-shaped dressing table in her sensual boudoir. Despite not getting a lot of screen time, she is totally eligible for the title of “Grandmother of Goths.”

Fly Girls and Fresh Princes

A style supercut of the freshest early-'90s fashion

In the 14th episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air our hero Will Smith finds himself bored with his new private school uniform. He discovers that the lining of his blazer is far more interesting and, in my earliest childhood memory of watching the show, flips it inside out. Throughout the entire run of the show, Will never shies away from flamboyant clothing. It compliments his personality perfectly: his candor, his confidence, and his insistence on never entirely fitting into his new surroundings.

This supercut celebrates the vibrant colours and vivid patterns of the wardrobes seen in films and TV shows between 1989 and 1992: Do the Right Thing, White Men Can’t Jump, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and In Living Color. The influence of grunge had not yet taken hold of popular culture, and I’m sad that we couldn’t have staved it off for a little longer. I prefer Wesley Snipes’s low tanks and cycling hats in White Men Can’t Jump to muddy flannels and ripped jeans any day of the week.

Another reason to savour this era was the abundance of Rosie Perez. In White Men Can’t Jump she made hoop earrings work for any occasion, be it rollerblading in Venice Beach or fulfilling her dream of appearing on Jeopardy! She introduced boxing gloves as a fashion accessory in the opening credits of Do the Right Thing. Her style influence no doubt extended to the Fly Girls of In Living Color, where she was the choreographer for the first four seasons. It’s a Herculean task to pick just one favourite look, but the lime green scarf with the floral print dress holds a special place in my heart.

So travel back with me to a fresher, more fly era. A time of scrunchies, spandex, and suspenders. When people wore their personalities not just on their sleeves, but on their knuckle rings as well.

video and text // Daniel Reis
title design // Jackie Hudson