20 Secrets from the Game of Thrones Costume Department

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

From Jon Snow’s heavy cloaks and capes to Daenerys Targaryen's fur coat that seemed perfectly suited to riding a dragon, what your favorite Game of Thrones character is wearing often says as much about them—and their current position in the quest for power—as the words they speak.

As with every other element of the big-budget series, even the tiniest details are of tantamount importance to the series’s costume department, which has largely been led by costume designer Michele Clapton (whose stunning work can also be seen on The Crown). Here are 20 secrets we uncovered about the people who set the fashions in Westeros.

1. The costume department is huge.

With so many warring factions, and each one sporting its own individual style, clothing the cast of Game of Thrones is a massive job. Michele Clapton once estimated that she oversees the creation of approximately 120 principal costumes per season, and has a team of about 70 to 100 people working with her at any given time. Among the specialists she has on call are embroiderers, leather workers, printers, cutters, armorers, metal workers, dyers, and jewelers.

2. The costumes reflect a character's position and state of mind, and are constantly evolving.

Gemma Whelan and Alfie Allen in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

When asked how she has managed to keep the characters’ looks so fresh after logging so much time on the show, Clapton told Fast Company, “It’s relatively easy, as the costumes are related to each character’s journey. So they’re a reaction to their situation, state of mind, or direction—whatever really is happening to them, or whatever they are trying to make happen.”

“It’s so exciting because we can almost go anywhere as long as it makes sense,” Clapton told the Los Angeles Times of the creative freedom she enjoys on the show. “If [the characters] live on a windy, rocky island, like the Greyjoys do, then they dress accordingly: They have costumes made of heavy, densely woven cloth that are waxed and painted with fish oil to help keep out the wind. Everything has a reason for being there.”

3. Many of the fabrics are made from scratch.

"Ninety-nine percent of the costumes are made in-house, in Belfast,” Clapton told the Los Angeles Times. “We have everything on site: our armorers, our weavers, and our embroiderers. We weave our own fabric with our loom—many of the fabrics are literally made from scratch.”

4. eBay can be a godsend.

Kristofer Hivju in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

While Clapton often dips into the massive collection of materials and trinkets she has assembled over the years—including all sorts of beads, shells, stones, crystals, feathers, and leather pieces—there are times where a costume requires her to look outside of her own library of goodies. This was definitely the case when she was assembling the bone armor worn by the Wildlings. Fortunately, there’s eBay: Clapton ended up sourcing many of the bones from the online auction site, which her team then molded and assembled into armor using string and latex.

5. Daenerys Targaryen can't wear a crown, so clapton had to get creative.

Of all the characters on the series, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) may have had the most makeovers. In the show’s earliest days, she was often seen in sheer, light-colored dresses to reflect her innocence. After being sold to Khal Drogo by her brother, she adapted to the Dothraki’s leather-clad warrior style. As she struggled to find her place in the world, her femininity was again emphasized with skin-baring gowns. But now, determined to claim the Iron Throne as her own, her style has been reimagined yet again.

“She’s this figurehead of her army,” Clapton told Uproxx. “I wanted her to be able to stand in front of the Unsullied and be their leader.” And that chain she wears across her chest? “She can’t have a crown, she hasn’t conquered yet,” Clapton said. “But I loved this [idea] of this chain of intent … I think it’s quite interesting that we finally see her embracing her brother’s ambition. What does that say? You’re seeing the beginning of something. We’re not at the end yet and I think it’s very important at this moment that we start seeing who she is.” As Dany has gotten closer to the Iron Throne in season 7 and moving into season 8, her style has evolved yet again.

6. Cersei Lannister's stong, military style is hiding her fragility.

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is having a militant moment, too. Having been re-crowned as Queen (at least in her own mind), season 7 sees her trading in her embellished gowns for what looks more like a suit of armor. The change, according to Clapton, is because “She’s still in mourning. She’s lost all her children. It was a high price to pay for this crown … She uses this beading [as] this sense of power but it’s all quite brittle and it’s all an adornment. It’s not part of the dress. She has a collar and she has these shoulder pieces, but they’re separate from the dress. Everything’s removable and I thought it was really important that her dress, the simple dress underneath is really uncluttered. She’s in mourning. She puts these things on to show strength but there’s a brittleness in that strength.”

7. Cersei's coronation gown is Clapton's favorite costume.

Lena Headey in Game of Thrones
HBO

When it comes to playing favorites, Clapton is game. When asked if she had a favorite look from the show, Clapton admitted that she was divided, but that she loves "Cersei's coronation dress [from the season 6 finale] because of the weird relationship it [symbolized] with her father. In some ways it was an homage to him, but in some ways, it was mocking him. I loved the way her crown had the sigil in a really clear, minimal way, which I felt indicated how she was going to move forward, in these really clean strokes. There was no room for all that went before. It was a very different approach. I liked the structure, I liked the simplicity of it, I liked everything it said without saying anything."

8. Daenerys's white fur coat was a close second favorite item.

Clapton mentioned being "divided" when it came to choosing a favorite look, and that's because she also loves Daenerys's whit fur coat—and with good reason. "I felt like this was her dressing to rescue someone because she felt for them, rather than as a move to acquire more power," Clapton told Fashionista. "It was a romantic coat; it was something she wanted to wear that she'd be noticed in. She was like a descending angel. It was nothing to do with her personal gain. And it was very practical, because she's riding a dragon."

9. Fans of the show have tried to copy that white coat.

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones' season 8
Helen Sloan, HBO

Clapton knew she had gotten Dany's outfit just right when the internet erupted praising the look. She said that lots of people have attempted to replicate the look, but with little success.

"When it walked onto set the first day, even other crew standing around were going, 'Oh my god, what is that?," Clapton said. "I think Emilia felt very special that day. And fans have been making amazing copies of it. It's not easy to copy."

10. There's a team of people who make the costumes look worn.

While some characters have managed to make it to the seventh season while remaining perfectly coiffed (see: Cersei, with the exception of that Walk of Shame), making a play for the Iron Throne can be a dirty business. As such, according to Clapton’s website, she also employs a “breakdown team, consisting of painters and textile artists whose job is to destroy and repair the costumes in order to make them appear to be old and worn, giving them a more realistic feel.”

11. Look closely at any embroidery and you're likely to see a secret message.

Peter Dinklage and Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though the show has more recently adopted a more militaristic look for most of the main characters, previous seasons have featured a lot of delicate embroidery. From 2011 to 2016, the show even employed its very own master embroiderer, Michele Carragher, who worked with Clapton to create designs that matched the show’s narrative.

“The embroidery is a subliminal way to tell someone's story," Clapton told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014. By way of example, she cited the beadwork seen on Sansa Stark’s (Sophie Turner) dress when she married Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) in season three, which traced the winding road she took to get to that wedding day. “You can see the influence of her mother, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), in the House of Tully fish that swim around her body, then the emergence of the Stark Direwolf and eventually the heavy stamp of the Lannister lion on the back of her neck."

12. Those tiny details matter, and are what make the show so unique.

With such a large landscape to look at, one reporter wondered whether the costume department’s attention to even the smallest details really mattered, as most viewers were likely to miss them. Clapton adamantly disagreed. “People watch TV on screens the size of a movie screen now,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “And devoted fans watch episodes over and over. After three or four viewings, you start to see these details. And that's why we do it. That's what makes Game of Thrones special."

13. They rarely make duplicates of any one outfit.

Given the costume department’s attention to detail, it’s hardly surprising that crafting a single costume—particularly the more elaborate dresses worn by the female characters—can be a time-consuming process. (It took Carragher 14 days just to stitch Sansa’s aforementioned wedding dress.) Because of this, Clapton said they rarely make duplicates, which is standard practice on most other shows in case a costume is dirtied or damaged.

14. Jon Snow's cape is practically its own character.

Kit Harington in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) changing look hasn’t been quite as dramatic as his aunt’s, the heavy cape that he wears is a major statement piece. The production team has logged a lot of hours discussing whether or not he should be wearing the cape—which is worn partly in tribute to Ned Stark (Sean Bean), the man he believes is his father—during pivotal scenes.

“We had a lot of discussions about does the cape give him presence or is it better to not have that presence? What are we trying to say?” Clapton told Uproxx. “There are times when we removed it because we wanted him to be more vulnerable. Especially I think, when he saw Dany, and he went to see her for the first time in her chamber. We decided to remove it, but then when he went to see Cersei, we put it on.”

15. Sansa Stark's cape is also a tribute to her father.

Like Jon, who she believes is her bastard brother, Sansa is often seen draped in a cape of her own—and it, too, is a tribute to her late father. “Sansa's cape ... represents Ned and her desire to take on more of a leadership role at Winterfell,” Clapton said.

16. Those capes may look luxurious, but they're not.

In what might be one of the greatest testaments to the costume team’s talent and creativity, Clapton—while discussing the series at the Getty Museum—revealed that those capes we’ve all been admiring “are actually IKEA rugs. We take anything we can; we cut and we shave them and then we added strong leather straps.”

In the wake of this admission, IKEA created a set of instructions for how to turn your SKOLD rug into the ultimate Game of Thrones cape.

17. Nipples presented a problem for the costume designer.

Rosabell Laurenti Sellers in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

When asked by Fast Company whether there was ever a time where she tried something for a costume that didn’t work, Clapton said that it was “hard to think of an instance because the costumes are developed and discussed long before they make it to the set, but there are one or two that get through. I hated the Sand Snakes nipples on their armor. I really thought that we had eliminated the problem, but when lit they really showed. I was mortified.”

18. There's a theme that connects all of the main female characters.

When discussing the many changing styles of all of the series’s characters, Clapton told Insider that though they’ve each taken very different routes to arrive at their current positions, there’s “just a showing of strength among the women, and in a funny way this is true with Sansa as well. She has the chain, she has the circle, she's bringing all that she's been through to her costume. You need to look at the story. Her strength and the way that she's clothed to protect herself from the things that have happened. At the same time, she's beginning to assert herself as an independent woman and not actually being manipulated by anyone anymore. And so it's just a stepping forward of each of these three women—well fourth, if you include Arya."

19. It's important to keep CGI in mind.

Given how much of Game of Thrones is action-based, Clapton and her team do need to keep CGI effects in mind. This is particularly true of Daenerys, who has logged a lot of screen time riding dragons—an activity that needs to be accounted for when designing her outfits.

“We are always striving for movement in the costumes when Dany is on the dragon,” Clapton told Vanity Fair, “but we are aware of other departments, such as visual effects. If costumes move too much, they are difficult for them to work with. We all try to work together to achieve the best result we can.”

20. Sophie Turner kept Sansa's corset.

Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Cast members taking sentimental items home from the set is a pretty well-established tradition when a series comes to its conclusion. While women spent years trying to do away with their corsets, Sansa Stark's trusty undergarment held a lot of sentimental value to Sophie Turner. 

"Sophie really wanted her corset, and [showrunners] Dave and Dan thought she should have it," Clapton said. "We were very happy to give it to her because it was something she always wore. People took little bits and pieces. I think Dave and Dan took pieces they particularly liked. Lots of people wanted lots of stuff, but we're not allowed to give it away. It belongs to HBO and it all goes into exhibition and archival work."

11 Surprising Facts About Sylvester Stallone

Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As streetwise boxer Rocky Balboa (in eight films) and haunted Vietnam veteran John Rambo (in five films), the man born Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone has made his brand of muscular melodrama a staple of the action film genre across five decades.

The latest Rambo chapter, Rambo: Last Blood, opens September 20. In the meantime, check out some of the more intriguing facts about the actor, from his modest beginnings as an accidental porn star to his peculiar rivalry with Richard Gere to his waylaid plans to run a pudding empire.

1. An errant pair of forceps gave Sylvester Stallone his distinctive look.

Many comedians have paid their bills over the decades by adopting Sylvester Stallone’s distinctive lip droop and guttural baritone voice. The facial feature was the result of some slight mishandling at birth. When Stallone was born on July 6, 1946 in Manhattan, the physician used a pair of forceps to deliver him. The malpractice left his lip, chin, and part of his tongue partially paralyzed due to a severed nerve. Stallone later said his face and awkward demeanor earned him the nickname “Sylvia” and authority figures telling him his brain was “dormant.” Burdened with low self-esteem, Stallone turned to bodybuilding and later performing as a way of breaking through what seemed to be a consensus of low expectations.

2. sylvester Stallone attended college in Switzerland.

A publicity still of Sylvester Stallone from the 1981 film 'Victory' is pictured
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite a tumultuous adolescence in which he was kicked out of several schools for misbehavior, Stallone eventually graduated high school while living with his mother in Philadelphia. He went on to attend American College, a university in Leysin, Switzerland, where he also worked as a gym teacher and dorm bouncer in addition to selling hamburgers on campus. It was there he became interested in theater—both acting and writing.

Stallone continued his education at the University of Miami before moving to New York with the hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. While auditioning for parts, Stallone worked as a movie theater usher and cleaned lion cages at the zoo. He was fired from the theater for trying to scalp tickets to a customer. Unknown to Stallone, the customer was the theater owner.

3. Sylvester Stallone’s mother was an expert in “rumpology.”

Stallone’s parents separated while he was still a child. His father, a beauty salon owner named Francesco Stallone, was apparently prone to corporal punishment, and would cuff his young son for misbehavior. (Stallone was once caught swatting flies with a lead pipe on the hood of his father’s brand-new car.) His mother, Jackie Stallone—whom he once described as “half-French, half-Martian"—later grew interested in the study of rumpology, or the study of the buttocks to reveal personality traits and future events.

4. Sylvester Stallone had a small part in a porno.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during a promotional tour for the film 'Rambo' in Madrid, Spain in January 2008
Carlos Alvarez, Getty Images

While struggling to make it as an actor, Stallone was talked into making an appearance in Party at Kitty and Stud’s, a 1970 softcore adult film that was not as explicit as other sex features of the era but still required Stallone to appear in the nude. While he was initially hesitant to take the role, Stallone was sleeping in a bus shelter at the time. He took the $200 for two days of work. Following the success of Rocky in 1976, the film’s producers capitalized on their now-valuable footage and re-released it under the title The Italian Stallion. In 2010, a 35mm negative of the film and all worldwide rights to it were auctioned off on eBay for $412,100.

5. Sylvester Stallone wrote a novel.

In addition to his acting ambitions, Stallone decided to pursue a career in writing. After numerous screenplays, he wrote Paradise Alley, a novel about siblings who get caught up in the circus world of professional wrestling in Hell’s Kitchen. Stallone finished the novel before deciding to turn it into a screenplay. Paradise Alley was eventually produced in 1978. The book, which was perceived as a novelization, was published that same year.

6. Sylvester Stallone was not a fan of the Rambo cartoon series.

After the success of 1982’s First Blood and 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, Stallone was confronted with a litany of Rambo merchandising. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune in 1986, he said he disliked that the psychologically-tortured war veteran was being used to peddle toys. “I couldn’t control it,” he said. “I tried to stop it, but I don’t own the licensing rights.”

On the subject of Rambo: The Force of Freedom, a 1986 animated series featuring a considerably softened-up version of the character, Stallone was resigned. “They’re going to make this Saturday morning TV cartoon show for kids with what they tell me is a softened version of Rambo doing good deeds. First of all, that isn’t Rambo, but more important, they tell me I can’t stop them because it’s not me they’re using. It’s a likeness of a character I played and don’t own.” The show lasted just one season.

7. Sylvester Stallone never planned on the Rocky series enduring as long as it has.

Through the years, Stallone has made some definitive declarations about the Rocky series, which has been extended to eight films including its two spin-off installments, 2015’s Creed and 2018’s Creed II. Speaking with movie critic Roger Ebert in 1979 shortly before the release of Rocky II, Stallone indicated Rocky III that would conclude the series. “There’ll never be a Rocky IV,” he said. "You gotta call it a halt.” In 1985, while filming Rocky IV, Stallone told Interview magazine that he was finished. “Oh, this is it for Rocky,” he said. “Because I don’t know where you go after you battle Russia.” In 1990, following the release of Rocky V, Stallone declared that “There is no Rocky VI. He’s done.” Upon the release of Rocky Balboa in 2006, Stallone once more declared he was finished. "I couldn't top this," he told People. "I would have to wait another 10 years to build up a head of steam, and by that point, come on."

Creed was released nine years later. Following Creed II, he posted a message on Instagram that served as a “final farewell” to the character. Several months later, in July 2019, Stallone told Variety that, “There’s a good chance Rocky may ride again” and explained an idea involving Rocky befriending an immigrant street fighter. It would be the ninth film in the series.

8. Sylvester Stallone was offered the lead role in Beverly Hills Cop.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during production of the 1978 film 'Paradise Alley'
Central Press/Getty Images

In one of the more intriguing alternate casting decisions in Hollywood history, Stallone was originally offered the Axel Foley role in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. Not wishing to make a comedy, Stallone rewrote the script to focus more on the action, as Detroit cop Foley stampedes through Beverly Hills to find his friend’s killers. Stallone described his version as resembling “the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy” and said his climax involved a game of chicken between a Lamborghini and an oncoming train. Producers opted to go in another direction. It became one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest hits. Stallone would later use some of his ideas for a rogue cop in the 1986 film Cobra.

9. Sylester Stallone does not get along with Richard Gere.

While filming 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush, in which Stallone and then-unknown actor Richard Gere both played 1950s street toughs, the two actors apparently got off on the wrong foot. Stallone recalled that Gere drew his ire for being too physical during rehearsals—and worse, getting mustard on Stallone during a lunch break. Incensed, Stallone demanded the director choose one of them to stay and one of them to be fired. Gere was let go and replaced by Perry King.

10. Arnold Schwarzenegger once tricked sylvester stallone into starring in a box office bomb.

Actors Sylvester Stallone (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) are photographed during the premiere of 'The Expendables 2' in Hollywood, California in August 2012
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Stallone has often discussed his rivalry with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the two action stars were believed to be the two biggest marquee attractions in the 1980s. Recalling his 1992 bomb Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Stallone told a journalist in 2014 that he believed Schwarzenegger was to blame. “I heard Arnold wanted to do that movie and after hearing that, I said I wanted to do it,” he said. “He tricked me. He’s always been clever.”

11. sylvester Stallone wanted to create a pudding empire.

In 2005, shortly before Rocky Balboa resurrected his film career, Stallone embarked on a line of fitness supplements. His company, Instone, produced a pudding snack that was low-carb and high in protein. Stallone even appeared on Larry King to hawk the product. A legal dispute with a food scientist over the rights to the concoction dragged on for years and Instone eventually folded.

Highclere Castle—the Real-Life Downton Abbey—Is Available to Rent on Airbnb

Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Emily_M_Wilson/iStock via Getty Images

Have you ever wanted to spend a night in a castle? And not just any castle—the Downton Abbey castle, Highclere Castle? On November 26, one lucky couple will get the opportunity to relive the TV show and movie, when castle owners Lady and Lord Carnarvon will cordially invite one person and their guest of choice to spend the night in the castle, which is located in Hampshire, England—about 45 miles west of London. On October 1 (Airbnb reservations go live at noon BST) anyone with a verified profile, positive reviews, and passion for Downton Abbey can vie for the opportunity. Even though the castle has 300 rooms, they are only making one bedroom available, for $159.

Upon arrival, the royals will host cocktails with the guests in the saloon. Visitors will hear stories from more than 300 years of Highclere Castle history (construction on the castle began in 1679, and has been in the Carnarvon family ever since).

“I am passionate about the stories and heritage of Highclere Castle and I am delighted to be able to share it with others who have a love of the building and its history,” Lady Carnarvon said in the Airbnb listing.

The Earl and Countess will host a dinner for the guests in the state dining room, and afterwards have coffee in the library. Before bed, the guests’ butler will escort them to their gallery bedroom. The next morning, guests will receive a complimentary breakfast, a private tour of the 100,000-square foot castle and 1000-acre grounds, and a special gift from the Carnarvons. (Airbnb will also make a donation to The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

It should be noted the castle doesn’t have Wi-Fi or central air, but it does have fireplaces and central heat. There are a few rules guests must follow, though: all newspapers must be ironed; one butler per person; cocktail dress is required at dinner; gossip is restricted to downstairs; the listing is midweek because, as the Dowanger once said, “What is a weekend?”

If you don’t win the opportunity to stay at Highclere, all is not lost: you can tour the castle year-round.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER