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."

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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