Hidden meanings behind the costumes in Game of Thrones

On HBO's Game of Thrones, the costuming choices are almost as vital to character development as the dialogue—or the massive action sequences. Lead designer Michele Clapton has collected multiple Emmy Awards for her outstanding clothing of the show's cast, and it isn't just the decadent designs that earn attention; she's also layered the array of fine fabrics with individual meanings tailored to each of the characters' personal journeys.

"I don't think any costume should be looked at in isolation, rather, through the arc of the character," Clapton told Fast Company. "Each thing will tell a story. It might look like a costume is wrong, but actually it's supposed to look like that. It's telling you something about the character at the time." Looking back on some of the characters' outfits reveals a lot of about where they've been—and where they're going. Here are some of the hidden meanings you might not have noticed in Game of Thrones costumes.

Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen's journey from abused fugitive of a fallen kingdom to the Mother of Dragons with titles galore has been nothing short of epic, but what audiences might not always notice is how much her sartorial story aligns with her struggles and triumphs. Clapton has revealed that the very first costume we see her wear is meant to be based upon her brother's memory of the kinds of silk dresses he'd seen on "handmaidens and prostitutes" in the cities of Westeros. Considering he was an opportunist who decided to trade her to Khal Drogo in exchange for his help reclaiming the Iron Throne, the decision to dress her in common courtesan clothing certainly fits.

After she fell in love with and then lost her Khal, Daenerys led her baby dragons and a small kalasar herself, but quietly mourned him by wearing blue dresses. As Clapton explained to Fashionista, "they're a reference back to Khal Drogo and the Dothraki, because blue was their special color … it was a rare natural pigment available to them in their region." Eventually, she pivoted to more white and grey-based tones, which are supposed to echo Dany's newfound "sense of power and also a sense of immortality." She has continued to rock her sheet white and slate gray garbs ever since—with her north-of-the-wall look from Season 7 meant to express a "warrior queen" aesthetic—but fans might start to notice shades of red are creeping into her costumes, which Chapman told Elle Magazine is a visual cue that she's really ready to ascend her throne at long last.

Margaery Tyrell

Another character whose costumes were always rich with detail was Margaery Tyrell, wife and queen to Renly, Joffrey, and Tommen Baratheon. Margaery's gowns were colorful and brimming with patterns and interesting architecture, and that was all meant to highlight the character's eagerness to not only rescue House Tyrell from extinction but to become "the Queen" in the process as well.

Her wedding gown for her marriage to Joffrey was incredibly labor-intensive for the costuming team, Clapton told Vanity Fair, but the work was "essential for her style. I wanted it to be pretty, but on closer inspection, strong and tell the story of her ambition." Indeed, most of Margaery's gowns were embellished with delicate designs but only served to highlight her posture and persistence.

Arya Stark

After Ned Stark's very public execution, Arya Stark found herself on the run (and temporarily imprisoned) until she managed to find some semblance of safety with the Faceless Men and began putting her perilous pursuit of anonymity to use by assassinating people. She spent many of the early seasons in the simple brown rags she'd fled in, but once she became "a girl [who] has no name," her attire began to look a lot like those she was around and impersonating. 

Clapton told Fashionista that "Unlike Sansa, who chooses to change and express herself, Arya just adopts costumes to the situation or place that she's in. It's not about Arya, it's about the person she's playing." In other words, a girl has no style of her own. Now that she's finally made way to Winterfell and patched things up with her long-lost siblings, she's again begun to wear pieces popularized by others—namely, the signature brown leather of her late father, with a cut and fit that resembles her first sword instructor, Syrio Forel. 

Sansa Stark

Of all those who've experienced some severe character shifts throughout Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark's transformation from a spoiled, naïve brat to the Lady of Winterfell has to be the most significant. Her costumery has reflected that throughout in a completely unique way: Sansa herself is meant to be her own fashion stylist. "She expresses herself through her ability to embroider and stitch," Clapton told Buzzfeed. "We've always used that as something that Sansa expresses her feelings through—her embroidery and depictions on her costumes, and through shade and color." Those choices are said to reflect her feelings about certain families (i.e., when she dressed like a southern lady while pursuing Joffrey's love in Season 1). 

Following her escape from and ultimate defeat of Ramsay Bolton, Sansa began cloak herself in clothes that Clapton told Insider are meant to steer away unwanted contact (from Littlefinger, in particular): "This is her taking back control of her body. I designed it to wrap around over her side-laced dress to represent the absolute removal of any possible physical touch. Her dresses are also tightly-laced on, incredibly difficult to remove." Her jewelry has also held some subtle clues about her closely held plans and beliefs, as some eagle-eyed fans connected her Season 7 necklace design with an intention to end Petyr Baelish's scheming once and for all. 

Jaime Lannister

Although Jaime Lannister's clothing has been pretty consistently reflective of his status as a Lannister—as evidenced by the many shades of red and gold he's rocked throughout the series—his most storied accessory has to be his fake hand. Clapton has explained that the hand was designed by his sister-slash-lover-slash-queen Cersei and that she wanted it to be ornate enough to be "caressed" while strong enough "to hold a sword." 

She also revealed that the need for elegance and beauty in the device was inspired by the idea that Cersei would be otherwise disgusted by his deformity, but the delicacy of the design accidentally aligned with his own subtle softening throughout the later seasons. "It became the right thing for Jamie," she explained. "He's not just this sort of a brutal, sarcastic, callous man. He actually has a really sensitive, quite interesting side."

Euron Greyjoy

Just as Jaime began to show some signs of reluctance to embolden Cersei and her claim to the Iron Throne, in came a swashbuckling savage who was totally on board with her cutthroat tactics. Euron Greyjoy, who'd previously killed off his brother and captured his niece to take charge of the Iron Islands, sailed to Westeros and ignored everything he'd ever felt about Lannisters before to request Cersei's hand in marriage. 

While Game of Thrones viewers might be put off by his heartlessness, Cersei obviously saw something she liked, and perhaps it had something to do with the message contained in his clothes. As Clapton told Fashionista, "We wanted swagger. I loved the slashed star shapes that we made. It's supposed to represent the type of guy that obviously has issues. The slashes, although seemingly mindless, are repetitive and exacting. He is also everything that Jaime Lannister isn't. It's a mind game." 

Jon Snow

Back when Jon Snow was considered the bastard son of Eddard Stark and had given himself to the Night's Watch, he wore a lot of black clothes. Once he was betrayed by his fellow guardsmen and had to be revived from the dead, though, his clothes began to take on a brownish hue more resemblant of his homestead in addition to the black leather that'd informed his wardrobe for so long. After emerging victorious at the Battle of the Bastards and reclaiming Winterfell for House Stark, that's when he really began to sport the style of his de facto dad, Ned, along with some fur trimmings that remind us of his time spent running with the Wildlings.

So, now he's shown wearing the sigil and color palette of his house, along with a few straps of black and a few pelts, and Clapton confirmed the apparent amalgamation of styles was purposeful, telling Uproxx, "It was quite interesting to see him transition to another look because it took on another part of his journey. Suddenly people understood him in that role; the way that he can appeal to not just the Northerners, but the way he's brought that whole group with the Wildlings and everyone together."

Cersei Lannister

It's been a long, long time since we saw Cersei traipsing around the gardens in a soft pink gown with flowing, flowery locks, and for good reason. Although Cersei's never been a shrinking violet on the show, her mercilessness has become even more defined, even prior to the loss of her last child. She started out by wearing mostly red, which was a nod to both her house and its power grab of the Iron Throne. Once her children started dying off, slowly but surely, she started gravitating toward black clothes that signified her sadness and fury. 

Her coronation garb, Clapton explained, was a bit of direct homage to her late father, Tywin, who taught her everything she knew about having an iron fist. "I wanted the cut leather that would mirror Tywin's—it was everything she always told her father she could do, and she can now do it," she said. "So there had to be that strength. It had to be black because she was in mourning, but I wanted the sort of steeliness behind that, the inner strength." It's also no coincidence that instead of the Lannister gold, she's opted to sport more silver metals to signify her mettle as well.