Game of Threads: A Lady’s Armor – Sansa Stark

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In this edition of “Game of Threads,” we take an in-depth look at Sansa Stark, a character that for the majority of her trajectory uses fashion to adapt or remain under the radar. This is in contrast to characters like Cersei, Daenerys, and Margaery who use the way they dress to exact their station in subtle power plays. This does change, however, in more recent seasons, as she finally comes into her own and begins to use her clothing to show that she is no longer a pawn in another person’s game, but her own person who is now thriving in a position of power. It should be noted that her strongest motif early on is the dragonfly, a symbol of fragility and beauty, but also a creature that goes through many stages of life on the way to its final form. The same can be said for Sansa’s wardrobe.

SansaSeason1

Sansa begins her story in her ancestral home of Winterfell, wearing garments that any high-born lady of the North would, but dreams of becoming queen and dressing in all the finery that comes with it. It is noted that Sansa is a skilled stitcher and makes much of her own clothing. It is evident, however, that because she is young, there is room for improvement, as the dresses she wears are a bit ill-fitting and simple. Still, she delights at the prospect of wedding Prince Joffrey and creates a new dress with a far less Northern influence, replacing high collars and cloaks with knotted roses and other warmer-climate motifs.

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When her father Ned is called to King’s Landing to be King Robert Baratheon’s Hand, she relocates to the Red Keep with him and her sister Arya. There, Sansa slowly begins dressing with a more Southern influence, taking note of the elements of the dress of the current queen, Cersei Lannister. By mid- season, she is regularly sporting the elaborate up-dos of the other ladies of court, and eschews her simpler Northern gowns for Cersei’s robe-like wrapped dresses with detailed embroidery, secured with metal belts, in an attempt to fit in with her new companions. Her signature blue color is still evident in her robes until she is manipulated by the Lannisters and eventually forced to watch the beheading of her father. Afterwards, she begins wearing muted pinks and mauves to try to fade into the background and endure her still-standing engagement to the monster that ordered her father killed.

SansaSeason2

Throughout Season 2, Sansa’s finery and clothing details become less and less a priority for her, as she continues to navigate her way around her psychotic betrothed and her imprisonment to his family. The embroidery becomes less intricate and the delicate pinks and blues give way to heavier purples. In fact, the last time we see her in the Northern pale blue she began the story in is when she begins menstruating, signaling to her captors that she can now bear children, thus belonging fully to them.

When King’s Landing is attacked at Blackwater Bay, Sansa is forced to take refuge with the other women and children of the court. Before this, however, she sees Joffrey off to battle with veiled sarcasm, wearing what will become her new signature wardrobe for the foreseeable future- a dusty mauve colored robe in a heavy damask, with a muted purple scarf under the neckline. Once the city is made safe with the alliance of Houses Lannister and Tyrell, Sansa appears at court wearing the same mauve tones, to watch Joffrey dole out awards and subsequently be replaced by Margaery Tyrell as the future queen, much to her relief.

SansaSeason3

Sansa’s storyline in Season 3 is spent in three variations on the same theme. The purple-on-purple damask robe from the previous season, a more brownish purple with a series of interlocking shapes, and a light mauve with a bolder golden woven pattern. She is no longer the queen to be, but still a ward of the Lannisters so she believes that her best bet is to keep a low profile and remain “muted.” When Margaery and Sansa begin spending time together, Sansa starts to take note of a few of Margaery’s style choices, as well as her influence as a kind-hearted politician and friend. Once marriage is proposed between Sansa and Loras Tyrell, Sansa starts to implement a few Tyrell touches to her look- notably, she begins styling her hair off the face like Margaery for the first time when she meets with Loras following the proposal, quickly adapting to her happy prospect. But keeping Margaery’s influence only to her hair ensures that it isn’t too obvious that there is a plan happening behind the Lannisters’ backs. Still, had she successfully married Loras and left for Highgarden, it would have been nice to see Sansa’s take on the fashions of the Reach.

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Unfortunately, the plot is quickly put to an end and, to her dismay, Sansa is wed to Tyrion Lannister. Her wedding gown is a culmination of the many elements that were beyond her control that lead her to this point, as well and the many strong women she’s been tutored by, for better or for worse. It is rendered in her muted purple but it has been overtaken with a Lannister-gold woven damask. The cap-sleeves are influenced by Margaery’s own cap-sleeves, the metal hip pieces call to mind Cersei’s armored gowns, and the embroidered piece that wraps from her neck and across her chest calls to mind the embroidered collars of her mother, Catelyn Stark.

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The embroidery, itself, has elements of Stark direwolves and Tully fish, but as the embroidery winds upwards, the direwolves are tangled with lions, leading to the highest point of the piece at the back of her neck features a crowned Lannister lion, her new family by law. Embroiderer Michele Carragher stated that she and designer Michele Clapton wanted the embroidery to look as if Cersei had a hand in designing it, hence the lion ending up on top. Her hair is also back to the full Lannister court updo that she last sported in the Season 2 finale.

SansaSeason4

Season 4 begins with the aftermath of her family’s slaughter at the Red Wedding.  Sansa returns to her mauves in hopes that she will again fade into the background and be ignored so she can mourn in peace. Her peace is cut short when she is forced to join the entire capital in celebrating the Royal Wedding of Joffrey and Margaery. She dons a new robe, entirely in a deeper purple silk than usual, with a floral relief pattern (side note: upon further inspection, this looks like it could be cut from a similar fabric to Maragery’s purple “Winds of Winter” dress). This sartorial change is in direct parallel to the drastic change her story is about to take. She unknowingly partakes in the murder of Joffrey, orchestrated by Olenna Tyrell and Littlefinger, by wearing a necklace with jewels made from a lethal poison.

She is spirited away to a ship where apparently Littlefinger had the forethought to pack an extra dress from Sansa’s wardrobe, because she begins wearing a different pattern than the one she escaped in. She takes refuge in The Eyrie with her unstable aunt Lysa and cousin Robyn Arryn, regularly wearing her purple damask until Lysa is murdered by Baelish after their very recent nuptials. He becomes the de facto Lord of the Vale, and she begins to play the game as well as those she has learned from all these years. Her style subsequently takes another bold turn with the now infamous “goth” Sansa dress she created herself, using dark fabric and feathers- a nod to her earlier “little bird” motif- and creating a necklace that embodies her own needle and thread- a nod to Arya’s sword, Needle, and finished the look off with a darker hair color. This is the ultimate power dress for her, and additionally symbolizes her knowledge of how to manipulate Littlefinger’s “mockingbird.”

SansaSeason5

Sansa’s clothing in Season 5 seems to be all over the map. She begins the season leaving The Eyrie and setting out on the road to Winterfell with Littlefinger, wearing an almost carbon copy of his fur-lined, black winter robes. She arrives at Winterfell to her Littlefinger-brokered engagement to Ramsay Bolton, wearing her feathered black power dress again, subtly making sure they know that this is her home. Throughout the rest of the season, Sansa wears what looks like the old robes of Catelyn’s that she found in the castle. Either that, or she made clothing from her memory of her mother, from the shape of the robe, to the embroidered collar, to the gathering of the neck of the Tully-blue underdress. She even begins styling her hair similarly to Cat. Interestingly, much of Sansa’s way of relating to or channeling others is through her hair.

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The shape of her second wedding gown is meant to evoke the large furs of her father and brothers, and is fastened with Tully fish clasps- another homage to her mother. The pure white color perfectly complements the snowy North, but also signals to the Boltons that she is still pure and virginal. It is interesting to note that the chevron patter on the majority of the gown is the same pattern that is worn under the armor of Mace Tyrell and his army in “Blood of My Blood.” This is a subtle signal that she is still armed and on her guard, and rightfully so.

SansaSeason6

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After escaping the Boltons and Winterfell, Sansa finds herself reunited with Jon Snow at Castle Black in Season 6. There, she spends most of her time strategizing with Jon on how to reclaim their home, and less on creating new clothes for herself, but she goes back to wearing her hair in the Northern style of two braids at the crown of her head leading back to a full plait, the same as her introduction in Season 1. She starts wearing furs in practical use for warmth as well as for a visual tie to Jon. The ultimate “Sansa Stark” dress, however, comes when she parleys with Ramsay before the Battle of the Bastards.  She creates a brand-new gown, rendered in a Stark blue-grey velvet, finally, ultimately returning to her roots. It is finished off with an intricately embroidered direwolf, embellished in steel grey, silver, and mother of pearl beads. It is elegant, stately, at the same time both delicate and strong, and it is a giant “fuck you” to Ramsay.

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Now, in Season 7, as the Lady of Winterfell, fully in control of her future and governing Winterfell in Jon’s stead, Sansa is dressing the part of commander. Her color palette exists solely in the blacks, greys, and browns of the North, and she wears a formidable fur cloak to emulate the male leaders before her, but again, keeping design elements as reminders of all those that have shaped her journey along the way. Her needle necklace has been reimagined in a solid steel and elements of her gown call to mind armor, to protect herself once and for all from those that would seek to manipulate or harm her. Sansa has now come into her final evolution, or, to borrow ASoIaF text, gone from “porcelain, to ivory, to steel.”

29 responses

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    1. i have always likes her dresses….but not as Dannys and Cerceis dresses …Sansa always had have that girly style..when Cercei and Danny they had always a femme fatale style ….more dynamic and stylish.

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    2. The blue embroidered dress she made in Season 6 (apparently using the Night’s Watch’s fine collection of coloured fabrics and threads) is my favourite regular look the character has had in the show. That’s exactly the sort of precise, politically-minded but stylish wardrobe that should appeal to the character, who is meant to be both a politician and a fashionista (if you compare her book chapters to other characters, she makes note of what she and other people are wearing way more than most, because it’s an interest of hers).

      The ultra-drab costumes she wore in Season 7 were a huge step back by comparison (one of the worst excesses of the mandate to make everything black now).

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    3. Loved the post Hogan, thank you. I have loved Sansa’s costumes and they’ve been some of my favourites. The blue BotB dress is one of my favourites and Sophie looks lovely in it, even though Jon can’t quite see it but likes the ‘wolf bit’ 🤔

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    4. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with her costumes next season. It’d be a shame if they just stuck with the same one as last season.

      She’s about to host a Targaryen queen at Winterfell. One who she’s been informed is “quite beautiful” and whom has apparently been able to coerce Jon into relinquishing the Northern crown.

      I imagine Sansa would want to project her own image of strength and beauty in the face of such competition and send a message that Jon isn’t the only Stark that wields power and influence whom Daenerys needs to win over.

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    5. Hogan, thank you for a wonderful read, and for sourcing the photos.

      I love how the circles of stitches under the dragonfly suggest water ripples as it alighted.
      And that wolf – ‘Sansa’ is an artist.

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    6. Maybe this website can have some articles on the other fantastic female characters on the show? Like Arya, Dany and Cersei?

      I mean Dany finally lands in Westeros, makes an alliance with the KITN, demolishes the Lannisters by leading her army against them, goes north on a rescue mission, loses her dragon and child and starts a relationship! Is there nothing to say about this character who was the MVP of the season?

      Sigh…

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    7. Of all the dresses on the show, I much prefer Sansa’s. They are beautifully crafted, and they got that “Game of Thrones” feel to them, that I grew to love during the first seasons. Thankfully, they’ve stayed that way.

      Good article, btw 🙂

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    8. I absolutely love the Season 7 clothes, Dany’s and Cersei’s and Sansa’s. There’s not a hint of sexiness to them, only pragmatism and self-confidence and power. Very, very businesslike. I’d love for stuff like this to enter workplaces. (Notice also how none of these ladies feel the need to elevate themselves with high heels!

      Pragmatism and practicality rule.

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    9. Let the colorful dresses of the first seasons come back, I do not like the dark dresses that she is wearing now.

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    10. principenoprometido,

      I totally agree. I’m over all of the black worn in season 7. I get it but there was too much. I Really hope that Cersei’s wardrobe gets some color!! (and taste, jmo) Sansa’s didn’t bother me as much and I was glad to finally see Dany representing her house colors. But collectively too dark for too long for too many characters.

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    11. Am I the only one who saw Bolton X’s on one of Sansa’s dresses this past season too? It seems she almost absorbs the motifs of those around her. Originally, she took the cues of those who she learned things from but now I wonder if she is absorbing those she overcomes? I’d be curious to see if there are any sparrow or small bird stylings next season.

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    12. Yaga:
      I absolutely love the Season 7 clothes, Dany’s and Cersei’s and Sansa’s. There’s not a hint of sexiness to them, only pragmatism and self-confidence and power. Very, very businesslike. I’d love for stuff like this to enter workplaces. (Notice also how none of these ladies feel the need to elevate themselves with high heels!

      Pragmatism and practicality rule.

      Pragmatism, self-confidence, and power are sexy.

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    13. Thank you, Hogan, for the article, highlighting so many wonderful details.

      Like many others, I miss the more colourful costumes of the earlier seasons… but that’s kind of the point. We miss the warm, carefree days of summer now that winter has come and the characters are facing huge threats. The sombre colours and martial, pragmatic designs reflect this. Hopefully we’ll see more colour in the last few scenes of the entire series!

      The dark blue velvet dress with the direwolf embroidery was beautiful but it didn’t seem to belong. It didn’t have the northern aesthetic – or even southern – in its design. It was very un-GoT-like.

      The magnificent wrap collar/belt in Sansa’s wedding dress to Tyrion literally imprisons her in her wedding dress and thus, figuratively also her marriage to a Lannister.

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    14. Ten Bears,
      I’m asexual, so I’m perhaps better capable of distinguishing between sex and power than the average person. There’s a huge distinction between the two. The high heels I mentioned earlier, for instance, are a sex item – they emphasise certain features of the female body in a sexual way. But they are not pragmatic or practical; they limit movement, cause pain and, over time, inflict permanent harm on the body.

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    15. Yaga,

      Uhm… There are comfortable high heels. You can be a feminist even if you wear high heels. With enough room for the ball and toes, maybe an inch or even two or three of heel. Well-designed high-heels are comfortable, you can walk or even run heel first on a cobblestone street. Cheap high-heels don’t achieve this, they make you tip-toe and hurt your feet and back.

      I mostly wear flats like trainers, boat shoes, Doc Martens, wellies, hiking boots etc. but every 5 yrs or so I buy a pair of high heels. Comfort is #1, beautiful design #2. It’s really difficult to find shoes that fulfill both requirements. When I find a pair (all leather) I’ll gladly pay up to 200 euros. Once every 5 or 10 years, not every year, I can’t afford that.

      Good quality shoes last – my boat shoes, when I bought them about 25 yrs ago were very expensive, about half of my monthly wage at the time, but I still wear those shoes when we go sailing in all kinds of even rough conditionds, so the initial outlay has paid off and the expensive shoes have proved a good investment. They’ve even been fashionable off and on, from 1970s to 2010s.

      It’s silly and reductive to denounce all high-heeled shoe wearers based on some personal ideology that has support in your own bubble, conviently leaving out most of humanity. Oh, like Louis XIV to Louis XVI of France, and not only them, but also courtiers like the Swede Axel von Fersen, who wore delicious high heels.

      It’s not a practical thing, it’s fashion. I expect Westerosi fashion soon to be very practical, not fancy at all. Winter is coming. Jaime changed his shiny Lannister armour to dark, simple, servciable leather armour. He’s probaly wearing unfacy, practical riding boots and unfancy “knight” attite. He’s a wildcard.

      Pah. Lotsa idas, lotsa bumbf. Apologies.

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    16. talvikorppi,
      How are the results of scientific studies ‘personal bubble’?

      But, whatever. Listen, you may have the idea that I’m against high heels. I’m not. I’m against the idea of making them an unspoken (and at times explicit) norm in professional situations. Not just because they are (statistically speaking) impairing and hurtful, not to mention impractical, but also because they *are* (again, statistically speaking) notionally connected to sex, and that and work simply shouldn’t mix.

      And, so as to take this away from high heels, male corporatewear is equally stupid. Neckties, really?

      In conclusion, athleisure and other casuals for the win.

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    17. talvikorppi: Like many others, I miss the more colourful costumes of the earlier seasons… but that’s kind of the point. We miss the warm, carefree days of summer now that winter has come and the characters are facing huge threats. The sombre colours and martial, pragmatic designs reflect this.

      I fully agree with you! Moreover, Sansa and Cersei are still mourning the loss of their loved ones (Rickon and Tommen). I wouldn’t make much sense for them to wear warm happy colours. Even though I too miss some of the more colourful garments from previous seasons, I highly doubt we will see them back in S8.

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    18. Yaga,

      Sorry to have come at you too combatitively. I broadly agree that high heels alter the natural posture and are often uncomfortable (though it is possible to find high heels that are comfortable to your toes and the balls of your feet.)

      I agree that a society that “forces” women (by some social convention) to wear impractical and hurtful high-heeled shoes all the time is not good. My point, which I made poorly or not at all, is that I live in a society where wearing flats is perfectly acceptable, even the norm, even in “business” situations, let alone more casual ones.

      And here’s the thing: we wear high heels for certain occasions just because of the way it alters the posture. Show off daity ankles, long legs, butt and bust sticking out. Sometimes you want that effect. Not to conform to the patriachal society or the male gaze or whatever, but to have a laugh about it. “See, I look like your stereotypical male fantasy, but what I say or do isn’t. So suck it up, boy!” That is empowering.

      Apologies for straying so far off-topic. I can only plead my obsession with footwear – hiking boots to high heels, I luuurve shoes – and getting a bit carried away.

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    19. Yaga,

      Oh, yeah, about the neckties. A silly convention.

      But haven’t you noticed the trend in the past 10 yrs or so of leading politicians and businessmen appearing “open-necked”, that is: traditional shirt but top 2 buttons undone, with no tie, still wearing the jacket and dress trousers . This is the “man of the people” pose Justin Trudeau, David Cameron, Emmanuel Marcon and others have sported. Neckties are on their way out.

      Gods, I’d love seeing a change in men’s fashion played out in my lifetime!

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    20. Yaga: But they are not pragmatic or practical; they limit movement, cause pain and, over time, inflict permanent harm on the body.

      Ah, but they are very pragmatic for one thing: they make women taller, and men equate height with competence. Men take taller men more seriously than they do shorter men: and because women usually are shorter than men, one part of the reason why men reflexively dismiss women and their viewpoints is that those women are shorter than the man making some other point. (This obviously is only one reason, of course, and secondary to the fact that so many boys are brainwashed into thinking that women are mindless breeding machines.)

      Back to the main topic! I must admit, I do still wonder whether Sansa being a primary protagonist is going to be a show-only thing, or if she’ll remain (or re-become) a second-tier protagonist in the books. Her absence from the Crows/Dragons story makes me suspect the latter, and although I expect that many aspects of her plotline will be the same (albeit with different characters) in Winter (*tosses salt over the shoulder*), presumably that will be for the Winter story about the costs of alliances rather than the Crows/Dragons story about child vs. adult.

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    21. Wimsey,

      Methinks you’re trying to “force” Sansa’s story into one of your stories. Which, BTW, are usually spot on. But the way GRRM and D&D have written Sansa is a bit all over the place. It’s like her name (Stark) give all kinds of possibilities to the writers, GRRM and D&D, and none quite know where they’re going with her.

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    22. talvikorppi: Methinks you’re trying to “force” Sansa’s story into one of your stories. Which, BTW, are usually spot on.

      heh, the next story I write will be the first! I have many talents, but storywriting is (alas!) not one of them! (I wish that it were, as I have always admired that particular talent.) I am assuming that the Winds of Winter book will tell the same story as the 6th season did, and that Benioff & Weiss basically lifted some of Sansa’s Winter plotline in order to provide her with something to do in Season 5. After all, she’s basically absent from the books, and what little she did do would be the equivalent of episode 1 & 2 setup scenes, but with nothing thereafter.

      This assumption could be incorrect. However, I always go with the simplest explanations that I can find (until proven otherwise!) when making any sort of predictions/inferences: and assuming that they used material that GRRM gave them for this particular case assumes something that we know that they were doing in general.

      But, hey, we are only another 5 weeks away from GRRM giving us his annual “Hopefully, later this year…” message! 😀 No, wait, 🙁

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    23. Thank you so much for the post, Hogan. I’ve really, really enjoyed all your posts about the costuming on GoT. As I noted recently in another post, I learned a lot from my grandmother, who worked in research at Warner Bros. during WWII and wrote for NBC TV in the 50s, and who counted the inimitable Irving Rapper among her friends. I didn’t truly understand Shakespeare’s maxim that “clothes make the man” (or woman) until discussing Now, Voyager (which Rapper directed) at length with her.

      Unlike a number of other viewers, I’ve really enjoyed seeing the change in costuming from season to season. While I understand why so many people miss the colorful costumes of earlier seasons, I would have been terribly disappointed if Michele Clapton & Co. hadn’t understood both the personal and plot reasons for dark wardrobes moving forward: a) grief (for Myrcella and Rickon, to name just two); b) cold weather (it takes far less dye to color summertime silks than wintertime woollens); and c) wartime shortages (Westeros is economically depressed, and even the higher classes cannot afford bright colors with which to dye their clothes). Long story short: It would have been both personally and historically unrealistic to have colorfully-attired characters in a time of war and economic depression, at the beginning of winter, and on the cusp of a world-changing confrontation with the Others.

      No complaints here.

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