The highly anticipated season five premiere of Game of Thrones aired across the globe this week, giving us tantalising glimpses of where our favorite characters are now. We saw two brief scenes of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), who had a major makeover at the end of Season Four. With this new direction in her character, where will she end up in Season Five? In this little addendum to our previous analysis of her wardrobe, we explore the character clues in Sansa’s striking new look (costume design by Michele Clapton).
Sansa has not had it easy so far. During the last few seasons she has been trapped in King’s Landing, tortured and abused by the sadistic King Joffrey. But at the end of Season Four, during the ‘Purple Wedding’, Sansa finally escaped. It is revealed that her freedom was engineered by one of the most slippery characters on the show, Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger. Littlefinger’s motivations are difficult to figure. Did he rescue Sansa because of his love for her mother? Or does he have some agenda of his own? Will Sansa once again be a victim?
The answer to that last question is a resounding ‘no’. During her time in King’s Landing, Sansa was exposed to some of the most scheming and manipulative people in Westeros, characters such as Cersei Lannister and of course Littlefinger. It was an education in how to survive and how to win. As she escapes King’s Landing and is placed under the protection of a man who is definitely not to be trusted, Sansa shows that she is not the silly little girl everyone thinks she is. She has learned from the best and she puts her education into action.
In her last appearance in Season Four (Episode 8: The Mountain and the Viper), Sansa debuts her new look. Her gown shows not only her strength and status as a strong player in the Game of Thrones, but also influences Littlefinger himself, showing that she is not simply another pawn in whatever game he is playing. And, from the look he gives her as she descends a staircase in her new dress, her tactics are clearly working.
Sansa wears a black, form fitting gown that she designed and made herself. For the past four seasons we have seen her dressed in the fashionable styles of each location she has lived in. Simple dresses with knotted details in shades of wintery grays and blues in Winterfell, and light and colourful wrap dresses in King’s Landing. We have seen the quirky women’s fashion of The Vale, but Sansa’s dress does not fit the mould. It is a style all her own, demonstrating how she has grown into herself and become a strong and confident woman.
The fabric of her new black dress has a subtle texture resembling tree bark. Just as a tree guards itself with its bark, so does Sansa guard with her clothing. The bust of the dress and the sleeve cuffs are decorated with rows of short black feathers, probably from a raven. Unlike most birds, ravens are omnivores, eating both plants and meat. They are known for feasting on carrion and during one scene in Season One we see strips of raw meat being fed to ravens. They are powerful and dangerous birds and Sansa takes on these qualities in using their feathers. On her shoulders are epaulettes created with longer black feathers, giving her a sharp and powerful silhouette. In our own world epaulettes are worn by military commanders. In our eyes this connects Sansa to a powerful figure. She is every bit the commander as other powerful characters are. Throughout the series many characters have referred to Sansa as “little bird”, a nickname conveying the idea of a small, delicate, and powerless bird in a cage. Sansa’s use of feathers in her new dress subverts these expectations. Feathers also align her with Littlefinger, as the sigil of House Baelish is also a black bird. She is in The Vale posed as Littlefinger’s illegitimate daughter, so she further connects herself to him by dyeing his hair black.
Around her neck Sansa wears a necklace made of a long and delicate chain and a large black buckle. Compared to other jewellery we have seen in the series, Sansa’s necklace is avant-garde, showcasing her unique fashion sense and strength as an individual. The chain is also a potent symbol. For most of the series she has been stuck in metaphorical chains. Having escaped King’s Landing, Sansa appropriates this symbol for herself, its display speaking to her strength and the fact that she has survived when so many else have not. There is also a bit of reverse psychology in the symbolism. Everyone thinks Sansa is just a stupid little girl who doesn’t know anything. As we see during Littlefinger’s trial in Season Four, she is able to use this to her advantage. If everyone underestimates her, they will not realise she is in fact a force to be reckoned with. In wearing a chain around her neck, Sansa plays into this belief for her own benefit.
Finally, the colour black; the symbolism of black in the world of Game of Thrones may be different than the symbolism the colour holds in our own world. But one of the purposes of costume design is to convey character clues to us, the audience, living in our own world. Thus we put our own perceptions onto the colour and costume. In our culture, black has many associations. It is the colour of mourning, suitable for Sansa as she has lost all of her family. It is also a colour favored by the Goth subculture. The Goth movement has ties to a rebellion against authority, certainly a fitting ideal for Sansa at this stage. Black is also the colour we associate with villainy. So-called ‘bad guys’ in 20th and 21st century visual culture are traditionally dressed in black. This association helps to show Sansa as more than just a sweet and innocent girl. While she may not be one of the bad guys (yet?), she certainly has the power and savvy associated with our favourite villainous characters.
In Sansa’s new costume, we see the power of fashion. It can express personality and individualism, align the wearer with a group, and create a façade. It can defend and subdue. Some fans of the series criticise Sansa for not being a warrior like Arya, but with her new look we see that Sansa’s more traditionally female skills can be a weapon too. Arya can keep her Needle; Sansa has needles of her own.
By Katy Werlin.
Katy is a fashion and textile historian. She specialises in the interplay of politics, philosophy, dress, and design in eighteenth-century Europe and the history of ballet costumes. She is also a lifelong fan of movies and their costumes. Visit her excellent blog The Fashion Historian.
© 2015, Lord Christopher Laverty.