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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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12 Festive Facts About White Christmas

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?

With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.

1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.

Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.

By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.

2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.

By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.

3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.

While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.

4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.

Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.

5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.

Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.

6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”

“If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.

7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.

By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.

8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.

One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.

9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.

Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.

10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.

A scene from White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.

The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.

11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.

By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"

12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.

White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.

Additional Sources:
White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (2000)
White Christmas commentary track by Rosemary Clooney (2000)
Backstage Stories from White Christmas (2009)
Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold (2018)