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It’s no understatement to say that the costuming of Game of Thrones is brilliant. (Thank you, Michelle Clapton and April Ferry!) The designs have always been chosen with the storylines and personalities of each character fully in mind, and the careful details add a layer of depth to the show that isn’t always noticeable in a first viewing. In the latest season, the most exciting costume thus far has been, without a doubt, Sansa’s direwolf-embroidered dress. However, this is far from the first time that Sansa has undergone an image change. In this post, let’s take a journey back in time and revisit the wardrobe transformations of Sansa “I made it myself” Stark and all the personal growth that she’s experienced along the way.
SPOILER WARNING: Due to the nature of this discussion, the following post may contain spoilers for Game of Thrones through Season 6. You have been warned.
Season 1: Becoming a Southern Lady
When we first meet Sansa at Winterfell in the pilot (“Winter is Coming”), she is dressed in the practical clothing of the North, with thick fabrics and necklines that fall just under the chin. Sansa radiates childlike innocence, and we quickly learn that her greatest goal in life is to live out the pure romanticism of songs and stories. Sansa typically wears her hair loose and well-groomed, with the front pieces pulled back neatly to keep them out of her face. At a banquet with the visiting royal family, Sansa is the image of northern femininity, wearing a dress embellished with knots and embroidery.
In S1E2 (“The Kingsroad”), as the Stark family travels south for King’s Landing, we see Sansa in a dress that looks newly made for the occasion. It is light blue and the lower neckline is better adapted to warmer temperatures. This dress appears again a few times even after Sansa’s arrival in King’s Landing. Despite that, the knotted embellishment around the neckline and loose fit are still firmly in the territory of northern fashion. Likewise, during their travels, Sansa continues to wear her hair down. However, there is a moment when Sansa takes notice of the southern ladies around her, who are all sporting Cersei-style up-dos.The camera allows Sansa’s gaze to linger on these women, so much so that she physically runs into the person in front of her. This entire moment clues us in to Sansa’s romantic desires for the glamour of the world of the “South” and ladies of the King’s Landing court. It is the spark that ignites her eventual metamorphosis into the vision of a Southern Lady.
Looking closely, we can see that Sansa is wearing a dragonfly pendant necklace. The necklace may be a reference to the love stories that Sansa idolizes. In particular, in A Song of Ice and Fire, The Prince of Dragonflies is a historical song about a Targaryen prince who gives up his crown for the woman he loves. While the dragonfly pendant is the most ubiquitous, it is only the first of many appearances of a wing motif in Sansa’s wardrobe. The dragonflies, moths, butterflies, and feathers are a perfect personal symbol for Sansa – fragile and beautiful, but with the hidden potential for metamorphosis. Sansa’s wings also serve to remind us of her nicknames: in the novels on which the show is derived, Sandor Clegane often calls Sansa “little bird,” while in the TV series Cersei uses the pet name “little dove.” Using the nickname for the first time, Sandor says:
“Some septa trained you well. You’re like one of those birds from the Summer Isles, aren’t you? A pretty little talking bird, repeating all the pretty little words they taught you to recite.” (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 29)
At this point in the story, it is an apt description of Sansa, who still believes that kindness and loveliness are the only traits she needs to navigate the world.
At the midpoint of season one, Sansa attends the Hand’s Tourney (“Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” & “The Wolf and the Lion”) and again has a new dress. This time it is lavender and green, in a more fitted cut than the blue dress and an even lower, scooping neckline. We can see that she is beginning to merge Southern and Northern styles. The knotted necklines of her previous dresses have been replaced with beautiful rose embroidery, which is the work of the talented hand-embroiderer Michele Carragher. (More detail shots of her gorgeous work can be found on her homepage.) The roses give the same textural feel as the Northern-style knots, but are decidedly more elegant and better suited to the glamour of southern court life. Sansa pairs the dress with a shawl over her arms for a day of watching the jousting. In fact, the roses on the dress have thematic ties to the day. Sansa is enthralled with Loras Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers, who gifts her with a rose after a win on the tourney’s second day. Some viewers may even draw a connection to Sansa’s own late aunt, Lyanna, who was known to love blue winter roses. In this way, the roses draw ties to both Sansa’s past and her future dreams. In contrast, Ayra, sitting beside her, is very much still in Northern styles, wearing an outfit similar to the one Sansa wore at the Winterfell banquet in the pilot. Even Sansa’s braids have reached a mid-point between the two styles as they have become slightly more elaborate, likely for the special occasion, but still her hair remains mostly loose. Again, she wears the dragonfly necklace. This dress also makes an appearance later on in the season, on the day of Eddard’s arrest.
The next time we see Sansa (“A Golden Crown”), the blue dress is back. For the first time, Sansa experiments with a southern hairstyle, with most of her hair arranged on top of her head except for two small pieces pulled to the front from behind her neck. Paired with the simple dress, the result is that she appears to be playing dress-up. We can imagine that Sansa is trying to emulate Cersei, both a glamorous queen and one of the few female role models left for Sansa since being separated from her mother. Perhaps she is also trying to impress Joffrey, who is, for once, actually acting princely. He presents her with a Lannister lion necklace, identical to the ones that his mother and sister wear. As Joffrey leans in to kiss her, it seems as if Sansa’s dreams of princes and romance are finally coming true. To frame the romanticism in this scene, we get a glimpse of another delicate winged creature: a moth-shaped ring on Sansa’s hand.
In S1E8 (“The Pointy End”), Sansa adopts a completely Southern style for the first time. With her hair in the same up-do, now with even more complicated braids, she dons a light blue wrap-dress with full skirt and floor-length sleeves. It is the same style of wrap-dress that we often see on Cersei. Sansa’s only accessory is the Lannister lion necklace. The timing of this transformation is no coincidence. Appearing in the throne room to beg for mercy for her father, Sansa needs to give the impression of the perfect, obedient southern lady. This is a role that she will continue to play for some time in later seasons. On the day of Eddard’s execution (“Baelor”), Sansa wears the same wrap-dress, now paired with a belt. Even the few loose pieces of her hairstyle are braided now, and she continues to wear the Lannister necklace. Despite her best efforts, in adopting a role that is not truly her identity, she ends up betrayed as her plan backfires and Joffrey orders Eddard’s death.
Sometime after her plea to save her father has failed, Joffrey brings Sansa up to the battlements and forces her to look at his severed head (“Fire and Blood”). Besides the color of her dress, which is now pink, her outfit is almost identical. There is one notable difference: Sansa has finally ditched the Lannister necklace, in favor of her dragonfly pendant again. While she knows she needs to keep wearing her mask to protect herself, the necklace might give Sansa some small comfort of home.
Seasons 2 & 3: Growing Wings
Throughout the first half of Season 2, Sansa continues to wear the pink and blue wrap dresses, still reciting her memorized lines about loving Joffrey. Meanwhile, the dragonfly pendant appears in almost every scene. We can also see dragonfly embroidery on some of the sleeves. As mentioned previously, dragonflies are creatures of metamorphosis, but even more than that, they are often a symbol of change in personal perspective and self-realization. In Sansa’s case, she has finally realized that life is not a song, and the world of knights and ladies she imagined is not the same as Westeros’ harsh reality. It is interesting that the dragonfly is at once both a symbol of her romanticism and also her disenchantment. There is an irony in that it is when Sansa looks the most like the ladies of her dreams and songs that she is the most unhappy. And yet despite her circumstances and unhappiness, Sansa develops her own brand of rebellion in this season. She goes through the motions of loyalty, but there is a quiet, sullen, patient-ness behind it, as if she is suspended inside a cocoon.
Season 2 is one of the last times we see Sansa in wrap dresses favoured by the ladies of the Southern court, specifically Cersei. It makes its final appearance in S3E6 (“The Old Gods and the New”), when, after seeing off Myrcella’s ship to Dorne, the royal procession is attacked by a mob. Sansa’s pink dress is destroyed during her flight, and when she thanks the Hound for saving her life in S2E7 (“A Man Without Honor”), she is back in the rose-embroidered dress from Season 1.
In S2E9 (“Blackwater”) and S2E10 (“Valar Morghulis”), Sansa has a new, wine-colored dress made of beautiful leaf-patterned fabric. The silhouette is new for Sansa. Both the cut and the thicker fabric are reminiscent of the dresses worn by Catelyn Stark back at Winterfell in Season 1, but made more stylish for life in King’s Landing. In the promotional images for Season 3, Catelyn is even wearing a dress with a leaf print that is eerily similar to the print of Sansa’s wine-colored dress. This new dress also begins a shift for Sansa back towards darker colors. With the rejection of the soft pastels, Sansa also begins to reject her timid approach to her captivity. The Battle of Blackwater looms on the horizon, and Sansa seems to have given up all pretenses that she actually wants to be in the city. She even has a moment where she stands up to Joffery, snarkily saying:
“Oh yes, I’m stupid. Of course you’ll be fighting in the vanguard. They say my brother Robb always goes where the fighting’s thickest, and he’s only a pretender.”
The wine dress continues on to Season 3; in Sansa’s first appearance, she is sitting on the docks with her handmaiden, Shae, and wearing a new necklace. Sansa has a new, bolder and darker pair of wings, in the shape of a delicate butterfly.
In S3E3 (“Walk of Punishment”), Sansa is introduced to Olenna Tyrell, and throughout the season she spends most of her free time with Margaery and Loras. She also begins to wear dresses cut exclusively in her new style – an outer layer made of thicker fabric and an underskirt and blouse of a lighter fabric. The wing motif asserts itself again in the clasps that hold the outer layer closed, and even in the prints of the fabric. The first dress in this style is printed with a lace design, while the second is covered in wavy lines. Both prints call to mind the scales of insect wings. The dragonfly and butterfly necklaces also make frequent appearances. Like an insect, Sansa enjoys the peace of going unnoticed for a time, as she is largely forgotten by Joffrey.
The theme of darker jewel-tone colors continues, and the clasp-style dresses are one step closer to the style of her mother. Given that season 3 is where we see the loss of Catelyn, it is interesting to note that the start of Sansa’s ascension is paralleled with Catelyn’s fall from grace up north, and eventual departure from the narrative in S3E9 (“The Rains of Castamere”). Later in the season, some influence from the Tyrells is also apparent. While she continues to wear her hair down, we occasionally see Sansa with half-up hairstyles and twists that are almost a simplified version of Margaery’s looks. Although Sansa has begun to develop her own style, she is still unsure of herself and quickly adopts Margaery as an elder sister figure, much in the same way she attempted to emulate Cersei’s style back in Season 1, when she still saw her as an adopted mother figure. While talking with Loras or walking in the gardens, Sansa also sometimes forgoes her underdress, making the necklines more revealing and more similar in cut to Margaery’s.
The most memorable look of season 3, however, is Sansa’s wedding dress (“Second Sons”). Michele Carragher’s embroidery is absolutely stunning. Tully fish and Stark direwolves are present on the small of Sansa’s back, but are quickly overtaken by Lannister lions. Lannister golds and reds dominate the dress, and even the lion necklace from Season 1 makes a reappearance. Of course, Sansa’s hair is back in the traditional Southern up-do. Interestingly though, despite the heavy Lannister imagery, the cut of the dress itself is a hybrid of various styles. The cap-sleeves are similar to something Margery might wear, the wrap-style closure (hidden under the embroidered belt) and armored sides are reminiscent of Cersei, and the heavy tapestry fabric looks as if it could have been chosen by Sansa herself. Like the wedding itself, Sansa’s dress is a sort of crossroads of the multiple influences that are pulling at her.
Seasons 4 & 5: A Needle of Her Own
For S4E1 (“Two Swords”), Sansa is back in the wine-colored dress of Seasons 2 and 3. She runs into Ser Dontos the Fool in the Godswood, who gives her a necklace of crystals to wear at the upcoming royal wedding between Joffrey and Margaery. At the wedding in S4E2 (“The Lion and the Rose”), the previously-seen wing clasps are used on a new, lavender colored dress with a plain print. Her hair is up for the occasion and adorned with a beautiful simple hairpin. Sansa spends the next couple of episodes of Season 4 wearing this same dress as she flees the city following Joffery’s death.
Accompanied by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, Sansa arrives in the Vale, the home of the Eyrie and her Aunt Lysa, in S4E5 (“First of His Name”). Somehow, she has re-acquired her wine-colored dress, which she wears for most of the rest of the season. Given Petyr’s obvious attentiveness to Sansa, it is perhaps safe to assume that he had some of her finery ready for her prior to their escape from King’s Landing. Finally, after dealing with all the
family drama of Season 4 caused by Petyr and her aunt, and smoothly lying to the Lords of the Vale to protect herself, Sansa can be seen sewing herself a new dress in S4E8 (“The Mountain and the Viper”).
Sansa debuts her new dress with an entirely new look, complete with dyed black hair. The dress is also black, with striking feathered shoulders. Having lost all her winged jewelry in the flight from Winterfell, the feathered shoulders are a much bolder and sharper expression of her personal motif. To replace her dragonfly necklace, Sansa has also made a new, much larger necklace in the shape of a black ring and chain. In an interview with Fashionista in 2015, costume designer Michele Clapton explains:
“The necklace was based on the idea that Arya had Needle. At the end of the necklace there’s a point, a spike, which is like Sansa’s smaller version of Needle. It’s a jewelry idea of Needle. She’s finally taking them on.”
In episode 5, at dinner with the Boltons at Winterfell, Sansa is suddenly back in a very northern style of dress. The blouse, the collar embroidered with Tully fish, and the thick material are all strikingly similar to pieces from Catelyn’s wardrobe. It is also very possible that, since Sansa has now returned to her home, these pieces are from her late mother’s collection. In the same way that children might seek comfort in a security blanket, Sansa turns to the ghost of her mother for strength and guidance in the absence of Littlefinger, her only other parental figure from this season. Also embroidered on the collar are acorns, often considered symbols of potential and strength. The choice of print and the wing-clasps are still very much Sansa as we’ve come to know her.
In S5E6 (“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”), Sansa gets married once again, and once again Sansa’s wedding dress incorporates references to her family roots. The fur shoulders are a classic Stark and Northern look, while the clasps of her dress are in the shape of Tully fish. In fact, they are identical to the clasps that have been used on Catelyn’s dresses since S1E1 (“Winter is Coming”). Also like Catelyn, Sansa has once again been put in the position of an arranged marriage, although significantly less happy than both her previous one to Tyrion, and her mother’s own marriage to Eddard. The Tully sigils become even more poignant when we remember why she is marrying Ramsay in the first place. Having been convinced by Littlefinger that the marriage is necessary if she wishes to eventually avenge her family, Sansa is fully embracing the Tully house words, “Family, Duty, Honor.”
For the rest of the season, Sansa wears high-necked, Stark gray under-dresses like those of her childhood, alternating her black dress and the new wing-clasp dress for outer layers. Although she is no longer in the all-black from her little mockingbird days, Sansa does not return to colors. Instead, she clings to the grays of the north and her fashion sense has almost come full circle. In the end, it is the wing-clasp dress rather than the black dress that she is wearing when she jumps the walls of Winterfell with Reek.
Season 6: A Wolf With Wings
While Sansa spends the first few episodes of the season wearing the same dress that she fled Winterfell in, she finally gets out her needle and thread and sews herself a new dress in episode 5. She proudly shows it off to Jon as they set off to rally the north around their cause. The dress is black, modest and simple, the only embellishment a beautifully embroidered direwolf sigil. It fits her like a second skin, as Sansa has always looked the most comfortable in the clothing of her own making. The direwolf dress is the perfect embodiment of everything we’ve seen from Sansa this season: making a brave run from her captors, calling for revenge with rousing speeches, and standing up to the man who tried to treat her like a puppet. It is clear that Sansa’s cocoon has finally cracked – and what emerged was not a dragonfly or a moth, but a wolf.