Skip to main content

Creating the Seven Kingdoms. Part II: The Westerlands

Last time I dove into the complex and intricate world of Game of Thrones, I focused on how the North, and its culture, was represented and reinforced through the Costume Design (read here). Today, I am going to continue this series on world-building by looking at how Michele Clapton, the Costume Designer for HBO's multi-awarded show, builds the culture of a kingdom we haven't even seen yet: the Westerlands. Indeed, if last time I focused on the most beloved family of all Westeros, it's only fair I continue this by focusing on the most hated: the Lannisters.

Originally, I wasn't going to focus on the Westerlands, because we've never been there on the show or in the books. But then I started thinking and realized that you can create a look that reflects the culture of a place, even when you don't get to see the place. In that case, the look of its inhabitants (which is what you, the audience, will see) needs to speak on its own. And that's exactly what happens here.


The Lannisters are the Wardens of the West, the ancient Kingdom of the Rock, which lies along the eastern coast of the Sunset Sea, and borders with the Riverlands on the North and the Reach on the South. Despite not being the largest or the most populated or fertile, the Westerlands are the richest of the Seven Kingdoms, mainly due to the numerous mines that pour gold and silver in astonishing quantities.

That extreme, almost obscene, wealth is what defines its culture above all other things. Why? Because this is a region that doesn't need to build a solid agricultural market or worry about sustaining its people, there's always gold to mend whatever famine or plague afflicts them. Gold defines the Westerlands as much as Cold defines the North.

This creates a culture of excess and luxury that stands as a complete opposite to the North. And, in much the same way, the Lannisters, as a family, stand in clear-cut contrast with the Starks. Therefore, it will be through them, that we will take a look at how the designs aimed at transmitting all the deeply necessary basic information about this region and its ruling class.

Let's start by taking this out of the way: in their case, the weather is not a defining factor. The Westerlands have a rather mild climate. This means that they are not forced to protect themselves under layers of wool, and that allows costume to become something more than a mere utilitarian element. Instead, for the Lannisters, costume is a way to demonstrate status and power. Because of this, the whole design for them and the Westerlands is driven by one single idea: it's all about power dressing.

What's that, you say? Power dressing is the term used when clothes and accessories are all destined to clearly state the social status or a position of influence or the wealth of the wearer. Clothing stops being about comfort and use and becomes a tool of dominance. This is very obvious in historical court costuming from the Renaissance onwards. And it's also very obvious with the Lions of Casterly Rock.

One of the most transparent ways in which they use that to visually proclaim their wealth and power is through their armors.

Unlike the Northern armors, that are extremely simple and functional, the armors worn by the Lannisters are radically different; they are richly decorated with gold engravings and colored plates. These are deeply ornate, opulent and expensive armors that are meant to be a statement as much as a protection for battle. Because of this, they are all colored in deep reds, black, and gold. And, for the same reason, they all manage to incorporate one (or more) engraved golden lion in it.

These armors are a constant reminder to the rest of Westeros (and even the audience); "look at me, I'm a Lannister, I am very rich, and I'm going to crush you if you cross me".

On the designer's part, such a show of wealth is meant to underline their pride and the culture of excess in which they live. Having their plates decorated in gold is a literal shorthand for the audience to understand just to what point they actually "shit gold".

And also places them in stark contrast with the northerners and their culture, helping to underline the antagonistic nature of their relations. This is what we call visual antagonism, and a really good way to advance the plot through visuals.

But their pride doesn't stop there. They don't want to only highlight how rich they are; they also want to underline the benefits of being on their side. Accordingly, all their base soldiers are armored in full plate, uniformed armor. And not just any armor: quality, colored metal that has been lined with gold. They even carry shields with gold engravings.

What this is saying, at a visual level, is that they don't only have money to pamper themselves to death, they will also pamper those that stand by their side.

It also conveys a more militaristic view of the world on their part. The fact that their men have a standard issued armor reflects a certain aggressiveness on their part. While the North only rallies his armies when a war is declared, the Westerlands are always ready to strike. Once again, it's all about creating contrast.

Not only that. The fact that all of the Westerlands' regular infantry always wears the same complex plate armor may serve two additional points on top of that; by giving them a much more uniform appearance, it makes them look like a more disciplined army and also emphasizes the Lannisters' near-tyrannical control over his vassals.
The Lannister armor is more militaristic, intimidating, sinister – with a Japanese influence that's quite disarming...I loved the opportunity to work on this series, as you're not tied down to any one period. This was so freeing.                                                               -Simon Brindle, costume armor supervisor-
So, up to this point, we've found out that the key elements of the Western culture are: luxury, ostentation, power, control and a militaristic mindset. And all those are inferred only through their armor. But armor, though the most transparent, is not the only way in which a designer can choose to reflect those traits.

Fashion, particularly cutting-edge fashion, is a good and easy way to differentiate those who have the power (and money) from those who don't. Mainly because it usually is expensive and a tad extravagant.

Accordingly, the designer used a completely different set of influences for the costumes of the Lannisters in order to make them look more fashionable next to their northern enemies. Whilst the Starks favor a more "classic" European medieval style, the designs for the Westerlands lean towards a more Japanese and oriental influence; favoring a bolder cut and a more defined sense of asymmetry and layering.

This is, without a doubt, most noticeable in female fashion.

Here, the designs take clear inspiration from the Japanese Kimono. This makes sense; female medieval clothing did not put any special emphasis on beauty and luxury, but Japanese clothing did do that. And these designs need to be centered around fashion and style. These two concepts, when it comes to female fashion, are a great shorthand to underline luxury, ostentation, and power.

To further emphasize the wealth they possess, the designer used materials as a tool of representation: all of these dresses are made with soft, flowing (and very expensive) silks that contrast heavily with the dyed wool of the northern women. And to make it even more obvious, they added rich, hand-made embroideries on all of those dresses.

All of that creates a visual wealth that helps to quickly link the characters with that wealth.

Another element included in the design that clearly indicates wealth and status is the billowy sleeves. Why? Well, let's say that they aren't very utilitarian. If we focus on real European historical fashion, for a long time, the fact of wearing non-functional/non-utilitarian clothes indicated a higher status. The less utilitarian and comfortable your dress was, the higher status you had.

Brief note; non-utilitarian sleeves are also added to Joffrey's costumes. Those are only there to make him look like a King, because fighting in such sleeves would be a nightmare.

But, that aside, there's another rule they borrow from our reality: cutting-edge fashion is not cutting edge unless it's in constant change. That's why the female dress in the Lannister court is constantly changing (while maintaining the same spirit) steadily throughout the seasons.

These are all iterations of the same concept: showing power and status through always wearing the latest fashion. This is a concept that it's as old as time itself, and it's still in use today. That's why it's so easy for us, the audience, to see this and read that these characters are ambitious and dominant and like displaying their power.

It's very interesting to see the designers apply real-world guidelines to facilitate our understanding of this world and its culture. And it coats this world with an added feeling of truthfulness.

But right now, through these designs, it still hasn't managed to reflect a couple other characteristics essential to the Westerlands: control and a clear militaristic mindset. And, that's why they added the metal belts.

It's pretty telling that Western ladies wear armor-like decorations; it speaks of their aggressiveness and their violence in a fascinating way.

But let's get back to fashion for a moment. Right now you're thinking, that's a good tool, but it's only applicable to women, right? And that's where you'd be wrong. Men can also use fashion to make a power statement. You need only look at representations of Renaissance fashion to see that.

It's only logical, then, that Michele Clapton also used that to create the visual look of the Western male characters.

Westerland men are portrayed wearing leather tunics that favor the same asymmetric overlapped cut as the female dresses, once again confirming the Japanese influence used to further highlight their fashion forwardness in contrast to Northerners.

Because that asymmetry is a defining visual trait of the Westerlands, it's also created in other ways (beyond the overlapped lapels of their coats) to create a sense of variation. In fact, Joffrey is a great example of that: he never wears the same style of coat as Jamie, but his designs still manage to create that asymmetric feel through an extensive use of capes and sashes.

It's also true, that some of the more "straightforward" characters in the family, do not favor that asymmetry. But that mainly affects Tyrion, and he's a sort of an outsider in his own family, so it's normal, in a way.

But, still, everything else about his designs still ties him to the Westerlands: from the recurrent use of House colors to the extremely detailed and luxurious materials.

As with the female designs, the quality and detail of the materials used in all the male costumes put further emphasis on their extensive wealth. Notice how every single one of these costumes is richly decorated, be it a female costume or a male costume.

This favoring of "pretty" clothes, even for men, also gives them a certain pompous air that definitely helps the audience to grasp the characters' personalities really quickly.

Before we wrap up, let's take a moment to talk about the color palette. The funny thing is, that, unlike the North, the Westerlands don't have an ironclad palette. It's true that they favor their house colors (deep reds and maroons and golds), especially when they are in a situation in which they want to assert their power, but they vary quite a lot in their general color scheme. A character like Cersei, for instance, wears, throughout the seasons, every color imaginable (except green, if my memory doesn't fail me). This is meant to highlight, once again, their wide resources. With their wealth, they can afford the best materials, the best dyes, the best everything. So it's only logical that displaying that (instead of anchoring themselves with one specific color palette) becomes just another way for them to boast of their never-ending gold.

In the end, all the aforementioned elements work because they build-up to create a perfectly distinguishable and unique look that reflects their mindset and their cultural environment. Which is what makes these designs truly great.


Much in the same way as it happened with the Stark motto, the Lannister motto is so fitting to their personality, that perfectly serves as the main guideline to create their visual look. Every single design (be it costume or armor) is meant to be a public statement; a statement of wealth, but also of status and power. Their whole image is a claim of dominance over everyone else. Their whole look is an extension of themselves meant to make you "hear them roar".

By radicalizing their style through the use of non-related sources (let's say that Japanese is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about A Song of Ice and Fire), they create a feeling of cutting-edge fashion. Their style is completely unique and different from the rest and that's how they set themselves apart. And not only apart. but above everyone else.

But, the biggest merit of these particular designs is their brilliance when understanding that the key to these cultures and this family is centered around a sense of superiority and constant reinforcement of that superiority. As we stated earlier; it's all about Power Dressing.

It also gives as a proficient masterclass on representing cultures and mentalities. And proofs that you don't need to see the Westerlands in order to understand them; the traces of the land that are found on the people are as important as the land itself.


To read Creating the Seven Kingdoms. Part III, click here. And to read Part IV click here.


If you enjoyed this article and would like to support the blog, 
consider buying me a Coffee? 💛💛

If you want more content like this, subscribe! Or come say hi on FacebookTumblrTwitterInstagram and help us grow!

DISCLAIMER: I claim no credit for images featured on this site unless noted. Visual content is copyrighted to its respective owners, and inclusion here is under fair use for criticism, comment, and news reporting purposes. If you own the rights to content here and wish it removed, please contact me.


Popular posts from this blog

Burning Question: What's wrong with Belle's gown?

Since the first promotional pictures of Disney's new Live-Action remake of Beauty and the Beast hit the internet, there has been a lot of discussion around Belle's iconic ball gown. And, even months after its release in cinemas, there still continues to be a lot of buzz around it. Why? Mainly, because a lot of people feel that it is just doesn't look that good. The thing is, Belle's animated yellow ball gown is, at this point, an iconic staple of animated cinema. Everybody knows it and everybody loves it. And, as a result, everybody can see the new one and say "this is not the costume I know". Therefore, everyone can compare it down to the smallest detail and see that it just doesn't quite look right. Today, my goal will be to try and dissect the design in order to answer the burning question everyone has been asking themselves: what's so wrong with the "new" dress? Or, to put it bluntly, why is it so incredibly underwhelming?

Disney's Cinderella(s) and the evolution of the "princess" aesthetics

Every girl, at some point in life, has wanted to be a princess. It has become undeniable that the concept of the "princess" is, for better or worst, inseparable from girlhood. We live in a "princesses" obsessed era, and we have for a long time now. And a lot has been said about it, with loud people yelling over the internet about the positive and negative aspects of it. So it was about time for me to join the yelling contest, I guess. If I'm going to talk about princesses, the logical place to go is to the Global Mogul Conglomerate that has led the trend and, in many ways, defined it: Disney. They have, undeniably, redefined the fairytale and have turned the term "princess" into a best selling Licensed Entertainment Character Merchandise. The thing is, even though princesses have been part of the fairy tale canon for a very long time, they didn't become the central figure until Walt Disney placed them there. In the tales that the G

Historic Accuracy in Costume Design: The 16th century

I've never been a purist with historical accuracy as long as the changes made have real reasoning behind (generally a narrative or symbolic one). I will always think that La reine Margot (1994) costume design is one of the most gorgeous and smart designs ever, even if said designs' main premise is to purposely bend the period in regards to costume. But there are certain things that bother me in regards to historical accuracy in costume which I realized when I found myself constantly irritated while watching The other Boleyn Girl (2008). This led me to post a question: when is it right to bend history? why is it interesting sometimes? whilst other times it's simply horrendous? To me, when these changes are made for the narrative's sake, I'm usually on board (like the 2012's "Anna Karenina" designs, which mixed the 1870's fashion with 1950's fashion in order to enhance the sense of theatricality and falsehood in Imperial Russia). But wh

Crimson Peak: Dressing Edith Cushing. The Butterfly

"Beautiful things are fragile" - Lucille Sharpe - Opposite Lucille stands our main character in the movie: Edith Cushing, a young and naive American with ambitions to become a writer. She meets and falls in love with a handsome and charming, but impoverished, English baronet: Sir Thomas Sharpe. They eventually marry and return to England, to the Sharpe's dilapidated mansion: Allerdale Hall. There they live with Thomas's sister: Lucille. The deadly apparitions that haunt the house will force Edith to slowly uncover the buried secrets of Crimson Peak. And so, Edith is to become a fragile butterfly caught in a moth's trap. PART II: THE BUTTERFLY Edith has considerably more frocks and gowns than Lucille does. It's only logical. Edith is our protagonist and, as such, has a bigger emotional arc throughout the movie, and she undergoes bigger changes. These are, in part, expressed through the costumes she wears and how these change throughout the mo

A look into Star Wars: Padme's Dresses. Annex B

Love her or hate her, Padme and her costumes can never be far from our minds. They are too iconic, and probably one of the few memorable aspects of the prequels, so it's really fun to talk about them. And so, I've decided to continue what I started and focus on the costumes I left behind from Episode II . So let's dive back into it! A BRIEF REMINDER What are the Annexes? Well, the Annexes focus on all the costumes that were "left behind" in my selection of Padme Costumes for the A look into Star Wars: Padme's Dresses series. Here, I point out influences, likes, and dislikes, and anything that might feel relevant whilst digging into the gigantic wardrobe of this Galactic Queen. With this out of the way, let's go! ANNEX B: THE ATTACK OF THE CLONES Episode II: The Attack of the Clones brings the character and her designs to a completely different level; she is not a queen anymore, which unfortunately means that she no longer has amazingly weird an

Crimson Peak: Dressing Lady Lucille Sharpe. The Moth

"At home, we have only black moths. Formidable creatures, to be sure, but they lack beauty. They thrive on the dark and the cold." - Lucille Sharpe - CRIMSON PEAK is Guillermo del Toro's new film. Released this past October, the movie is written by del Toro himself and Mathew Robbins (who has also collaborated with the likes of Spielberg and Lucas throughout his career). The movie aims to be a gothic romance movie through and through, and it stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. The story goes as follows: Edith Cushing, a young budding American author, meets and falls in love with a handsome and charming but impoverished English baronet: Sir Thomas Sharpe. They eventually marry and return to England, to the Sharpe's dilapidated mansion: Allerdale Hall. There they live with Thomas's sister: Lucille. The deadly apparitions that haunt the house will force Edith to slowly uncover the buried secrets of Crimson Peak. In the movie

Moulin Rouge and the art of Kitsch

The spring of 2001 saw the release of Moulin Rouge! unexpectedly shake the movie industry and the box office simultaneously. Despite the many awards, including 8 nominations at the Academy Awards, and the impressive box office numbers, the movie quickly became very polarizing for audiences. Love and hate seemed to be the only two possible reactions to the movie itself. But that should not come as a surprise. The film was directed by Baz Luhrman, who has consistently been, throughout his career, one of the most polarizing filmmakers of his generation. I still have to meet anyone who simply doesn't mind his movies (which include Romeo+Juliet , Australia and The Great Gatsby ); it's either absolute love or absolute loathing. There is no middle ground with him. And that's mainly because he himself doesn't compromise when it comes to his style, which is so characteristic at this point (fast and frantic editing, vivid use of flashy colors and sparkle and stories a

Marie Antoinette: Working with an historical basis

A couple of months ago, I talked extensively about the narrative aspect of the designs for 2006's  Marie Antoinette (see here ). But that's only one half of the story. This movie is, after all, a period piece, so let's have a look at how they translated that period into the costumes. MARIE ANTOINETTE : WORKING WITH AN HISTORICAL BASIS Period accurate pieces are actually the hardest to get by; that is because clothing in past centuries was way more complex and expensive than our 21st century standards. Because of this, most costume designers end up being constricted by their allotted budgets and have to make compromises with accuracy. This was not the case with this movie. Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette had a rather large budget, which allowed renowned designer Milena Canonero the freedom to create period-accurate pieces (the inaccuracies were only added for narrative purposes, not budget constrictions). Because of this, Canonero decided to work off

The Costume Vault Anniversary!

Good day, beautiful readers!! First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! Today is a very special day for me, here at The Costume Vault . It's our anniversary!!! We're celebrating our third anniversary! Though to be honest, I didn't actually start this project seriously until last year... So, I'm a three-year-old, with the experience of a one-year-old...? Oh, who cares. Today, three years ago, I published our first article ever. So, today is a day of celebration. This project started out of a deep love for movies and costuming and a need to share that. And also boredom... I had quite the free time back then, to be honest. But the project took off, and now I continue even when I don't have as much free time. But it's worth it because I get to share my love for movies and costuming with you. To this day, I've written sixty articles, most of which I am quite proud of indeed. And what's even better, you seem to enjoy reading

The Dressmaker. Part I: A glamorous outsider

2015's The Dressmaker is the wet dream of any costume lover in all of its 120 minutes of runtime. The Aussie film directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse is the adaptation of the Rosalie Ham's homonymous novel. After quite an impressive run in the Festival Circuit (it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival) and garnishing numerous nominations and wins worldwide, it finally got a theatrical release, becoming a box office success and the 11th highest-grossing film of all time in its home country. So there certainly was a lot of hype around it when I finally got to see it and had a lot of expectations to live up to. ABOUT THE MOVIE So, is the movie actually that good? ... Sort of? Well, it's complicated. That's my official review tagline: it's complicated . The thing is; the movie has a ton of problems of all sorts. A lot of it doesn't work, but what does work, works really well. Let's start with the negatives. First of all, the movie is a t