Skip to main content

Creating the Seven Kingdoms. Part II: The Westerlands

Last time we dove into the complex and intricate world of Game of Thrones, we focused on how the North, and its culture, was represented and reinforced through the Costume Design (read here). Today, we are going to continue our 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 we focused on the most beloved family of all Westeros, it's only fair we continue this by focusing on the most hated: the Lannisters.

Originally, we weren't going to focus on the Westerlands, because we've never been there on the show or in the books. But then we started talking 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. Which 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 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 on 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 a 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. Which 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 designs that clearly indicates wealth and status is the billowy sleeves. Why? Well, let's say that they aren't very utilitarian. And, 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, but 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.

This 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 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 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 to understand them; the traces of the land that are found on the people are as important as the land itself.


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe! or follow us on Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter and help us grow!


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


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, our 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?

This might n…

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 us to join the yelling contest, I guess.
If we're 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 Grimm Brothers…

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 us, here at The Costume Vault. It's our anniversary!!! We're celebrating our third anniversary! Though to be honest, we didn't actually start this project seriously until last year... So, we're a three year old, with the experience of a one year old...? Oh, who cares. Today, three years ago, we 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.... we had quite the free time back then, to be honest. But the project took off, and now we continue even when we don't have as much free time. But it's worth it, because we get to share our love for movies and costuming with you.
To this day, we've written sixty articles, most of which we are quite proud indeed. And what's even better, you seem to enjoy reading them…

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 we 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 our 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 tonal shipwrec…

The Dressmaker. Part II: Makeover fever

The dressmaker, despite its many flaws is a fascinating movie to look at. And what makes it particularly interesting for us, is that it's a movie where the Costume Design happens to be what drives most of the visual narrative of the story.
Last week we had a look at Tilly's costume (by Margot Wilson) and how these define her and her arc throughout the movie, but, no matter how impressive Tilly's wardrobe is, it's only one half of the picture. It's Marion Boyce's work on the townsfolk around our main character that completes this mesmerizing ensemble. Because of it, we feel it would be unfair to ignore this other half, and therefore chose to divide this into two parts in order to better develop each of the sides.
And so, without further ado, let's dive into the other half of this equation. DUNGATAR AND THE MAKEOVER FEVER Dungatar is a fictional run-down street of houses in the middle of the Australian outback that tries to disguise itself as a town. It's…