There are many visually arresting, gorgeous gowns in the world of Game of Thrones, worn by a plethora of female forces to be reckoned with; but what I love about the show is that it showcases badass tomboy girls who's beauty of spirit does not always have to be tied to femme-fabulous garms. Some of George R.R. Martin's lady leads prefer the adventurous life to an adventurous wardrobe: Take the youngest of Ned's daughters Arya Stark's costumes, for example, or the King Arthur-worthy armor worn by Brienne of Tarth.I find myself rooting for Arya particularly because of her strong sense of self, which has enabled her to slip catlike from King's Landing and navigate her way through the trickiest and scariest of situations. Most comfortable in a Westerosi male role, more confident with her sword "Needle" than a sewing needle, Arya rejects the ladylike conventions of her mythical society as a gender bending icon. Go Arya!Now, I love a good Seven Kingdoms' hairstyle and Daenerys Targaryen gown just as much as any costume-obsessed Game of Thrones fan, but Arya Stark's costumes are just as complex in their visual stories and narrative merit as costume designer Michele Carragher's more ostentatious creations.
So without further ado, let us track our very favorite gamine garçonne on her quest for revenge, justice, and knowledge via her subtly fascinating garb.
We meet Arya, safe in her family home of Winterfell. Although she is probably in the most secure position she ever exists in throughout the show so far, Arya is anything but able to express her true self in more than play. In her first appearance on camera, we see Arya sulking over her hated embroidery, evil-eyeing her "perfect lady" sister, Sansa. We quickly learn than Arya is at odds with her societal expectations as a woman in Westeros. Dressed in a blue "princess" style gown with long, draped sleeves, traditional "Northern" knotted details, and a high embroidered collar in a delicate natural blue — the mirror of her mother's — the little Stark looks anything but comfortable. Arya Stark's hair is tied up in a fancy braided style, which is coming lose, showing her lack of thought to her appearance. This girl has other things on her mind.
My favorite shot of Arya from the first season, pictured above, shows her wrapped up in her winter cloak to receive the royal family. As she watches the Lannister/Baratheon entourage trot into Winterfell, she dons a soldier's hat, playfully. This sweet act of dress up really showcases Arya's character. Although she is but a child here, and engaging in an act of fun, her wearing a helmet is both whimsical and significant. It presents Arya as a puckish and adventurous spirit, a spritely character, as well as visually showing her dreams of becoming a knight or swordsperson.
During her spat with the future king, Joffrey, in which Arya defends her friend Mycah against the prince's threats, the little Stark styles her Northern gown boyishly. Her sweet blue dress worn earlier is barely recognizable, toughened by a leather belt — which is likely borrowed from Mycah to prevent her skirt from inhibiting her from running. The princess sleeves are removed for ease of movement using the eyelets at the armholes, the traditional undershirt worn visibly in a casual, disheveled way, the opposite of her put-together sister. Arya's sartorial values lie in comfort rather than looking the part of a lady.Arya's hair, too, unlike Sansa's free flowing maiden-locks, are tied up practically to keep out of her eyes. Her face is muddied from frolicking in fields.
As the Stark girls accompany their father to King's Landing, and he becomes Hand of the King, Arya's garb grows more monochrome. Out of the sight of her beloved mother, Arya Stark is finally able to dress less and less like a "lady."
Gone is the girlish Tully blue; instead, Arya opts for shades of brown, beige, grey, and black. Perhaps because they don't show mud stains so much! Her garb is definitely still "feminine," with her shift dress and shirt combo. Still, it is much less fancy than Sansa's evermore Cersei-influenced garms.
Due to her father's understanding nature and support of his little fighter of a daughter, Arya begins training with the Braavosi "dancing master" Syrio Forel, who becomes her sword fighting teacher and mentor. Finally, Arya is able to pull on a pair of trousers and leave the shift dresses behind.
Arya still wears the (pretty awesome, in my opinion) undershirt from her Winterfell days, but now she wears it as a man would. The gathered collar is tied with rustic string, and the fabric is always dirtied from her active lifestyle studying the cats of King's Landing and practicing her balancing skills.Arya's shoes, too, are swapped for practical leather boots and she always has Needle at her side. She wears a pretty badass apron-skirt about her waist for protection and to mirror her teacher's Braavosi garb. She no longer styles her hair in a slightly courtly fashion, instead pulling it away from her face in a half ponytail. Arya can finally spend her days persuing her passions. She is one happy little Stark.
The last Northern lady's dress Arya ever wears is again edging towards the monochrome grey end of the color spectrum, but retains the blue tones of her Tully-Stark heritage. The high embroidered collar, knotted details, and undershirt hark back to her mother's garb, but Arya looks and acts very uncomfortable. At least she was allowed to remove the awkwardly voluminous sleeves! At the joust she wears this hated outfit to, it is clear Arya would rather be on horseback with her own joust than sitting pretty watching the knights stick long spears at each other, like a high-born lady. Her face wears a scowl throughout, and we never again see her wear high-born female clothing.
After the Lannister guards come to cease Arya whilst Syrio is giving her a sword fighting lessons, as trouble kicks off for her father after being accused as a traitor, she runs away and easily blends in on the streets of King's Landing. Poor Arya's dirtied face, greasy hair, and the fact that her androgynous clothing is most probably an amalgamation of her father's and other men's altered clothing (she is the queen of thrift) helps her slip through the streets and sleep rough unnoticed.
Once she witnesses her father's cruel execution, Yoren helps her on her way to The Wall to seek shelter with her Nightswatchman half brother, Jon Snow, by cutting her hair like a boy's and renaming her Arry the orphan. The first of Arya's many alter egos.
Seasons 2, 3, 4
Season 2 sees Arya Stark meet Jaqen H'ghar, a Faceless Man of Braavos, through her troublesome quest trying to get to The Wall. Yoren dresses Arya in the more practical clothing of a leather, armor-like jacket atop her famous Northern shirt, to make her look more like a willing recruit for the Night's Watch. She also sports a hand-me-down thick man's belt that is far too big for her, giving her the thrown together quality of a low-born pleasant.
It is interesting to note that, just like her mother, who is currently also trying to be less Stark-spicuous, Arya wears a dark grey scarf about her neck, identical to Cat's. Wherever the Starks go, and however far apart they are, the costume team always make references between them to show the family's solidarity. (Take Sansa's "Needle" necklace in season 5, for example.)Arya has Needle taken from her in the scuffle in which she, along with Gendry — Robert's bastard in hiding — are seized by the Lannisters, but still manage to hide their identities. Arya's anonymity proves to be just as powerful as her dangerous accessory, however; even if anyone with any sense, including Tyrion Lannister, can sniff out her true gender.
Season 3 was a eventful one for our favorite little garçonne. She runs away from the Lannisters, is captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners, has a face off with Melisandre for buying her pal Gendry, runs away again only to be captured by The Hound, and has false hope of being reunited to her family (by being sold but, c'est la vie), only to arrive to see her brother's dead body with his direwolf's head sewn to it! Sucks to be Arya.Sartorially, too, the poor girl hasn't had a change of clothes for what must be months. Her dirtied threads are becoming evermore worn, her face cut, her hair limp and unwashed. She looks rough, the poor thing, and yet with every scar and every hardship, Arya Stark grows stronger, more cunning, and more badass. Like her sister Sansa, Arya is a survivor.
Season 4 sees Arya 's complex relationship with The Hound play out, as they travel together, Arya as his hostage, towards the Eyrie. As her Aunt Lysa had recently been murdered by Littlefinger, they turn around to leave, only to meet with Brienne of Tarth.
Brienne duels The Hound for Arya, who she swore to her now dead mother to protect, and wins, leaving The Hound on the verge of death. Arya escapes them both, ambivalently failing to cross The Hound from her death list. We last see Arya changing her plans to sail to The Wall to reunite with Jon Snow, instead boarding a ship to Braavos and Jaqen H'agard.
Costume and props wise, Arya is still dressed in the deteriorating clothing Yoren gave her as a boy's disguise. Significantly, though, Arya claims back her sword Needle, and avenges her friend's death using it.
It is interesting that, as Arya begins to prove herself as a mini force to be reckoned with to her captor, The Hound, that she is reunited with her Needle. Her prop serves to empower her both visually and practically.
Seasons 5, So Far...
Season 5, thus far, has been very significant in terms of Arya and her character and costume development. Being taken in by The House of Black and White, and learning to become a Faceless Man, Arya's costume and character have finally begun to shift and change with narrative merit. As Arya's garb in seasons 2 to 4 served more a practical purpose, the littlest Stark daughter's costume and her relationship towards it grow evermore symbolic.Arriving in Braavos, and after trial and tribulations, finally being accepted by the Faceless Man who previously went by the name Jaquen H'ghar, Arya was still dressed in her grubby runaway clothes. As she tries to prove herself able of shedding an identity and lying to truly become "faceless," the Faceless Man rightly points out that she cannot become truly "no one" whilst dressed in the clothes of Arya Stark. This is the point when Arya throws all her previous possessions into the lake. All except Needle.Her sword's ability to empower Arya and its connection to her half brother, Jon Snow — who gifted it to her — show that although she has no attachment to pretty trinkets and feminine dresses, Arya does have a sense of sentimentality with objects and is learning the importance of clothing as a disguise or second skin.
This is the first time since her courtly early childhood, too, that we see Arya wear traditionally female clothing. She adopts the anonymous black sack dress and white undershirt worn by The Waif, another apprentice under Jaqen. She is also cleaned up, her short hair neatly styled. Although she is learning to be Faceless, Arya is once again visually presenting herself as a girl, albiet the shadow of one. The garb of the apprentices of The House of Black and White is neutral, minimal, and practical. It's utilitarian quality is more that of a uniform, however, than Arya's shabby traveling clothes. The linen cloths and simple cuts are unassuming, plain, and pseudonymous rendering their wearers homogenous Jane Doe's.It seems that Arya's character is about to put her newfound knowledge of the power of clothing to the test, as sneak previews of her new Braavosi sartorial styles have been flooding the Internet. Arya Stark's new costume of flowing teal skirts with folkloric embroidered waistbands, leather belts, white shirts, and embellished, structural bolero jackets combined with a Princess Leia style take on the Westerosi braids are set to clothe the little Stark later this season. I wonder who's face she will be wearing, and whether she will be finally reunited with her family — if they recognize her...
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