Guest Essay: Analyzing the Armor of Margaery Tyrell
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Costuming and Character Choices: Analyzing the Armor of Margaery Tyrell

By Hogan McLaughlin

As an artist, designer and loyal Game of Thrones watcher with an obsessive need to dissect the smallest of design elements when it comes to costumes and styling, I felt the need to put that compulsion into writing, instead of letting it brew in my head, leading me to premature insanity (it’s inevitable).Those in the fandom that are familiar with my art know that I’m a big Margaery fan, almost obnoxiously so, and her costumes in season two were really the jumping-off point for a series of analyses dealing with some of the major characters in the series.Obviously characters like Arya, Jaime, and even Catelyn to an extent are harder to pick apart because they’ve been wearing nearly the same costume since the end of season one.  The obvious players for costume analysis are Margaery, Cersei, Sansa, and Daenerys because they have the most material (no pun intended) to work with, and so that’s where I began.

I’ll refrain from comparing the show to the books because Michele Clapton has really done a fine job in creating a world that is entirely its own.  Also, I have no affiliation with HBO or Michele Clapton, so these are my own interpretations, opinions, and thoughts on the costuming of Game of Thrones.

stormsendWe meet Margaery Tyrell in season two at a tourney in Storm’s End, wearing a light blue ensemble with a very low cut neckline.  This is in stark contrast to Cersei’s tourney outfit in season one, where she has a shapeless shawl, completely covering her.  Still, oddly enough, this is the most covered up we’ve ever seen Margaery in the series  This is also the only time we have ever seen her in true Tyrell green, given to us by the underscarf she wears beneath her cropped jacket.  The baby blue we see Margaery so often wear is to show the softness and delicacy of her character.  Using bold colors with these silhouettes would really drive home the “harlot” feel, so the blue works to soften the impact of the low necklines, for example.

This look is definitely one of the more chaotic ensembles when you dissect each element.  Impactful, yes, but bordering on overwrought.  This is used to make sure the audience knows that they’ve just been introduced a wealthy girl, and a girl who is so obviously not from the North or King’s Landing.  She dons a billowing cape with structured shoulders that give a sense of armor.  It is interesting to note the armor-like aspect of most of Margaery’s season two outfits.  She spends the majority of the season at Renly’s camp in Storm’s End while the Tyrell/Baratheon forces prepare for war.  Without the security of castle walls for protection, perhaps this is her more feminine way of being always armed and on guard for whatever is in store.

nightIt cannot be denied that in the show, Margaery strategically uses her femininity as a tactic in maneuvering courtly intrigue, but it is funny to note that what might be her most revealing gown is worn to seduce Renly.  Even funnier is that she knows that seducing Renly is a long shot, but hopes for the best.  Though she only has it on for a few seconds, this gown still echoes the stiff armor-like feel in the bodice.  This particular gown is very appealing and I wish we could have spent more time with it.  It is simple and not overly designed, yet it is made to be, quite literally, a throw-away gown.

cone2We witness Margaery’s armor full-on with her infamous “cone-dress”.  She wears this in two scenes, and is speaking with Littlefinger in both.  She knows this is a man with whom you must always be on your guard, and this is reflected in the heavy satins and silk embroidery, but she keeps her shoulders exposed just enough to maintain a feminine air.  It should be noted, fast forward to Cersei’s “open heart” line in Season 3, Episode 1, that Margaery does indeed keep her heart open very often by way of plunging necklines.  Ironically, she wears these necklines in scenes where you know she’s being pragmatic and not 100% open, yet she is completely covered when she tells Littlefinger point-blank that she wants to be THE queen.

heartIn the season two finale, we see Margaery has made it to King’s Landing wearing a familiar silhouette, but the armor feeling is gone.  Here she is in her element , so there is no need for extraneous items like Cersei’s golden breastplate.  The staging of the scene is interesting because again, Margaery’s “open heart” is exposed to those she is playing so to speak (Joffrey and Cersei), but she is positively matronly from the viewpoints of Loras and Littlefinger— two people with whom she has spoken freely during the course of the season.  Sansa is to her side creating an uncertainty in future interactions.  Margaery is neither exposed, nor “exposed” to Sansa.  On a side note, I think it is hilariously strategic that they keep her hair swept off of her shoulders.  Otherwise, given Margaery’s signature design elements of season two, she might as well have had no costume at all.

childrenAt the beginning of season three, we see Margery make her way, unannounced, to a Flea Bottom orphanage.  Here, she is wearing the exact same gown from the season two finale only without sleeves, and she’s swapped her brown underscarf for a more modest, child-friendly blue.  This seems to be her way of sartorially severing her ties from Renly and his alleged claim in the eyes of Joffrey.  She is willing to wade through the discarded contents of chamber pots in this dress stating, “I have others,” and indeed she does, as this is the last time we see her in this silhouette. 

msHer next scene features a light blue gown with side cutouts –– a very modern design element for what is meant to portray a medieval society.  This is the first time we see her interacting with Joffrey in an intimate setting—yes, Cersei and Loras are present but 90% of her reason for wearing this particular gown is to see how Joffrey will react, and how much she can use her femininity to manipulate him.  He is amusingly oblivious and even offers to fetch her a shawl to keep her from being chilled.  The other 10% of her intentions seem to come from an underlying enjoyment in pitting herself against the older and more insecure Cersei.  This is also where we get Cersei’s “open heart” line showing that she is clearly not buying what Margaery is selling. 

We see this gown again in a different episode when Margaery is consoling Sansa after the betrothal to Tyrion.  It’s as if Margaery thinks she may have lost Sansa’s trust after the plans to marry Sansa to Loras failed.  She pulls out the revealing dress not to play Sansa, or seduce her (that’s another essay for the Sangaery shippers), but as her tactic to prove to her that she is open and willing to maintain their relationship as allies and friends.

Regarding the three main women in King’s Landing, the color scheming for season three is rather blatantly evocative of each character’s persona.  Cersei is perpetually in Lannister red, boldly trying to assert her power, Sansa in a muted mauve, blending in with her surroundings in an attempt to remain off of the Lannister radar, and Margaery is in baby blue yet again, giving her an aura of serenity and grace.  Aside from Sansa’s wedding gown, we never see these three women diverge from their respective colors.

babyblue

Backtracking to when Sansa is first invited to visit with Margaery and Olenna, Margaery is wearing a completely backless blue gown with gold embroidery, but her hair is worn down in a way that it covers her back almost completely.  Perhaps she knows that Sansa doesn’t need to be heavily manipulated through skin exposure, but she and Olenna are also feeling Sansa out, so they have no need for persuasive tactics yet.

She wears the same gown, and same hairstyle, to Joffrey’s chambers, after Sansa lets the truth about him slip.  Her sexuality alone won’t control him, so she remains relatively covered, but she knows she can use it in tandem with attempts to appeal to his sadistic side.  It should be noted that when he holds her while she is handling the crossbow, her exposed back is pressed to him, furthering her pragmatic approach to skin exposure.  She knows when she needs to deploy it. 

She wears this gown yet again when she meets with Sansa to propose a marriage to Loras.  In this scene, we see her with her hair pulled back for the first time in the “Lady Margaery wears her hair like that” style.  A subtle way of influencing Sansa with the latest trends of the kingdoms, but also showing a bit more skin reading:  I like you and want you to be happy, but my family comes first so I am not above a little manipulation for the greater good.”

mjThe gown that Margaery wears while exploring the Sept features bold detailing, the boldest being brown structured appliqués on the shoulders.  The boldness in the gown may be representative of her audacity in suggesting that she and Joffrey greet the masses outside.  The structured shoulders harken back to her Storm’s End armor approach to fashion—- -she believes her influence will make everything okay, but she is still on her guard.  Margaery wears this again when she and Sansa are watching Loras spar, evoking Loras’ armor. 

cerseimMargaery’s last scenes of season three take place during Sansa’s wedding to Tyrion.  She is wearing a gown that is almost a replica of her backless blue and gold gown from earlier, except the gold embroidery is much more prominent and deeper in this version.  This is, for one, because it is at a dressier occasion, but also to show that the Tyrell family is a major financial force in King’s Landing, and to remind the Lannisters that the Tyrells are not only paying for half of the upcoming royal wedding, but they are also helping the royal family climb out of the hole they’ve dug themselves into over the past two seasons.  Again, Margaery wears her hair in the “Lady Margaery” way— this could be her Highgarden/Reach version of the courtly updos, but it also serves as her armor— her skin is her armor— her attempt to try to show that she is utterly impenetrable to Cersei’s plotting and Joffrey’s psychopathy.

All in all, Margaery’s outfits have made for deeper discussion and have brought greater attention to the costuming in Game of Thrones, be it positive or negative.  She seems to be bringing a kind of fashion Renaissance to a previously heavy and conservatively medieval King’s Landing.  Personally, I wish she was outfitted in a less overtly modern way, but I think her costumes definitely bring a great deal of insight into her character, and they are undoubtedly striking, especially when compared to her capital counterparts.  Let’s see what the fourth season and an impending wedding bring for us in the way of fashion and character.

Hogan McLaughlin is a fashion designer and artist.  He has been profiled by The New York Times, Vogue, and WWD, among others.


27 Comments

  1. D'Arcy
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Natalie Dormer has been doing a spectacular job with Margaery. I’m very excited to see where the books take her storyline.

  2. Josh Parker
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I have often wondered why series Margaery dresses so revealingly, but the fact that it’s referenced in universe makes me think they’re either going somewhere with it, or that it’s just her character to distract people with her looks while she goes about her business.

    To be honest, I think I like this Margaery better. It’s pretty clear that in a battle of wits between herself and Joffrey, she’d eviscerate him. The one from the books is pretty nondescript.

  3. Victor
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Hodor…for my friend D’Arcy.

  4. Dan Spicer
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I think the tarp covering Cersei at the Season One tourny was worn becasue she was pregnant.

  5. biobi
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm…

    Any new castings yet?

  6. Ours is the Fury
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Dan Spicer,

    Cersei wore smaller items of clothing in season 1, so she didn’t need to be covered up so drastically as she was at the tourney. Lena wasn’t quite so visibly pregnant as all that.

    biobi,

    They’d be posted if there were any. :)

  7. Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Josh Parker,

    SPOILER so if you haven’t read all the books to date, don’t look!

    In the books, Cersei accuses Margaery of being a slut, which is clearly unacceptable in that society for a woman of her position. Cersei does it to reduce or eliminate Margaery’s power. The irony is that Margaery isn’t punished for the supposed behavior (at least no so far as I remember) but later on Cersei is accused similarly and she does get punished. That’s when the big payoff will come. Cersei who has been covered up throughout the series will be complete exposed and shamed. It’s been made pretty clear that Cersei thinks Margaery’s outfits to be unacceptable precisely because it will make the impact of future story lines that much stronger.

    Outside of the story arc, I think the main reason for Margaery’s “expsoure” is pretty clear–it’s just good storytelling. We know that women demonstrate and use power in different ways and the story is simply presenting a variety of strong female characters by giving them different methods of wielding power in their pursuit of the throne. It creates tension and it helps explain why Margaery can fool Joffrey but not Cersei. Margaery relies on her beauty to distract and seduce and her wits to read people and learn how to remain pleasant and non-threatening. And this works pretty well with men in general, witness Joffrey. The women competing with her particularly the savvy and ambitious women like Cersei would see her as threatening. Sansa doesn’t because she’s naive and not ambitious. As McLaughlin notes above the contrast with Cersei is important to understanding their characters. Cersei uses her attractiveness as well but not in as overt a manner — in the books it is different, she uses her physical beauty a lot more IMHO to persuade the men around her to do things. The key difference is that while Margaery talks sweet in a covert manner, her body sends out an unmistakable overt message. In essence, she represents the traditional representation of feminine power. Cersei is the opposite. She speaks directly–she threatens and bribes and asserts her power like a man but she keeps her body covered. (And this is in keeping with show Cersei…..she resents the fact that she was born a woman and she doesn’t love Jaime so much as she wants to BE him).

  8. Morgan King
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s worth noting how explicitly vulva-like her neckline in photos 1 and 4 are – representing desire, fertility, AND the flowers of Highgarden in a Georgia O’Keefe fashion.

  9. FlayedManofBK
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    biobi,

    I wonder if we’ll get the GRRM guessing game or if he’s so busy writing that they’ll release them all at one at Comicon like last year..

  10. Omar Brown
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    She has been one of my favorites to watch this season, such more fun than her enigmatic book character. Next season should be even more fun!

  11. biobi
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    ask and you shall receive

  12. Lyanna_Targaryen
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    This article was really interesting! Margaery is one of the best players in the Game. She somehow married Renly, and then after his death-by-shadow-baby, got herself betrothed to her late husband’s enemy, all without a spot on her. Women in and of themselves have very little physical power in Westeros (Brienne is the outlier); they must depend on their wits and wiles to keep themselves safe and secure.

    Love Marge, and love her costumes!

  13. St.Orpheia
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Josh Parker,

    In regards to your line about the book version of Margaery being nondescript, you have to remember that we only seen her from Cersei, Tyrion, and Sansa’s points of view. Part of why the show version of Marg is so great is because we get to see those moments alone with Joffrey, alone with Littlefinger in the tent, when she is really scheming.

  14. Maester Tcost
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I loved seeing this article and would be very pleased to see similar ones about Dani, Cersei, and especially Sansa.

    It surprises me somewhat that we see Margaery from Tyrion’s point of view, and that he never seems attracted to her. Come to think of it, he never seems very attracted to Sansa, either. Maybe noble women just aren’t his thing.

    I agree that Natalie Dormer has brought a lot to the role; I wish that we had seen much more of her. Given the material in the books, she won’t have even as much to do in Season 4 as she had in Season 3, and I dearly hope that Benioff and Weiss give her much, much more material. Perhaps some of her Feast storyline can be brought forward into the later part of Season 4.

    And as much as I enjoy this intelligent discussion of Margaery’s clothing — a contrast between Margaery’s fashions and Cersei’s may be instructive as time goes on, and it would be great if we could see the other ladies of the court beginning to shift from wearing the sorts of things that Cersei wears to wearing the sorts of things that Margaery does — I have to admit that if it were up to me, Natalie Dormer would play more of her scenes nude…

  15. WildSeed
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Loved the ” cone dress “. From costume to script, each character & actor’s
    strong points are conveyed well onscreen. Well done.

  16. Turncloak
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Natalie is so beautiful : ]

  17. Red Hound
    Posted June 29, 2013 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    Margaery (and the Queen of Thorns) is a good example of a feminine character who seems to be on a supporting/submissive position, but is strong and charismatic.

  18. Tar Kidho
    Posted June 29, 2013 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    I’m not exactly into fashion, so to me personally this essay feels a bit like an example of fan-induced over-analysis, but it definitely is an interesting analysis nonetheless. It would be interesting to hear from the designers if some of the theories on the different dresses strike true.

    Also, I feel for the author as just after the posting of this article the Red Viper happened to happen, stealing all of the attention…

    Maester Tcost: would be very pleased to see similar ones about Dani

    Daenerys has, in my unprofessional opinion, by far the worst clothing…

  19. Gorrean
    Posted June 29, 2013 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for a fascinating article! I love it when pros give their insight on their craft as seen in the show.
    And please carry on with Dany, Cersei and Sansa.

  20. sunspear
    Posted June 29, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    St.Orpheia,

    Eh, the book version of margaery always struck me as being the female version of renly, attractive and good at politics/manipulating people but otherwise not that smart. She just hasn’t done anything especially clever in five books other than kill Joffrey, and that was likely planned in large part by little finger.

  21. Closet Romantic
    Posted June 29, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    This is a great article thanks for posting it showing the art and artistry of the show and a place where it can diverge from the books without threatening cannon or creating a geeks torn of outrage ( and Roberts hair was not black enough how expensive is hair dye).

    Dont limit your self to female characters Renly and Loras where supposed to be well dressed and Littlefinger uses clothing as a means of making a point in th book but not having your eye haven’t noticed in the show. In the books many of the characters dress to a theme reflecting their role and their heraldry, the show has to make them more real people less archetypal but like the ladies the lords of .Westeros use all that they can to make an impression.

    This was great because it showed that clothes and fashion when used as art can create an image and a context, something that is happening more and more in the modern world people are dressing for effect and have a confected look. Margery does it better than most

    I feel better informed about the show about art and about the use of image and fashion in the modern media.

    Has the writer written abou other shows say Madmen or Trueblood?

  22. freoduwebbe
    Posted June 29, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks for a fun article. I love the costuming in this show – and seeing how it’s been used t project depths of a character has been great.
    do more.

  23. hoganmclaughlin
    Posted June 29, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Closet Romantic,

    Thanks for your comment. To answer your question, the only other shows I’ve sort of explored are The Borgias and Rome- not quite in this depth, though.

  24. Chickenduck
    Posted June 30, 2013 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    This is probably the best guest essay I’ve read on WiC.net. I find Margaery much more interesting in the show than the book, much more intelligent – and I think most fans miss the point of things like costume design in developing characters.

    E.g. Dany’s costuming says a lot about her relatively simplistic view of the world.

    I’m interested to see the Dany-Daario story play out in S4 and get some analysis of how they’ve developed him via costuming, general visual design etc.

    I’m SO glad they didn’t do him like the book description… He establishes Dany’s “type” – at the end of the day, she’s still a teenager and a sucker for pretty, muscular bad boy types with long hair who look like they might be wearing a bit of makeup.

  25. 3eyes
    Posted June 30, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    It’s a relief to know that others are as obsessed as I am with the costumes. Even the lowborns are put together so meticulously that I am frequently distracted by the workmanship and lose track or the unfolding story. Particularly impressive to me this season has been the skill of the costumier in creating an erect posture for Dame Diana, who has considerable slump, through the design of her dress. Hoping to see a new headdress for her next season. The high quality and artistry of the sets and costumes, for me, place this production in a class by itself.

  26. liztso
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    I am so glad to see a WiC.net essay about costuming!! I think Michele Clapton has done an absolutely amazing job with GoT. Not many can unite practicality with aesthetics like she can. Although I’ll have to agree with another commenter that this essay seems a bit over-analyzed. While I have no doubt that Clapton has put this level of thought into the practical and anthropological aspects, I think the character intentions are probably more of a less-conscious suggestion. Regardless, I really enjoyed your essay and I want to see more! Especially of Dany, Cersei, and Sansa -and maybe even the servant girls in general, as they all seem to wear some variation of that drapey thing. Cross-cultural comparisons would also be an interesting vein to investigate.

    I hope you continue to have late night compulsions that find release here on WiC.net, because you certainly have an audience in me! Keep it up and thanks for posting!


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