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.
We 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.
It 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.
We 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.
In 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.
At 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.
Her 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.
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.”
The 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.
Margaery’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.