This post contains information about Game of Thrones up to season 6, episode 7.
Full disclosure: this week we were planning to post our style retrospective of Westeros Wine Mom Cercei Lannister (#RIP Cercei’s wig) but in true GoT form, the final thirty seconds of the latest episode got us obsessing over Arya Stark. Following the ostentatious dresses of our previous post subjects Sansa and Daenerys, it’s fascinating to see how subtly her costuming has been helping both reinforce and work against her self-proclaimed “the girl has no name” persona. While on some levels, Arya has a greater level of independence than many of the women on this show, on another level she’s had less of a chance than anyone to really figure out who she is and what she wants. Yes, she’s wanted to be a ninja from an early age and OK, she wrote her kill list while prepubescent but: who is Arya Stark, really? She’s mysterious even to herself, but what we know about her we can largely learn through her costumes from season one to now. hile the viewing audience were distractedresses, we didn’t notice that the costume department was telling us everything we need to know about Arya through her costumes.
Season one: Forget the haters ’cause somebody loves ya
We first meet Arya in the very first episode as she grumpily fumbles her way through a stitching circle with her girlie older sister and other ladies. She may be wearing a blue dress with knotted trim, similar to Sansa’s and her mother’s, but it’s clear Arya is cut from a different cloth (so to speak). Pay close attention to this garment as it’s like patient zero in her development to come.
The huge grommeted seams attaching the sleeves to the bodice clearly make for easy removal, as we see Arya using the same base items in a less conventional manner for playing swordfighting with the butcher’s boy (#RIP Butcher’s Boy). The overall effect of this is to make her lady’s dress now resemble both a schoolgirl jumper as well as a knight’s armor. Either way, it frees her up for more rough housing and easier movement. The addition of a belt, presumably to hike up her skirt to let her legs more more nimbly, gives it an overall “kid playing dress up” appearance. This image contrasts her after to Sansa’s before, showing how much she’s personalized an identical gown.
Things look up for her when her family relocated to King’s Landing. Not only is she more able to blend into the background (and hence get away with more) but her father arranges for secret fencing lessons. This means proper fighting garb, but apparently not a new shirt as this is the same undershirt again and, I believe, the same belt. She wears a sort of dapper kilt scenario as she gets the basis for the skills that will keep her alive for five more seasons.
Her next big change occurs at the end of season one, when her father is beheaded and she’s sent off on the run disguised as a boy.
Season 2-4: My tummy’s turnin’ and I’m feelin’ kinda home sick
Oh hey there, the only shirt Arya has ever worn in her entire life. Her disguise is mainly oversized pieces laid on top of what she already had on. The loose tunic helps disguise her female form, while the short haircut seems to be all it takes for everyone she meets to assume she’s a boy.
It wasn’t until putting this piece together that I realized Arya Stark wore the exact same costume for three full seasons. Lots of room to grow in these pieces, and also lots of time for her undershirt to discolor to this sort of turtle green. You know she smells ripe 24/7 (real talk: probably everybody on this show does) and yet her hair’s grown into a cute bob and that’s like an accessory, right?
Season 5: I came in like a wrecking ball
But then! At the end of season four she sets sail for Braavos, home of the secret league of ninja assassins who have sort of conscripted her as their Harry Potter. Let’s get one last look at her disintegrating costume, one I’m certain Maisie Williams was only too glad to bid farewell to. I wonder how much of this wear and tear is genuine from using it during filming and how much were costume assistants working at it with scrub brushes for that dingy, worn-out look? HER SHIRT IS CHESTNUT BROWN GUYS. IMAGINE THE SMELL.
Finally yassssss when she starts working as the ninja assassin league’s main broom pusher she’s put into the uniform of all novitiates: a shapeless blue shift with legit cute gladiator sandals. But you guys, what’s that peeking out from the hems of both sleeves? Did girlfriend get a new undershirt?? Moving up in the world. She is, however, I think, still wearing the same belt. This could either speak to her practicality (“why get rid of a perfectly good belt?”) as much as it could to her need to keep something about her home with her. And considering her inability to separate her ninja persona from her vengeful Stark persona, I’m thinking it’s more the latter than the former.
In fact, it’s this inability to separate her past from her present situation that gets her punished via blindness at the end of season five. I particularly wanted to use the image below, of the moment before she goes blind, to show her being held by a character known only as The Waif. There are some convincing theories floating about that The Waif is really a representation of Arya’s fractured personality in a sort of Fight Club twist and in this image they really do look alike. Same hair, same novitiate’s robes, similar sizes. Of course they are both trainees at the same place so the hair and uniform make sense to be similar. But still. This is a JUICY possibility.
Season 6: There’s always gonna be another mountain
Sooo here we are in season six, Arya working white blind contact lenses while living on the streets and getting occasionally beaten up by The Waif. Without her trusty season 2-4 tunic, she’s now wearing apparently an actual tarpaulin. Her fighting and selflessness are convincing, though, and she’s given back her sight and sent off on an assassin mission. Which means…
… Disguise time!! Here she dons the same disguise she used for a time in season five, as Mercy the street girl/backstage theater helper. I love this look hard. core. The side buns are weirdly charming in a sort of Star Wars meets Sailor Moon kind of way, and I like the amount of accessory action going on between the patterned bolero, fanny pack (?), waist trim on the skirt and of course a 1990s style pleated gypsy skirt. In another crowd she’d stand out as a weirdo, but next to Mega Buns/Neck Ruff there to her right, she’s cute as a button.
Here’s a better look at the crazy amount of detail that went into this look. Her jacket is stunning from the shoulder detail to the textured print and I’m very into her fingerless gloves here, too. This whole look is like something from an old anime and with Maisie Williams’s huge eyes and round face it’s like a painting or something.
Aaaand then this happened. Arya gives up on her ninja training because she hasn’t got it in her to murder people she doesn’t personally despise. In a sequence that I feel like we’ll get Ocean’s Eleven flashbacks to next week, she pays for passage on a ship back to Westeros, stands in the middle of a public bridge, and finds herself stabbed by The Waif in disguise as this old woman. Was Arya legitimately blindsided? Did she orchestrate the whole thing? Was this not Arya, but someone else wearing her face? Is there any conceivable chance that Arya is dead, considering we saw her jump into the river and swim away, not dead yet?
I don’t know if there’s anyone else on this show we wouldn’t be able to answer those questions about. Arya feels like she’s always been an open book to us, the audience, but in fact we know very little about her. She came of age while running for her life, so she’s always been playing a different version of herself. All she holds onto as herself are her kill list, her sword Needle and (for a time) that damn undershirt and belt.
My money’s on the whole thing being staged with theatrical help from her not-murder-victim Lady Crane but who knows? Anything’s possible. I mean, I never thought I’d write an ode to Arya Stark’s fashion but it turns out, her sartorial story is every part is fascinating as any other character on this show.