Sartorial: The Evolution of Sansa Stark
This post contains spoilers for seasons 1-4 of Game of Thrones.
Sansa Stark has one of the most interesting character arcs on the HBO television series Game of Thrones and I can tell you all of it with three images of her clothes.
My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel.
–A Storm of Swords
Sansa is introduced as a maiden. Young and pretty, talented at sewing, infatuated with royalty. When the Stark children adopt a pack of orphaned dire wolves, Sansa names her’s “Lady”. Being a Lady, the wife of an aristocrat, is Sansa’s only ambition so she’s thrilled to find herself engaged to the Crown Prince.
Sansa starts out in a frosty blue, which reflects her heritage as a Stark and Tully, and a child of the North. She is first seen sewing, and tells Queen Cersei she makes her own clothes. Up through her father’s arrest, Sansa wears these simple, pretty dresses.
Note the higher and somewhat elaborate neckline in contrast to what she wears after her father’s arrest — the neckline drops, the frou frou disappears, and the waistline becomes more defined. These are gowns the Lannisters choose for her. They are made to resemble Cersei’s gowns more than Catelyn’s but retain the Northern maiden color scheme to paint her as an outsider. Both times she appears at court, as well as at her father’s execution, Sansa is dressed in light blue again. Starting here Sansa’s gowns have more layers and are made with heavier and more expensive fabrics.
Sansa is released from her engagement to Joffrey when the Tyrells appear in King’s Landing, but she remains a prisoner, and even more a commodity than she was. Her dresses become increasingly more elaborate, patterned, and layered, culminating in the golden wedding gown she wears to marry Tyrion Lannister.
This is the only time Sansa wears Lannister gold, though she notably spends most of seasons 3 and 4 in royal purple. This is a subtle reminder that with the death of Robb Stark, Sansa is heir to the North. That connection is why she retains importance and why the marriage to Tyrion happens.
In season 4 Sansa finally escapes the Lannisters and King’s Landing, and makes her way to the Eyrie and her only living relatives (that she’s aware of). Over her purple dress she wears a blue cloak which not only hides hers telltale red hair but reminds us of her mother. This is contextually important as she is running to her mother’s sister, Lysa, and as her protector, Petyr, has been in love with her mother since they were children. When Petyr kills Lysa he tells her he’s only loved one woman, Catelyn, but Sansa is now a Catelyn substitute. With this knowledge she can finally start to become a player in her own life.
The last look we have until season 5 begins is closer to the silhouette of Sansa’s first appearance than any she’s worn since her father’s arrest. At the same time it is the dress of a grown woman. She’s dressed in mourning black — ostensibly for her aunt, but in truth for the girl she was and now never will be again.
Sansa’s hair similarly reflects her journey. In the beginning it’s styled loosely, untamed. During her captivity it is always either tightly styled to a Lannister aesthetic, or pulled back, low and loose, but not free. A her wedding there is a literal cage around her hair. After her flight, she hides her hair, and finally dyes it black. She has a fleeting moment of freedom in the Eyrie, when she builds Winterfell of snow, and there she briefly and deliberately appears to be the girl we first met.
Finally, this progression from doll to weapon is also visible in the imagery Sansa is cloaked in. She starts with flowers, representing youth, beauty, love, and innocence:
Moves through butterflies and dragonflies, representing transformation:
And has now arrived at wings and chains, representing the dichotomy of her freedom.