Asoiaf Clothing: Arya Stark—AGoT
This post series is largely based on the premise that clothing and the general appearance of characters in fiction is used to show a character’s sensibilities and position in the world. I think it’s worth note to examine the characters of AsoIaF, and any other piece of literature for that matter, through the clothes they wear. Whether a character is a duke is in disguise as a friar or a princess running off as a soldier, the clothing a character wears will define their experiences in their individual conflicts. This can also be quite true of characters in ASoIaF. Furthermore, analyzing clothing choices offers readers the opportunity to enjoy some potential character symbolism.
Now, enough of me painfully trying to justify my over analysis of fictional characters!
I’ll be doing an overview of major characters from book to book.
(note: I go on tangents about general character appearances but the focus of these posts is primarily on clothing)
Arya Stark: A Game of Thrones
At the start of A Game of Thrones, Arya Stark is introduced as the scrappy youngest daughter of Eddard Stark, lord of Winterfell. In contrast to her prim and meticulously dressed sister, Sansa, Arya’s clothes are typically described as being crooked, dirty, or torn. Right off the bat, from appearances alone, it’s clear to readers that Arya is an active girl, unconcerned with social graces or being stylish. Arya’s clearly incompatible with the clothing given to her by her parents. Thus, Arya does not fit into the role of being a proper lady pushed on her by her mother and septa.
This conflict between Arya’s ladyship and Arya’s actual interests and desires plays out later on in the episode at the Trident.
“Do remind her to dress nicely today. The grey velvet, perhaps. We are all invited to ride with the queen and Princess Myrcella in the royal wheelhouse, and we must look our best.”
This quote is part of an exchange between Septa Mordane and Sansa on their travels from Winterfell to King’s Landing. Clearly, Septa Mordane finds Arya’s normal dress to be less than appropriate for a meeting with the queen and princess. Her advice to Sansa is to tell Arya that she perhaps wear a “grey velvet.” Of course, given Arya’s gray eyes, it makes sense that Mordane would want to highlight this feature. It also furthers Arya’s connection to gray as a personal color symbol. Gray is a color with a variety of meanings in different culture, but it seems to denote neutrality in most Western takes.
**Gray can be seen as a middle ground between life and death, maturity, isolation, wisdom, humility, and stability. X, Y, Z.**
Also, gray is the color of her father’s eyes and Jon’s. It’s one of House Stark’s colors as well. For the most part, the Starks do tend to be an isolated group in the North, sticking only to their pack, and their words “Winter is Coming” suggest a tendency to plan ahead, to practice wisdom in the coming of the inevitable. And it is clear from the start, that the Stark way is the old way. Yet, I don’t think that the Starks are often neutral. They seem to struggle with either being too emotional (wolf blood!) or being cold neutrals, and Arya is not an exception. However, I do tend to see Arya as being a neutral character after the death of the Starks and in the series at large. Arya has no political goals. In the game of thrones, Arya is a humble outsider, and her life among the commons is a cruel lesson in humility for the youngest lady of Winterfell. Similarly, her gray-eyed brother, Jon, is supposed to be a neutral bystander in the realm’s wars as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. As a result, he spends most of ADWD wrestling with his role of the neutral leader and his desires to help Stannis save his little sister. But I digress, I promise ;p
Mordane’s fashion advice also suggests that Arya wear a velvet dress. This fabric is fit for a meeting with the queen and princess. While the Starks seem to be less extravagant than their southern neighbors, it seems as though they do have some more luxurious clothing. Luxury that, as Sansa suggests, Arya rejects.
Meanwhile, Arya is out and about with Mycah.Arya was wearing the same riding leathers she had worn yesterday and the day before.
Naturally, Sansa doesn’t have a high opinion of Arya’s clothing choices. The riding leathers are sturdy and practical, but they certainly are not ladylike. Especially when worn on repeat for a few days. In this scene, Arya looks more like a commoner than a lady, and this is the side she turns to in Joffrey’s attack. Rather than be a neutral party like Sansa, Arya leaps to Mycah’s defense once Joffrey assaults the boy. Like her Aunt Lyanna in the Knight of the Laughing Tree story, Arya defies convention by dressing unladylike and championing the weak against cruelty.
Small wonder; she was barefoot and dirty, her hair tangled from the long run through the castle, clad in a jerkin ripped by cat claws and brown roughspun pants hacked off above her scabby knees. You don’t wear skirts and silks when you’re catching cats.
Once again, Arya leans toward practicality in her choice of cat-chasing attire.She’s also dressed in humble browns and roughspun.
~Brown is often associated with the EARTH
Characteristics of those inclined to brown are calmness, passivity, conservative, dependable, practical and earthly x
~Earth, stability, hearth, home, outdoors, reliability, comfort, endurance, simplicity, and comfort. - See more at: http://www.incredibleart.org/lessons/middle/color2.htm#.dpuf
The portrayal of Arya as a character who is earthy and practical seems to fall into line in this particular scene. Of course, Arya picks clothing that are suitable to chase cats in the streets of King’s Landing. The clothing also marks her as a practical, earthy character. If I recall correctly, Davos Seaworth is also a character given to wearing brown, and he’s definitely a fine of example of a humble person in the series. In fact, the scene that this quote is from illustrates just how different Arya is from the other nobility in the books. Arya is mistaken for a beggar boy rather than the Hand’s daughter by not only guards in the Red Keep, but by Myrcella, Tommen, and their septa as well. Though she is reprimanded by all these characters, Arya never gives up her true identity in the fear of upsetting Septa Mordane and shaming Sansa. In that sense, Arya is aware that she is not following the expectations that other nobility expect of a lady. She isn’t dressed like a doll like Myrcella or even adorned in pearls like Tommen because Arya is in her natural state when she’s dressed in the most practical and simple clothing because that suits her personality and her interests.
Sansa had put on a lovely pale green damask gown and a look of remorse, but her sister was still wearing the ratty leathers and roughspun she’d worn at breakfast.
This quote is from Sansa III, a chapter where Sansa and Arya have some conflict. Of course, this conflict is accompanied with a comparison from Sansa, a choice on GRRM’s part. While Sansa’s dressed in a green damask gown, Arya is still in ratty leathers and roughspun. Lol if a reader didn’t realize that the sisters are meant to be polar opposites, then this scene should be a clear visual demonstrating just that fact. These styles of dress illustrate quite about what makes the girls different in regards to how they look and chose to confront Ned’s judgment. Naturally, Sansa chose a gown that she felt was beautiful and mature since Sansa typically dresses to portray a certain image. Of course, Arya also threw an orange at her ivory gown so the change was also out of necessity. On the other hand, Arya remains in her ratty leather and roughspun because Arya is dressed to be humble. In this scene, Arya drops her anger that she displayed earlier in the chapter and takes on a humble and apologetic approach when forced to stand before her father’s judgment. In contrast, Sansa (in the symbolically youthful green gown) is never younger than she is in this chapter.
Arya recognized silks and satins and velvets she never wore. She might need warm clothes on the kingsroad, though… and besides…
Arya knelt in the dirt among the scattered clothes. She found a heavy woolen cloak, a velvet skirt and a silk tunic and some smallclothes, a dress her mother had embroidered for her, a silver baby bracelet she might sell. Shoving the broken lid out of the way, she groped inside the chest for Needle. She had hidden it way down at the bottom, under everything, but her stuff had all been jumbled around when the chest was dropped. For a moment Arya was afraid someone had found the sword and stolen it. Then her fingers felt the hardness of metal under a satin gown.
Just as an aside, I really love this passage because I find it to be one of the most bittersweet parts in the whole series. And all because of some clothes and a sword.
This scene takes place post-Syrio’s death when Arya is desperately trying to flee from the Red Keep. However, she is limited on time. This rush causes her to quickly go through the scattered clothing in her room which is essentially her life ripped apart. In total desperation, Arya must gather the clothes she needs survival, which includes a cloak, smallclothes, a velvet skirt, a silk tunic, a dress embroidered by Catelyn, and a silver baby bracelet that could be a means of money on her escape. And underneath all the satin, Arya finds metal—-repeating the ‘metal/steel under silk/satin’ theme that GRRM loves to use in the Stark women.
Now what makes me find this part so sad is that Arya is given virtually no time to reflect on the ruin of the life she knew. Survival is the instinct that takes over. Yet, she takes what little time she has left to find the items that are sentimental, although useful, for her. In fact, those items she takes are the last pieces she can take of her old life, all more sentimental than the last. And these are ladylike items until you get to Needle. The clothes and the rattle are all luxurious and noble with sentimental value to Arya. They’re fit for Arya Stark, but not for a girl on the streets. Considering her previous clothing, it can be inferred that Arya knows those aren’t the types of clothing that common girls where. She takes these items not only because they’re useful, but because they’re the last things she can take from Lady* Arya Stark’s life. And yet it still sadder to consider the fact is that she is either robbed of these items or forced to depart from most of these items by the end of AGoT.
In Flea Bottom, Arya is marked as an outsider by her clothing. For instance, she receives leers in pot shops and she is later accosted by other children. Ultimately, Arya is only able to keep Needle, the most unladylike of the items she took with her. So, Arya ends A Game of Thrones in a terrible case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ as she is forced to survive by completely abandoning the life of lady.