Why Everyone Wants To Work For The “Game Of Thrones” Costume-Breakdown Department

Game of Thrones characters get messy. One of the most important parts of finalizing a costume is making it look believably aged and worn.

As the costume designer for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Michelle Clapton oversees a team of 100 armorers, embroiderers, leatherworkers, printers, jewelers, and weavers, who create elaborate getups on site in Belfast for the whole of the Seven Kingdoms. From Cersei Lannister’s metal jewelry to Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding dress to Prince Oberyn’s “slightly feminine” robes, each item of clothing is meticulously perfected before shooting.

Michelle Clapton

As Clapton, a two-time Emmy Award winner, told Fast Company’s Jill Bernstein yesterday at the Innovation By Design Conference, one of the most important parts of perfecting a garment is beating it up–making it look believably imperfect. That responsibility falls to the breakdown department–“It’s the best department,” Clapton says. “Everyone wants to work for the breakdown department.” Once the costumes are seemingly complete, the breakdown department beats the crap out of them so they appear appropriately aged and worn.

“When a piece comes back from breakdown, you realize how unfinished it was before,” Clapton says. “The department is very experimental. They’ll add shading where the dress might’ve had sun damage, and they do a lot of waxing. We’ve had people go too far–we’ll have to say, ‘bring that back a bit’–but usually they’re able to bring it back.” A dress that looks too clean and brand new, store-bought from a costume shop, will look phony–there’s no character on Game of Thrones that doesn’t gets her hands dirty in one way or another. “Nothing looks better than a beat-up costume,” Clapton says. “It really makes you believe the characters.”

For more on Clapton’s costume design process, go here.

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About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.