Some of the capes on Game of Thrones come from a surprisingly modern source. Costume designers on TV shows have an enormous job. Between the main cast, the guest stars, and the background extras, they are responsible for the clothing worn by hundreds and hundreds of people every season. The challenge can grow when the show is set in a different time period, or is a fantasy or sci-fi show. And in a show with as large a cast as Game of Thrones, which has both historical and fantasy elements, the job is massive.
The Game of Thrones costume crew have to dress far more people that most TV show costumers do - easily thousands in a season - and keep a look which is consistent with the fantasy elements and implied time period. They also have to deal with how the show has multiple cultures from multiple areas of The Seven Kingdoms. Due to climate and personal history, the people from Winterfell do not dress the same was as the people from Dorne, and neither of them look like the Dothraki. Royalty dresses far differently from the religious leaders. And multiple armies each have their own style of armor.
Sometimes, in order to achieve a certain look, costume designers find unusual or unexpected inspiration or materials. As Buzzfeed recently discovered, Michele Clapton - the costume designer for the first five seasons - spoke at The Getty Museum in Los Angeles last year. During her lecture, she let out a bit of a surprise confession, one that drew quite a laugh from the audience. The capes worn by members of The Night's Watch were made from rugs that were purchased at Ikea.
Clapton also spoke a bit about the process that the costumers go through in order to make the rugs look like capes made from animal pelts:
"We take anything we can. We cut, and then we shaved them, and then we added strong leather straps, and then breakdown which is like a religion on Game of Thrones... Here they were waxed and frosted so that they actually belonged to the landscape."
The breakdown she refers to means that they do various tricks to make the material look old and worn, which can even involve distressing or destroying the fabric. It's often not realistic to show costumes appearing too clean or new. On Game of Thrones, pristine costumes might work for royalty and some of the wealthier characters. But it would certainly not make sense for The Night's Watch.
Clapton mentioned that she wanted the show's audience to practically be able to smell the costumes. The work that clearly went into making these rugs look like actual pelts certainly helps with that goal. She also mentioned that the capes can be so heavy that they affected some actor's gaits who wear them. It may seem impossible for something so modern and specific as an Ikea rug to look like a fur cape from a time long ago and a world with such magic as dragons. But clearly, Clapton and her team worked some magic of their own to create such an authentic look out of something that they might also have covering their living room floors at home.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday @9pm on HBO.