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Costume Contest: The Best and Worst Dressed Fantasy Series

With the Golden Globes already passed and the Grammys, SAG Awards, and Oscars still to come, you'll no doubt be seeing a lot of "best and worst dressed" lists in the near future. "Costume Contest" is our spin on the awards-season staple; we'll judge other genres' wardrobes in the coming weeks.


Where would fantasy be without costumes? If you're going to have to get weepy over imaginary countries, spells, or vampire laws, you need the credibility that comes with not looking like a hobo who lives behind a costume store.

So who is doing the best job of seamlessly integrating characters with costume? And who is making their gnomes look totally ridiculous? Let's compare three hit fantasy shows and you be the judge:



Game of Thrones

Michele Clapton was nominated for an Emmy for her outstanding costume designs (armor done separately by Simon Brindle). The lady certainly has earned it! Clapton channels genius when she crafts for the Starks, with medieval draping and intricate natural fibers. Because Game of Thrones is shot in HD, she has the added difficulty of making freshly sewn costumes look authentically lived in, even in high resolution (I'm guessing she throws them in a giant rock tumbler). And they totally do! These cloaks look like well-worn battlefield Snuggies!

However, when the camera drifts into the warmer territory of the Dothraki, the quality drops off. Khal Drogo is hot like fire, but look away for a second and then look right at this and keep a straight face:

Game of Thrones sets the standard for cold-weather wear, but it's hard to bring leather-bound warrior men to life and not invoke Xena, Warrior Princess. With so many motifs to cover and the sheer number of original pieces involved, Game of Thrones is certainly the hardest costume gig on TV. But with a series budget estimated to be around $50 million dollars, Clapton gets plenty of assistance.



True Blood

Talk about range: Audrey Fisher has not only unerringly captured Viking times, the Inquisition, the Civil War, the 1920s, the 1930s, and present-day sleekness for the vampires, she also brings a real contemporary Southern vibe to the everyday costumes of the imperiled humans of Bon Temps. Fisher dresses her humans in off-the-rack fashions from stores like Kohls and K-Mart, shopping for them as they would for themselves, with the exception of Sookie, whose handmade sundresses and signature Merlotte's shirts have an online following. The very real human clothing helps keep the over-the-top storylines anchored in reality and helps build complicated characters like Lafayette and Pam (all sinister glamour in Fangtasia, all pink off the clock).

At $3 million an episode, True Blood has two-thirds the budget of Game of Thrones and more multiples to make (because costumes get spattered with blood in just about every take and have to be changed). And, in the last two seasons, a whole new genre of creature to costume: fairies. The fay are proving to be the downfall for True Blood's wardrobe. The ready-made evening gowns and sparkling pedicures are a little too "of this world" to convince me of an alternate reality. And what's up with this guy, with the jewelry hot-glued to his chest?

Also, I don't want to scar anyone by bringing it up, but let's not forget the terrible hillbilly teeth on the werepanthers.



Once Upon A Time

Just a half-season in, Once Upon A Time is already a standout in television history for having the most shamelessly indulgent fantasy costumes on network TV. Eduardo Castro has given us an Evil Queen by way of Lady GaGa, a feathery Snow White with a rat's nest wig, and some very questionable looking baddies.

Let there be no mistake: The fairytale flashback costumes are nuts! It's only thanks to the gravitas of the actors that they haven't already been the subject of an SNL skit. Where Castro really shows his skill is in the real-world setting of Storybrooke. He finds subtle ways to make character-specific references in the contemporary outfits of the imprisoned fairytale characters. The vaguely old-fashioned, cozy aesthetic he's created for the townspeople is both suggestive of the show's larger premise and beautifully contrasts with Evil Queen/Mayor Regina. I mean, this is just a bitchy outfit:

Network TV is notoriously tight-lipped about budgets, and while ABC has described Once Upon a Time as a big-budget drama, as a reference, one of the pricier recent pilots on the same network, Sony-backed Pan Am, was estimated at $10 million. Yet Once Upon a Time is filmed largely in front of a green screen/on a sound stage, so I say we give it extra points due to having the lowest estimated budget of the three.


So what do you think? And remember, this isn't a popularity contest or a comparison of content or characters, this is only judging clothes. Which show wears fantasy the best, which show wears fantasy the worst, and why?

Comments (36)
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trueblood definitely--its the only show that makes me want to go out and find that dress a character wore on tv--love sookie's wardrobe
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For those of us who can't spend xtra on paid channels, I like Once Upon's wardrobe choices since I can't watch the ''popular'' orgy shows in ''Viking'' or Vampire times. Just going by the clips seen of some episodes , so can't really judge their costumes as well or lack of clothing chest up. lol I like mystery, supernatural more than ''fantasy'' .
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GAME OF THRONES IS THE BEST! It looks so real, I just want to live there.
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Oh the choices provided, GoT wins. Haven't seen it (don't shoot me! must read books first! no time!), but during all the promos and/or recaps the costumes look absolutely phenomenal.



Lily, would you be open to user submitted options for a longer list at a later date? There are some other really great fantasy show costume departments out there!
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Game of Thrones has the best costumes. It really felt like I was there, it just looks so real. The HD doesn't hurt either.

I think the outfits for the Evil Queen are ridiculous (pilgrim hat) but everyone else and the Storybrook clothes are fantastic.

True Blood is ok but nothing special.
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As angeland8 pointed out, anything Pam wears is excellence, and I look forward to what Audrey gives her next season. Everybody else on the show dresses well to match their characters, excluding fairies. As for OUAT, I don't watch the show, but from what I can see, the costumes seem to fit the show well. Game of Thrones just kills with their costumes. It's hard to explain, but everyting in that show just fits so perfectly, and the high budget/production value can attribute to that.
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Love the costumes for "Once Upon aTime" especially Regina and Ruby in Storybrooke; but the Evil Queen is fabulous!
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I thought I was the only one who thought she had the best costumes on TV. Her costumes are AWESOME.
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I love everything Pam wears in True Blood.
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Amen to that. Audrey Fisher does well with the characters, but she kills it with Pam.



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Staff
Loved Pam's red sparkle Lady Gaga dress early in the season..and I was blown away by her make up and subsequent veils when her face started deteriorating. Make up not included in comparison, but still...had to bring it up.
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Game of Thrones definitely has the best costumes.
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Sean Bean being the saving grace of course.
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Once Upon A Time wears Fantasy best and makes it all, even the over the top outfit, believable and realistic.
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OUAT has hits and misses but overall I think they handle the fairytale stuff quite well and I love how the clothes fit so perfectly with the characters. Evil Queen has outfits that are too die for and as Regina she wears the perfect stuffy clothes that fit with her cold and uptight demeanor. Mary Margaret looks the part of the sweet school teacher with her cardigans and skirts. Emma's leather jackets and skin tight jeans fit her brazen demeanor. I think that's where OUAT excels.



True Blood is good too, because it's touch of realism. The characters, most of them, look as though they went to a K mart or Wal Mart and bought their clothes, and the ones with the more flamboyant personalities have clothes that coincide with their personalities.
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can we buy the same Kmart clothes from the series, because that would be cool. lol
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I think Game of Thrones seems a lot more... uhh... real? for a fantasy world, which helps make the show a lot more effective. I'd vote them for having the best costumes.



Once Upon a Time is pretty good. There are a few costumes here and there by some of the characters that sometimes seems over the top or corny, but since the show itself is often that way, they fit together well.
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A very valid point about the Fay in True Blood. My very first thought when the fairy alternate world was introduced was that they were all dressed for a ball. And that, to me, seems an uncomfortable and stressy situation, not one of eternal wellness. They should have gone with something much more relaxed, less tailored, more 'accidental'. And dare I say even more nude...
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Staff
Yeah for an alternate magical dimension I found the gowns rather earthly. I would have preferred something more tactile and abstract, closer to like a modern ballet costume, or maybe with some kind of lighting element (since Sookie shoots lasers out of her hands)
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I think the clothes in OUAT perfectly capture the fairytale nature of the show. I love it when a world is set up so well that the costumes they wear are so ridiculous, yet seem so normal in the situation they are in. Love love love it.
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I love the cloths in OUaT. I think the evil queens cloths are amazing and up to date so to speak. Why make them traditional when you can manke them that cool. Though i do not like snowwhites cloths in the lokkbacks. to weird looking
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I've never seen GoT but I watch OUaT every week and its costumes are crazy. While Prince Charming and the other royals have all looked the part, the Evil Queen always looks over the top and cheesy. Between the miniature top hat and her excessive weave and leather over coats, it's too much. I'd also appreciate Emma wearing something other than jeggings and a leather biker's jacket. True Blood doesn't strike me as a fairy tale but I do like their costumes when everyone isn't naked.
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Once Upon A Time, because it's at least twice the challenge. The clothes have to match the one character with one personality with two back stories in two realities. To say nothing of being consistent with all the preconceived notions developed by everyone over decades by everyone who has heard every version of every fairy tale written for centuries. On Game of Thrones they just have to find the right style and be consistent. To capture the essence of a character on Once Upon A Time is a much more nebulous and difficult thing, and I think he's done it well. For me, both shows dress their characters well, but the difficulty level on OUAT is "Hardcore" while for GoT it's "Please Don't Hurt Me Daddy". (sorry, at the end there I remembered I was male and had to throw in a violent videogame reference to balance the post out)
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Have to give the nod to Game of Thrones here. For both Detail and style. Also, don't forgot that their clothing would fit their "station" in life, job, and climate.

OUAT is too over the top and sometimes distracting to a point of saying more than the character speaking!! That can take away from the performance when the costume is louder than the speech. OU812 oops I mean OUAT street clothes on the other hand feel authentic, character-fitting, and sublime(aside from the ASSet hugging sheriff's booty bondage).
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I love the outfit the evil queen was wearing when she came across Hansel and Gretel
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Yes! Loved it!
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Me too- best so far!
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Staff
Don't forget the insect antennae bangs!!!
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once upon a time got the best clothes
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Game of Thrones definitely wins, but I think the Once Upon A Time costumes stand out, since they're just so over-the-top! (the evil queen always looks great, and I LOVE the crazy rat-nest thing Snow White had going on at her wedding)
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I love OUAT just for the sheer craziness of the costumes they attempt, its like crack for your eyes!
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I think that the GoT costumes are great all around, they really get you into the show's atmosphere.



True Blood's human/were/shifter costumes are realistic and great, the vampires are always snazzy and very professional looking but I agree that the fay look very over the top (the body jewelery made me outright laugh).



OUaT's costumes are all over the place. The human costumes look good, except for Emma who really needs to buy more clothes (the woman has like one outfit). The prince looks okay and Red looked pretty great as well fairytale-wise. Of course the Evil Queen has the way out there look that she just owns and I love it, keep those crazy dresses coming! All the other fairytale outfits are just awful.
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Maybe Storybrooke could pay Emma's sheriff's salary in in pants??
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Game of Thrones nailed the costumes.
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I have to say Game of Thrones. That's just from pictures though, I haven't actually started watching it yet...
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