Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits
The brilliant tumbler feed Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor has inspired me to add my two cents to the discussion.
Why does my opinion matter? I’m an armorer. I make actual armor that people wear when they hit each other with swords. When making armor I have to strike a balance between comfort, protection, range of motion, and appearance. My experience has made me more than a little opinionated on the subject of fantasy armor.
I intend to set the internet straight. See below for how to do it wrong, how to do it right, and why you might care.
1: The Problem
There is a commonly held understanding in the fantasy role-playing community that female armor sucks. That is, it doesn’t really cover any vital organs. It follows the relationship below:
What does that mean? It means that you get fantasy art trying to sell us on the idea that these are things that women might wear to a sword fight. Clearly these women are both poorly insulated and have no particular intent to keep their vitals inside their bodies.
We know why these images exist. It appeals to a specific market. That, though, is a whole other discussion. All we want to establish here is that there is a rather strong trend to dress women in metallic lingerie rather than protective armor in fantasy combat.
To predict a counterpoint: There are men that wear next to nothing in fantasy art as well. Take Conan or He Man, for example. Neither of them are wearing much in the way of protection. This is true, but they aren’t meant to be armored. Both of the ladies above are wearing armor, not barbarian-style loin-cloths. Their metal garments describe access to real armor, but the decision not to wear it.
To give a bit of perspective, this would be the male equivalent.
So there is the problem: Pointless armor.
What can be done?
2: The Historical Problem
My first choice when armoring women is to draw from history. Unfortunately there are a few problems with that:
- Women have been traditionally restricted from fighting.
- The few that were allowed to fight would have mostly been commoners unable to afford quality armor.
- There was a relatively brief period in history in which plate armor was actively used.
This leaves us with barely any extant examples of women in armor. Even if there were women warriors, they would likely be wearing the same thing as the men: hardened lamelar leather, chain hauberks, or coats of plates.
Fully kitted in this stuff, they’d be indistinguishable from men. While in combat that’s just fine, but for artistic purposes, we usually like to have our characters clearly gendered.
So we can’t just look at what real women wore and expect to get very much of value for our modern designs.
So we can’t pull much from historical examples of the appropriate gender, but we can still let the expertise of the ages inform us on what would make sense.
Plate armor is the way it is largely out of necessity. The layout and articulations of the plates are the best solutions the designers could come up with to balance mobility with protection. Also, note that nobody was naked under their armor. There was a ton of padding between the metal and the flesh that absorbed the energy of the blows. That means the difference between male and female plate armor is relatively trivial because once you’ve padded it out and left space for movement, you’ve all but erased the figure of the person inside. Let’s grab some examples to show this in action:
Note the differences in the armor as depicted by artists of the time period. There are none. Both are fully covered and both have prominent chests and narrow waists. This is pretty common because that is how armor worked. It was a functional necessity more than it was a style.
Want another example? How about a contemporary interpretation on the theme?
As the placard indicates, this is from the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age. It is gorgeous. Modeled on German Gothic Plate, I have only a minor gripe with it: no neck protection. That’s important stuff, but let’s look more at what they did right.
They made the armor functional, yet feminine with the detail work. The overall form could easily go on a man, but the trim, the collar, the cuffs were character and period appropriate. Brilliant.
However, artists aren’t always going for practicality or historical relevance. Style will often trump practicality in costume design. Just look at Sauron, one of the most epic suits of armor ever worn; If this guy lifted his arms too high he’d poke his eyes out with his own pauldrons. So this is awesome but impractical armor, so why don’t we deride this design? Because we believe that it’s appropriate for the world and the character. More on that later.
4:Breastplates and Boobplates
Breastplates are what you call the large metal shell worn over the torso that protects pretty much all of the important squishy bits. They’re designed to deflect blows and distribute impact. They look something like this:
Pretty much all plate armor uses variations on this design. Counter-examples like the roman musculata are primarily decorative, worn by important folk that didn’t much expect to actually be fighting in them.
Boobplates are ostensibly breastplates fitted to a female torso. That is, they have actual breasts dished out.
I have built boobplates before, for fighters. They fight in them. They serve their purpose and make their wearers happy, but I constantly worry that they’re going to fall hard and it will crack her sternum, even with the padding. Note also that it seems almost perfectly designed to guide sword points and arrows into her heart. They still have to penetrate the armor but, honestly, that’s a design flaw. However, it looks good and makes her feel sexy and badass at the same time. That’s important too.
So we have a bit of a new problem: We want to make people look good. We want characters to be sexy. We want that more than we want realism in our fantasy art but we also want to feel like what they are wearing makes sense. The armor should compliment the character and setting, not distract from it. How do we do it?
5.1 Internal Consistency
Any science fiction or fantasy world runs on its own set of rules. The fashion, technology, values and physics are all free to be laid out by the creative minds involved. Maintaining some logical consistency in what people wear for armor adds a lot to the world. If men and women are going to be fighting the same battles, afford them the same level of protection.
Mass Effect did this well.
Tera Online did this very, very badly.
5.2 Go for the eyes Boo
Any artist working with human subject matter will tell you that the face is the most important part of the character. A headshot by itself can tell you everything you need to know about who a person is and how they feel. Sex appeal can come entirely from a beautiful face, the body doesn’t need to be naked as well.
I argue that this:
Is more appealing than this.
The bare chest and boob plate add nothing to the femininity, sexiness, or appeal of the character. Focus on the face for character appeal, let the armor be a reflection of the setting and her role within it.
5.3 Unwrapped Christmas presents aren’t exciting
So you still want your fantasy fighters to be sexy? How about a bit of a tease? Let our imagination run away with us.
People will always want to see more than they’re allowed. An exposed ankle will make someone blush if they’ve always been denied access to them in the past. If your characters are naked, there’s nothing to tease us with. A well considered bare shoulder can be way sexier than full frontal nudity. Put a bit of thought into when and how you expose your characters. The anticipation and the idea can be more enticing than the full show.
Not convinced? Let’s consider Tali’zorah. In two full Mass Effect Games, we have not seen he out of her armor and yet one of the most compelling moments in the game was when she took her mask off to make out with Shepard. Morover, you didn’t see her face even then. She’s alluring because of the idea of what she could be. The mystery is sexier than the reality could ever be.
5.4 Everybody is naked under their clothes
So you still want to make pictures of pretty girls in very little clothing? I won’t stop you. There is a time and a place for such things and I am not about to try to dictate terms on that front. This is just a plea for reasonable armor. So if you need to have a female warrior with exposed flesh, could you let her be in a state of undress rather than depict her default state as being mostly undressed?
Look there, two women with rather substantial armor exposing their figures. We can have our cake and eat it too. Wasn’t that easy?
This is good
This is fine
As a gamer and someone who has dabbled in illustration for tabletop RPGs, thank you for tackling this subject. I’m used to dealing with this problem from an aesthetic position, so it’s nice to have a practical perspective from someone who actually makes this stuff.
That said, I do have a minor quibble with the second example under 5.4. She looks like something straight of the Escher Girls tumblr – her spine is seriously broken for her to be showing us both her boobs at that angle *and* her ass. So while I take the point that you can do sexay without being naked, I’m not sure that particular image is a great example. (But again, that’s a minor quibble with what is overall a great piece)
@Wundergeek, I had a lot of trouble finding examples of ladies halfway out of their armor. Those were the best I could find. I’m rather fond of the second one just because of the absurd 80s style.
Besides, spinal contusions are sexy. Maybe that’s a post for another day.
This was spot on. I’m a fan of pulp, low-brow, and fantasy art but when I see someone who draws women in that way, I’m simply non-plussed. It snaps me out of enjoying the image, to go “How is that even attached?” or “How did her spine get like that!?” (As you mentioned)
Although you didn’t mention superheroes, the same problems apply.
It reminds me of the Jhonen Vasquez “Meanwhile” story about two modestly dressed bank robbers vs two horrifyingly oversexualized superheroes.
oh btw I used to be Mrthumbtack but changed my username.
Thanks so much for writing this, it was really interesting to hear about this topic from an actual armorer.
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Amanda. Fantasy armor, in general, makes the armorer in me cringe. Very little of it is practical and some not even possible.
I can still appreciate it on purely aesthetic grounds, though.
Ryan, one historical woman whose armor might interest you is Aoife (Red Eva) McMurrough. She married the detestable (if you were Irish) Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, better known as Strongbow, and had occasion to fight her countrymen more than a time or two. She’s said to have stood well over six feet tall, and to have had plate armor with spikes attached, and she had a fondness for hugging her enemies to death. She’s also supposed to have leapt from the battlements of the castle onto a mob at the door, crushing a fair number and, one assumes, terrifying the rest.
Perhaps not so curiously, she had a relatively short lifespan, dying in her early forties in 1188.
(Medieval studies professor (and fellow SCAdian) here)
I love this article! Thank you for writing it! This issue has long been one of my pet peeves with fantasy art. I’m sorry, trying to say she has +2 boobies of stunning and that’s how she comes through unscathed is not the way to try and make that rubbish legitimate. :-p
The story is fantastic but I find a 12th century Irish woman having full plate armor a bit suspect. Do you know of any sources that would corroborate that? Everything I’ve read doesn’t have significant plate armor being developed until the 14th century.
The internet has her husband (Strongbow) in chain on his tomb carving as well.
I know more that a few folk that would love plate being appropriate for earlier period armor if you do.
This is great. I’m trying to learn how to draw fantasy art, and this is a big help, especially since I love female knights, and now I’m better equipped, no pun intended, to draw them armored.
Thanks a lot!
I love that you added Mass Effect in here! I love playing video games, and am very picky about what I play. Mass Effect and to a lesser extent Dragon Age 2 (didn’t play DA1) truly impressed me with their armor for the female leads. Another good example in the video game world is Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. Both Skyrim and Oblivion have good examples of females in reasonable armor. Thank you for the interesting read!
From a female gamer… thank you for this article!
@wundergeek – I can easily do that. I can go twist farther, actually. So her spine is just fine.
It’s funny how this post pretty much took down the network yet there’s still only 12 comments. *LULZ*
We’re alive again, but with some scars. 🙂
Ryan, please make armor for the Skepchick network. And for our lab rat.
Thank you for this, it came at exactly the right moment. Check out my 3D project at http://myth-o-logic.org/2011/12/15/the-ambush/ (the final and the draft) to see how you helped me in my hour of need. 🙂
Thank you! As a gamer and sometime reenactor, it’s great to hear an armourer agree with what I’ve been trying to tell the guys for years.
A thought for you – try looking at mail shirts rather than full plate, if you want some slight differences in chest shape. I can tell you from personal experience that a mail shirt over padding squashes an E-cup boob to the point that a bra isn’t needed, but the result still has gentle feminine curves. Handy for artists, I expect. The belt you’d usually wear to transfer the weight of the mail to the hips also emphasises that hips exist.
A clever commenter pointed out that I’d failed to cite the origins of any of my pictures. They have now been credited to their owners.
I remember when I used to get Dragon Magazine back in the early ninties there was a movement to put women in sensible armor. I don’t know whatever happened to it.
But I do remember one comic depicting a party sitting around a tavern table, and the female warrior had six arrows sticking out of her bikini top. Caption was “it’s a good thing I was wearing my armor.”
All things considered, Samus’ armor would be a perfect example for feminine and functional, the arrow-shaped chest plate redirects bows away from the vitals while the narrow and articulated waist still looks feminine.
Another way to make armor look more feminine would be more upper leg armor to increase the hip to waist ratio. If the hip armor is large enough it even makes sense as storage space, though more so in fantasy settings with pistols and potions and in scifi with grenades.
Thank you so much for writing about this. Ever since I tried to suggest to an MMO developer that their next game should have women in reasonable armor (and got subsequently smacked down for it, by the players, not the devs), I have been interested in this topic.
I was really shocked by how vehemently people defend their cheesecake, while not accepting that I may want reasonable armor, which in no way affects their cheesecake. You’d think I’d taken away their favorite toy or something.
The privilege, it reeks.
@ chatombre: I can twist my spine pretty damn far, but it’s more like something I’d do during aerobics, know what I’m saying?
Bravo great read.
My only gripe with this article though is that the image you use to represent Warcraft is from a chinese artist who is not affiliated with Blizzard in any way. Atleast not US blizzard, he may do chinese art, but specifically saying, the picture you used of the night elf with the sabre tooth tiger is an erotic artist.
Not saying that the actual cover art for WoW is much different, but ya know, details.
Don’t ask how i know this.
@schwarzwald, I admit that the image I chose may not represent the game fully but it does represent the trend in fantasy art. I chose that one specifically because WoW is so ubiquitous, I thought an extreme example from a familiar company was a good starting point.
Notice also that Hilde is a relatively poor example of the female armor design in the Soul Calibur series, but she is a good example of attractive, yet functional armor.
I guess what I’m saying is that everyone should note that the examples do not necessarily represent the full body of work with which they might be associated.
I got a slight problem with this as a sword instructor and someone who has re-enacted for over 20 years most of my trainees either wear padding or strap their breasts down, then you put your quilted jacket on then a mail vest and voila no boob shapes in the armour.
@necrophage, I agree with you on this point and that’s largely what I was getting at in the historical examples and boobplate sections.
However, when not designing armor for actual combat, the considerations change. In fantasy art, aesthetics become a much larger consideration. The challenge for artist, rather than actual armorers, is to design armor that can both be believable and awesome looking to the common viewer.
This was fabulous. I’m already a big fan of WiRA and this breakdown was hilarious yet informative. Nerds ftw!
two of my best students are both rather blessed and tried fighting unstrapped and strapped and strapped was better for both their posture and their fighting style.
Ryan: But it’s not “an extreme example from a familiar company”, it’s an extreme example from a completely unrelated artist who specifically draws naked fantasy characters (let’s just say there are two versions of that picture, and you found the SFW one), here featuring the designs of a familiar company.
You should at least alter the tagline under the image to reflect this.
Zealuu, you have convinced me to replace the image. Not because it was misrepresentative of the armor in WoW, but because I could not attribute it correctly.
I feel that the replacement, while slightly less provocative, is more absurd as the woman in it is clearly engaged in combat and one could not argue that she might be out of her combat gear.
Ryan, I’ve come up with a few isolated incidents of plate armor being manufactured prior to the 1300s (it took a fair while for trends and technologies to spread back then). My Red Eva lore is in one of my books somewhere around here… the problem is that I’ve recently moved many of my books and half of my belongings to my non-teaching-area residence (on sabbatical, yay), and I’m not sure exactly where it is at the moment. It will take a bit of time, but I’ll hunt it down and will bring you a citation when I find it.
@zealuu: Have you actually gone to the official WoW site and LOOKED at their galleries of official art produced by Blizzard artists? A lot of the stuff in there is EVERY BIT AS BAD as Ryan’s original choice. For instance, if you go to the class gallery and look at the rogues, you’ll find what I like to call “the ladybit assassin”: http://tinyurl.com/ch3534s. And my personal favorite of the mages is “crapping frost mage”: http://tinyurl.com/bvrj5kn. (Linked to offsite images because I can’t get to the official WoW website here at work, but these ARE official art produced by Blizzard artists. You can verify by going to the WoW Class Art gallery and sorting by class – you’ll find both these images pretty quickly.)
So don’t try and hide behind the fact that Ryan’s original choice was by a fanartist. If anything, that fanartist’s work was pretty true to the spirit and style of work produced by official WoW artists.
@Wundergeek, thanks for leaping to my defense, but I’m actually going to side with @schwarzwald and @zealuu on this.
Their primary complaint was the misattribution of credit. Despite the WoW branding on the original image, when I looked into it I couldn’t find it distributed by Blizzard. And I’d rather give credit where credit is due.
Also, if it was produced by an erotic artist as they say, which I found no reason to doubt, it would obscure some of my arguments.
The fact that it was specifically intended to be erotic art means that the audience is not expected to believe in the armor. It is lingerie in that case, meant only to entice and arouse.
The fact that the artist didn’t really have to alter the armor design to make it erotic art, though, is rather telling.
@Ryan: Not to say attribution isn’t important for responsible blogging… I just think it’s a bit disingenuous to complain about the artist’s lack of official affiliation with Blizzard when content-wise it’s not any more pornular than stuff that has been produced by Blizzard. Complaining that the artist of the image you chose makes “erotic art” seems like a stupid distinction to make when the stuff Blizzard’s studios could just as easily be mistaken for “erotic art” without that official Blizzard affiliation. Instead it gets to be called “official game art”, as if that someone makes it more legitimate and less bullshit.
But then we’re dealing with a pet peeve of mine here…
@Wundergeek, I think you’ve made some of my point for me.
Female fantasy armor is often indistinguishable from erotic lingerie. However, I want my source material to demonstrate my point by being images that claim to present a real fighter rather than those that admit that they are intentionally erotic.
I think the difference in their implied intentions is important to the argument here.
Notice that the only real difference between the armor in the two images is some pauldrons and a loin cloth. I think that being official material from Blizzard makes a stronger point.
For those new to the post, the original image is linked below.
WAIT wait wait, how about Spartan armor in that 300 movie? They just had a helmet and a shield for protection, and the rest they wore was an underwear and a cape.
Excellent article! I found it linked on the Bioware Social Network.
I’ve always been a bit GRR at the “Less armour is more protection” fantasy trope that plagues games, art and some movies.
If you need more armour comparisons, the MMO Guild Wars has a vast array to pick at. Warrior class alone http://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Warrior_armor has its share of good, bad and improbably spiky (though nothing beats the game’s assassin armour for sheer absurdity, I suppose it’s a saving grace that it’s the same for male ‘sins in that you’d never be able to walk through a door without turning sideways: http://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/File:Assassin_Ancient_armor_f.jpg )
Thanks for writing! I especially liked the comment on boob plates effectively channeling a sword towards the heart, something I hadn’t thought of until now…
I understand the author’s point about unrealistic armor (particularly for women), but the thing that people like the author don’t seem to get is that there’s a reason why it’s called a fantasy world. Things that don’t exist in our world are very real in the fantasy world. In the fantasy world, there are many unrealistic things like unbreakable swords, people who can lift gigantic boulders and shoot fire from their eyes, and live forever just to name a few.
The author’s comment about fantasy artists trying to convince us about what women would actually wear to a sword fight is a bias assumption. I’ve never heard or seen any fantasy artist or writer try and sell anyone the idea that skimpy armor is indeed practical in our world. In fact, when has any fantasy artist ever go around and claim that fantasy shit is practical in real life? Again, this is fantasy. Make-believe. Not real. Some people just need to let go of reality sometimes, and take fantasy for what it is: ENTERTAINMENT.
A -tiny- correction to your otherwise wonderful post:
The gothic style plate armour with the narrow waist and very long legs are actually a matter of style, not just practicality, in fact there is an optical illusion buildt into the armours that makes it seem like the waist is further up than it really is.
And the amount of padding in those plate armours are rather light, to put it mildly. The goal is still to avoid being hit, its not so much about absorbing the blows as it is about directing the force of the blow away from your body.
Still, thank you for your wonderful blog here, i’m going to recommend it to more than one friend. 🙂
@Kush, I think everyone understands that fantasy worlds are not restricted by the confines of reality. Much of the latter half of the post is discussing the balance between style and realism.
When I say early on that “fantasy art trying to sell us on the idea” I mean that they are producing artwork of that nature with the expectation that we will both buy it and buy into their world.
Good fantasy compels the viewer to suspend disbelief. Women fighting in metal lingerie can be a bit hard to swallow.
@ruerl, I did oversimplify the design process of real armor. Style and function are heavily intertwined.
the basic form grew out of necessity and experimentation and was then exaggerated as certain traits became more appealing. The function informed the design, but then those designs became popular so they were refined.
As far as padding, Almost all armor had a heavy quilted gambeson underneath and very often a chain hauberk as well. So no it’s not like they were stuffed with foam, but there was meaningful padding.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel you on how ridiculous fantasy armors can be to swallow. The same can be said about many fantasy weapons too. However, maybe it’s just easier for me to let go of reality and accept that this is how things work in the fantasy world of the author(s).
@Kush, the physics of fantasy weapons is a great idea for a post.
Everyone does have their own threshold for suspending disbelief. One of my personal gripes is when the setting can’t follow its own rules.
That depends strongly on the type of armour, for example the italian style milenese plate differs strongly from the german gothic style plate.
A picture to visualise what I am on about:
The armour of Sigismund as viewed there has nearly no padding outside the obvious parts, we’re talking about an arming jacket here, not a gambeson (which is an armour in its own right), and that padding is only very rarely crossing more than a single cm. The padding on the milenese plate from the same period however requires much more padding, but even that one does’nt exactly require a full gambeson either. If there is plate covering a section then it needs very little else. This is because plate armour, as opposed to chainmail, has the philosophy that it works by deflecting rather than absorbing blows.
This is not to say that it cannot absorb some of the force of a blow obviously, my own plate takes by far the worst I recieve and I never had to wear anything except a thin arming jacket underneath.
I can try to find a picture of it if you would like to see it.
@ruerl, the terms gambeson and arming jacke are frequently used interchangeably along with a host of other terms for the same thing. While a gambeson used as armor in and of itself would be much heavier than one worn under armor, they are essentially the same thing: heavy quilted fabric.
I appreciate the picture link, though. It shows the similarity in designs as well as the differences between the Italian and German armor of similar period.
There is one historical type of male warrior that really did wear apparently unrealistic partial armour – Roman gladiators. Female gladiators were rare historically but more common in some fantasy settings.
ruerl is right. In the early 15th century, rather thick padding was worn beneath plate armour (and in the 14th century, even chain mail too). But the plate armour one usually associates with “plate armour” is the late 15th century one. And this one is worn with only an arming jacket, which at most consists of 4 layers of linnen, with no stuffing.
(I’m not an armourer, but I’ve got plenty experience wearing armour: http://www.markus-braig.de/bildergallerie/2009/16_meersburg/gross/0101.jpg)
@Ryan: Besides that, I’m very glad you posted your essay.
Wait wait wait wait. You wrote these things:
“Fully kitted in this stuff, they’d be indistinguishable from men. While in combat that’s just fine, but for artistic purposes, we usually like to have our characters clearly gendered.”
“We want characters to be sexy.”
Neither of these things are true. The rest of this post is nice and informative, but why in the hell did you mention this? Sex appeal is not a priority of good art.
@dpoc, I agree that these are not requirements for good art, but that does not mean that they are not frequently true.
The article is a discussion of trends and patterns, not univeraly truths.
@Seegras: Love your chestpiece and shoulders, especially the chestpiece show what I was talking about earlier with the optical waist on gothic style plate armour.
But, where are your armour from? And are you not missing a bevor rather badly?
I agree with pretty much every point you’re making here…but I have a relevant question. I’ve got 42I breasts. As an armorer, how would you design (functional) plate for me? I’m not sure typical plate would work (would there even be room for padding?) Would you imitate the musculata and pop out the chest area, but leave it a smooth piece without separating the breasts? Or is there another solution I’m just not seeing? If I ever needed armor I’d want it more functional than sexy, for sure. So I found this a very informative post. Thanks 🙂
@foozlesprite, large breasts can be accommodated, it just takes more work because the metal has to be dished much more.
As far as recommendations, it always depends on what you need it for. I think the easiest to make would be an Italian-style breastplate because those can have a fairly large chest cavity if needed. The biggest challenge that I foresee is getting pauldrons (shoulders) to interact properly. Large ones might not be feasible. A large, solid chest may also be difficult to fight around. You might want to consider a coat of plates and heavy padding so that you can move your arms in their full range of motion more easily.
@foozlesprite, being a female fighter who also has large breast, 42I, I chose to go with Wisby plate for my armor. In doing so I can modify it more easily for the curve of the female body. I made the plates the cover the chest larger to cover the breast but used smaller plates for the sides and back to allow for easy movement with my curves. If you are ever wanting to make armor look more fem, then I would suggest taking the time to work a lovely pattern into the leather or embroidery and ribbon into a tabard.
@Ryan, thank you for this. It has been something many of use have talked about but never posted for all the see. I too saw what could be a challenge of the pauldrons and this is another reason I chose the Wisby. As far as a large chest being hard to fight around.. well girls like myself have been dealing with having to do everything in life around a large chest so somethings we may not be the best at, bowling for myself, we have learned over time to easily figure out how to deal with them and get around them. So where someone not used to dealing with the bulk of armor up front my have problems fighting around it, we just see it as yet one more problem where we have to deal with a couple of boobs in our way.
@ruerl: http://www.plattnerwerkstatt.de/ It’s an italian piece “a la tedesca”, initially made in milan for export to the germanies. Both the original back and front were used in where now is switzerland in the 1470ies. The original breast has no fixtures for a bevor, so this one has neither ;).
The waist isn’t exactly “optical” — it needs to be very tight so it sits upon your hips. Otherwise the weight isn’t spread as it should, and the armour wobbles around.
@foozlesprite: Shouldn’t be a problem. Take a look at http://dutzend.discordia.ch/Bilder/Johanna1.jpg — she has quite large breasts (of course, the armour here isn’t very good; but I couldn’t find a picture showing her with her new armour).
Thanks for the responses, you two. I’d never heard of the Wisby armor before and it’s quite interesting, can definitely see how it could be adapted to personal shape easily. I appreciate the education!
Thank you for the article. I guess I was fortunate that my outlook was formed differently then a lot of gaming guys. Ever since I started playing games in the mid to late 80’s, my group has almost always been at least 50% female player based.
Being around a strong female group I think really shaped what I considered attractive. I think women drawn (or wearing) full armor are extremely attractive. Especially if they have pulled their helmet off. The combination of their face, hair, eyes, coupled with extremely hardcore armor (not the skin showing type) I find very alluring.
I appreciate it when I see articles like this. Thank you!
Weatherwax: I remember when I used to get Dragon Magazine back in the early nineties there was a movement to put women in sensible armor. I don’t know whatever happened to it.
It lasted for a year or so, then their resolve/attention wavered, and they gradually regressed to the previous status quo. When 3rd edition came around, the same resolution was made, with the same eventual result, though they never got quite as bad as before. Same thing happened when 3.5 came out.
To be fair, the Warcraft picture shows a hunter – a ranged combatant. Not a melee plate wearer.
Now I’m not an armorer, or an armor wearer….but I am a female physical therapist with a potentially useful idea. To me, realistic female breastplates would be built like a TLSO brace that is used for patients after spine surgery. (see this pic for reference http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6079/6127176279_0979f382ba.jpg).
A woman’s hips are gonna do much of the actual holding up of the breast plate itself, though with hipless or extra busty women shoulder straps are useful. The brace creates an hourglass effect on most women that I’ve worked with. It also gives you breast lift like you haven’t had since you were 18. Yes, the downside is uni-boob, however at one time that was very sexy (ie renaissance period through french revolution). In the brace format, the padding is attached to the overpiece to prevent pinching and wrinkles that hurt like heck. I have even seen the top pieces have extra molding down to show abs (which may or may not be there), etc to aid in the attraction appeal.
And here I thought it was gothic with a pair of elbows and mittens that I did not like, shows just how little I know at times. 😉
Well, you can also have sexy fantasy armour for female characters that did not show any skin, and I think this was some of the focus. Offcourse, the problem with that they are often drawn in sexual poses are something that still persists. Most infameous probably the one of the hafling who looks like she just gave a job with her hand to a rod. (you know the picture when you see it, that open mouthed expression of shock…).
That is really something that the article above does’nt put into focus though, which might be worth considering: There is both the thing they are wearing and the pose they have.
Take the pictures from Tera? They are all sexually provocative for the female characters.
Ragnarok online: The movement of the hips means that you can practically see her sway back and forth in a rather impractical fashion for the male viewer.
Then there is the one from Soul Calibur: Her stance is completly ordinary.
@ruerl, you are right about the sexualized pose issue. I didn’t cover it at all because I wanted to focus only on the armor and sexualized poses span pretty much every genre.
I love this post, on the bright side you might check out the newer mmo Star Wars: The Old Republic. Women are armored in the same exact outfits as the men except they’re a little more form fitting. (A bonus of living in a futuristic society) Alot of the armor actually looks like it’s inspired by Mass Effect (Bioware wins again) which is always a good thing.
I’ve seen some really nice adaptations of late 14th-early 15th c quirasses for women. It’s a popular style out where I live. The bonus is that there is little the armorer need do to modify existing ‘patterns’ for the extra ‘padding’.
In addition, even a gambezon with nicely tailored kidney belt can be quite flattering, and very practical when dealing with sneaky types.
Where do you regularly play? SCA? Faire?
Ryan I would like to say thank you for further schooling me about this subject, I wouldn’t have even come across this subject hadn’t have not been for a armor mod on the nexus website for skyrim it was basicly called Less Sexual armor. Yea I read some of the posts on there and saw that people were basicly saying some were perverts due to the whole deal with how the armors that were made by some of the modders to look on women and whatnot, and I came across this link.
Now as far as I know about armor and peoples perception about how full armor would look on women well I already knew that back in the day it wasn’t like how its seen now hence the whole “fantasy” deal. Now what I do know or what I think I know so far is what people don’t take into account about armors which would be, yes they are wearing less which would make it less practical because all it take is one screw up and your pretty much a done deal if something hits the exposed part of the body the armor is not covering. True but what some people don’t take into account is the fact that yes while your defenses are lowered where your lacking in one aspect you gain more in others, more or less the things you cant see like your speed,stamina,increased mobility or possibly strength.
And I think the other deal is the weight of the armor itself. Now at one point in time I did actually try on a full set of armor (I think it was plate armor I’m but I’m not sure it was waay too long ago) and lemme tell you I couldn’t really.. move lol. I took a few steps and I was a done deal and the funny part was It was my size and and it was like I was carrying dead weight, I dunno about anyone else but that was just my experience.
Wait was there a point I was trying to make? lol Oh yea the point I was trying to make is when I say less is more I don’t mean in defense department I mean in other categories, hmm maybe the argument on the forum the mod that was posted and the responses to the mod that were posted that led me to this link came off to me as “Practicality Over Style”. Therese always going to pros and cons between the 2 specially
when it comes down to to the art. Also between the 2 the main determining factor would be the person themselves that are wearing them.
I’m a guy and I do like almost(and I mean “almost” cause there’s some stuff that’s just too much) some forms of armor on women even down to the art-style that are depicted in videogames. What I find messed up is people think that cause I prefer females with less armor on that makes me a pervert and I find that to backwards, it just means I appreciate the female form Respectfully. But no one ever gripes about when a male wears less armor.
I could say more but I mean what is there more to say about? the article and the responses pretty much covered most of what people were pretty much already thinking about, and what takes the cake is that it comes from the eyes of a person in that profession.
I have to say this has been one of the most intelligent or should say mature discussion I’ve seen
without all the ignorance involved.
Again Ryan, thanks for the schooling it may not be everything I need to know but the general aspect I’ve learned much about at this point and to everyone else who posted their responses I thank you too it helps to get more than one aspect on the matter without all the ignorance. Lol and to think as soon as I woke up I wanted to register and post this because I found this subject to be informative. ^-^
So, what’s the consensus on Skyrim armor? I really liked Daedric. Seemed to emphasize the feminine curves but still be very intimidating and very covering.
well it has something for everyone even the most absurd stuff from mods i did like daedric tho.
imo its just fanservice and eyecandy. We all know its fantasy and nothing to be critical about.
If people start to apply real science to video games, then physicists would complain about the concept of teleport, biologists about the ecosystems in the environment, historians about the timeline, and male characters should start with more strength than female characters lol
A good article going over the many goofy things about fantasy armor. However, if you really want to be a nitpicker most settings have issues with technology and magic. If these worlds were truly logical there wouldn't be much armor to begin with.
Take Warcraft for example which has a lot of guns and steampunk elements. Logically no one in their right mind would be running around in full plate armor as in our world these advances destroyed the cost benifit of full plate armor. I should point out that plate armor (at least partial plate) goes back to Greek and Roman times. In fact Lorica segmentata goes back clear to the 9th century BCE.
Of course bad armor design is not just for the ladies. Take the tier 11 hunter set in Warcraft for instance. Not only does the helmet make you look like your are being eaten by a murlock but it is in a day glow green color–not exactly the best color for a class that is supposed to be slealthy in the woods. It doesn't even aesthetically look good. Why was this made?! It is nealry as ridiculous as rangers in AD&D1 being able to wear plate armor. We even had a joke about that: I'm being slealthy (clang clang clang)
Though as bas as that is it doesn't match the cheesecake issue for armor that looks mor elike it was designed for gladiatorial combat then any actual battlefield.
how did you get started as an armor smith? do you make weapons too? Do you have any advice for some one who wants to get started in armor and weapon smithing?
also is ther a way i could contact you for some custom armor? please let me know ive been trying to learn as much as i can about the subject!
@Arshes I can’t speak for the ladies out there, though I’ve heard plenty of complaints from my friends. Generally in a game you wear the armor with the best stats you can get, and a lot of those armors look different whether they are on a male or female model. Ironically I found a chest in WoW that was till boobie armor on my male character’s model. And it sucked because it was really good armor so it took me about a week to find something better. Every time I saw what that character looked like I cringed. So I can sympathize with female gamers that don’t want to be forced to inanely sexualize their characters by the design of the game art.
I started armouring just out of curiosity about twelve years ago. I started with chain armour. It’s easy to do and doesn’t take much equipment or skill, just a lot of patience. I didn’t start seriously doing any work with plate armour until a few years ago when I was more permanently established and had a workspace. That, unfortunately, didn’t last and I am again without a good space to make lots of noise for long periods. That’s a requirement of working with plate.
I’ve made a couple of decorative blades just by grinding stainless steel bar, but actual weaponsmithing takes skills and tools I don’t have. It is blacksmithing. Armorsmithing is actually a lot more like tinsmithing or coppersmithing as it is done on sheets of metal and is mostly done cold. There is surprisingly little crossover except for the swinging of hammers.
I can recommend a book called “Thechiques of Medieval Armour Reproduction” by Brian R. Price as a decent guide to making plate armour.
My first plate projects were breastplates for teddy bears. I’d recommend something similar. It takes very little material and you can get pretty good results with only a few tools.
Hope that helps,
thank you so much ryan i cant wait to
Great article. Here’s another to add to your collection of covered up but still sexy women.
I think most of the time people just want to feel bad ass. That’s why super heroes are usually near naked. They shouldn’t have to defend themselves. That’s one thing I think a lot of character design takes into account. You can have a full suit of armor or have skimpy armor and a big sword. People understand that the skimpy stuff isn’t going to save your life and they can see that most of the time it’s just there to be eye candy but they like the thought of not needing it.
Another point to make is that in World of Warcraft armor is enchanting and has other attributes besides the actual armor. So it being skimpy is all fine and dandy. If you can kill whatever is attacking you before it kills you then you don’t need armor.
One more point: there are surprisingly few stabbing weapons (at least used to stab) in games. You rarely see people in movies stab as well. So there’s a thematic role you also have to consider. That didn’t make sense but shhh. But what I was trying to say is that there are fewer moments in a battle within a game or movie than in a real fight where a slash across your thighs or a stab at your stomach or neck might happen. 9/10 times the people are super human to some extent so even if there is a stab or thrust or slash in one such area they’ll sufficient foresight to move just out of the way.
But I just wanted to add some points of interest to the discussion. I like it either way.
A standing ovation! Well thought-out, excellent examples and you know your stuff. Bonus points for boob-plate armour directing weapons towards the heart.
Well personally I would like to make a female armour like a traditional musketeers armour with a wider chest.
What a great observation, dancingdwarf! I’m totally going to work the look of the brace you’ve posted and your observations on that into the illustration I’m planning re: a woman in armor.
And thank you for this article, Ryan – it’s a practical discussion on a hot-button topic for the community, in it’s way. Thank you , thank you, thank you!
Thank you so much for this article. I play World of Warcraft and have spent a long time setting up my character’s armor, which was annoying enough since Blizzard changes nearly all armor on women to barely cover or be skin-tight/leather looking (when it’s supposed to be plate). But the amount of times I’ve been told it is “boring” or stupid because it’s not skimpy and barely covering (draenei are considered to be one of the “sexy” races)… It’s frustrating.
Those are similar to what women have the option of wearing under a fencing jacket; I imagine in a medieval or/and fantasy setting, the extra weight might be a hindrance, unless it is some weightless fantastical metal like mithril from Middle Earth or somesuch:
Great article! I’m female so maybe I can’t judge but I actually think that the women in proper armour look a lot more badass and sexy than the ones just running around in their underpants. I’ve always hated classes in games where all the guys predictably choose to play it simply because of the women in it (elementalists in Guild Wars for example, or using the Norn hero.) I want games and fantasy art to be more respected, but I feel that if they continue to pander towards natural male urges it will never happen; It tends to come off as being a bit immature. Thanks for writing this, a really enjoyable read – sharing it with all my friends :P.
Regarding pic #2, Red Sonja: not just to a swordfight but in the snow. It’s snowing, and she’s outside in her bra and panty set! Is frostbite sexy?
That sort of thing has long annoyed me in fantasy art. Not just objectifying but absurd.
Or how about some of this…
Everyone complains about how little armor some classes wear, but if you look at actual history… some of the most fearsome warriors wore next to nothing… but why?
Fact of the matter is… if you have done any type of martial arts… you would understand how important movement is, however in the modern world this is something that has been misconstrued with sexuality.
Ask yourself which of the following you would fear the most taking into account actual historical warriors. A male or female warrior wearing so much plate armor they can barely stand. Or the female warrior in apache indian clothing (bikini perhaps, considering there may be women that cry a river if true native clothing was used — no breast coverage) like in the old days… prior to modern civilization when these games generally take place in (Long before the 13th century). Any warrior in full plate is very slow… I can run around them in circles picking up rocks and wear them out to the point where they cannot stand. Then in one fell swoop picking up a large rock throwing it on their chest would indent the armor piercing the body parts they tried to protect so much killing them in a very inhumane manner…
Armor serves 2 purposes, one being protection and secondly as a weapon depending on the type of armor. Obviously if the armor is so restrictive and heavy that you could hardly swing your primary weapon then you loose both the ability to fight and defend yourself. Keep in mind that historically a big hammer hitting a large steel plate will indent the armor into the wearer’s body crushing lungs and internal organs. Where as steel arm bands and leg plates with a non intrusive leather torso would allow for maneuverability, assisted blocking with the steel plates, and weaponized usage of the steel plates to kick and stun the enemy.
Next time before you say too little clothing this or too little clothing that… Consider the ancestors that we all come from and the wars that they were in. Even the roman knights wore *skimpy* armor in comparison to some of the insane full plate armor we see in some games… Also remember that full plate armor didn’t really appear until approximately the 14th century most games are based in the 1st or second era (centuries BC).
Here is another post you might like which also shows the physical toll it took to wear full plate: http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/07/21/soldier-in-full-plate-armor-running-on-a-threadmill-video/
Final thought… everyone in game always wants to run everywhere they go, with that in mind, by the time you run to the closest 2 mobs you would be so exhausted that the enemy would destroy you before you can pick up your weapon or shield…
Will, the historical use of armour is a very different subject than was addressed in this post, and perhaps one I should cover. It can be summarized in a sentence, though: combatants have always worn the best protection they had access to, given what they expected to be fighting against.
This article was not a call for historical accuracy. That doesn’t even have meaning in a fantasy setting. This article was about the fact that female armour in fantasy is often designed to be clearly worse than their male counterparts simply to be sexy. I have attempted to show why this is silly, potentially ruinous for the immersion of the setting, and unnecessary.
Also, if you are playing a game set in historical Europe before the 13th century that has foot soldiers in full-plate, write the art team and tell them to do some homework. None of those things existed.
How funny to find this article whilst searching the internet for images of “real” female warriors…and being appalled at the complete lack of protective armor in 99.9% of the images! I was well aware of the popularity of fantasy art and such, but come on! Absolutely absurd the amount of sexual fantasy images and how few of realistic woman warrior images. Thank you for a most enjoyable perspective on the subject, and I found a few images here that are just what I had in mind.
Although in fantasy artwork I tend to favor the more naked kind of armor I found a nice picture that would fit this hole discussion:
The strangest example of female armour I’ve encountered lately was the main character in the Dragon Age animated film. The top half is fine, but her lower half is a metal skirt and bare thighs above high boots. It’s very odd. 😐
That Appleseed example example is really bad. The girl is nearly naked because she is going into her Landmate in a hurry just after waking up so she is in pajamas.
Normally the landmate pilot is wearing a full body suit wich while being a little … sexy … is made to be fire protective, and is a full neural net.
Like this : http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100813055040/appleseed/images/1/13/Landmate_cross_section.jpg%5B1%5D
I hate that he chose this example because Appleseed is one of my favorite manga because it is really really realistic and everything makes sense 🙁
Guillaume, I think your complaint strengthens the point I was trying to make there. That example was meant to illustrate that you can use context to show sexy, scantily clad women with practical armour.
While perhaps an Appleseed Landmate isn’t really “practical,” it is clearly designed to serve a combat function without any accommodations made for displaying cleavage.
Great article – I like how you break it down into its component issues. I wrote an article on this a few weeks ago for gatheringmagic.com (but more about overfocus on breasts) specifically in a Magic the Gathering context. Thanks for the informative and entertaining read!
Regardless of actual history, the issue with MMOs/fantasy art armour isn’t realism, horned helmets are a terrible idea, but they have em all the time, I mean their are dragons for chrissake, the issue is the fact that lady armor is metal lingerie and men’s armor isn’t. The issue is sexism not realism.
Take the MMO art, rarely is any of the armor practical in combat, but the woman’s version shows face and a shit ton of skin, which even if it weren’t impractical is questionable as it’s just so blatantly sexualized. I wouldn’t object if the men’s armor was basically metal short shorts and molded nips or something, but it’s not… it’s full plate armor, the issue again is not realism but inequality, and can we just acknowledge that that’s the problem, not bullshit about unrealistic armor in a FANTASY scenario?
Basically, this is a bad argument for a good cause
Appealing to nerd’s weird obsession with “realism” in their fantasy and sci-fi is just encouraging their stupid bullshit failure to understand how narrative works, the fact that it’s sexist should be enough of a problem on its own.
Honestly the idea that a guy who’s a boobs guy is somehow less reasonable than a face guy is silly, if a guy likes boobs, a guy likes boobs. Similarly, plate armour was HEAVILY influenced by fashion, as someone who took years of costume history, believe me, I know. Armour was not just utile, asexual and drab, men often had giant crotch horns, snazzy butt plates, yeah you erase the natural figure of the person, but they did often create an exaggerated one on top. Just sayin’.
Madeira Darling has it spot-on. You have Reality and you have Fantasy… They don’t need to connect. I went to school for 3d animation many years ago and I had to learn that it was what was visually appealing to your target audience that mattered. Physics don’t matter. Course if you want reality we can have women running around in nothing but a chastity belt, as not many women fought period, let alone wore armor.
Medeira, Robert, I’m not sure if you read to the end of the article, but I like to think I addressed the fact that I’m necessarily advocating for “realistic” armor. Internally consistent within the setting is brilliant. I’m not advocating for real, I’m advocating for coherent.
Also, the reality is that plate armor was worn in combat for a very brief period in history by a very small number of people. The fancy armor that Medeira speaks of is mostly parade armor. It’s a costume. The majority of actual combat armor was very utilitarian.
Regarding Robert’s claim that appealing to the target audience is all that matters, well that’s an extreme stance. Appealing to an audience is important for any business venture, but there is a balance to be struck. Artists are not just tasked with making things pretty, they set mood, define character and deepen narrative. Attire should reflect the character and the world in which they live.
Also, physics do matter. The rules can be broken, but if it isn’t done carefully, the results are jarring. If the audience id drawn to notice the flaws, then they have been pulled out of the immersion of the experience.
Pretty good article. I enjoyed reading it and I agree with your general premise… but I do have to nitpick a little. The lead in especially seems to ring a little hollow when you start off with two examples of ill clad warrior women, and then immediately dismiss opposite gender counter examples as irrelevant because they’re not ‘supposed’ to be armored. It feels like an incredibly arbitrary distinction you’re making there (especially when a character like Red Sonja has a very similar premise to the characters you’re comparing her too).
Also think you missed an pointed observation with your Sauron pic and the male characters in the Tera group shot. It’s the same essential process that’s being applied to those female characters, just with a different aim in mind.
Jessica M, I will adress your first point, as I think I can do so in a reasonable length and comes in what I hope will be a compelling appeal. In art, what appears more naked: a nam fully in the nude, or a man wearing only a pair of socks? I would argue that the socks punctuate the nakedness, that the reminder of clothing throws into contrast the lack thereof. Manet’s painting “Olimpia” had similar effect, reminding the viewer of the nakedness by contrasting it with some simple jewelery.
I posit that putting a little bit of armor on is similar, it brings into focus how poorly protected the body not covered by the armor is. Conan, in many depictions anyway, has no armor at all. This is foolish, but character appropriate and it does not remind the viewer of the fact. Red Sonja, however, wears armor but only a small ammount. It seems to say “these are the only bits that need protecting, I care not for the rest of my body.” Well, to me, anyway.
A 2 cents from someone who made armor himself, interesting.
I agree with most part of your argument here. We here not asking for reality! This is fiction after all. But is it mean we can do whatever we want with it? Absolutely note. Having things like bikini armor is stupid. It promote bad writing and depiction of women in many fiction. Instead of exposing the character psyche, they prefer showing of the character boobs, cleavage, midriffs, and legs.
The only part that I couldn’t agree on is the ME example, because the female (though, yes, ME still show some internal consistency with Shepard) counterpart have boobsplate.
What a great article! Love how you broke down all functional problems into sections and proposed some fixes. Definitely going to feature link to it on my blog devoted to this problem, bikiniarmorbattledamage.tumblr.com
@Ryan, would you mind if I paired it with this “mathematical” image from the beginning?
Awesome article. I see that you mentioned it briefly but a few people seem confused. I want to discuss people wearing little armor. Scantily clad women in plate armor, or maille (chainmail) is ridiculous. Little amounts of armor can be acceptable, particularly among barbarian or other “light” fantasy classes. However, this would be traditional “light armour” types. Wearing a leather loincloth to battle, realistic for certain characters or time periods. And the leather bra is ok, because you need to cover the breasts to make it PG. Wearing a chainmail (sic) bikini is silly because it does not add significant protection. If she wanted the protection of chainmail she would be wearing a hauberk (chainmail shirt).
Now, light armor could often be better portrayed as a tunic, padded armor/ gambeson or even leather/ leather plates, scales ,etc. I for one am a fan of Elder scrolls armors because they (usually) look badass and are not too ridiculous.
Also, newcomers should keep realism in mind. What a couple people seem to forget is that the nerds who are willing to put a lot of resources into a game are often the type of people that will argue relentlessly over continuity. So anything in game should make sense or you risk alienating your fanbase. Yes, people argue over the physics of video games. Yes, sometimes you have to suspend disbelief a little or chaulk something up to magic or science. But if you have two equal games and one does not make sense, a significant amount of people will choose the one that does, even over naked avatars.
Historically most people did not wear armor not because they had a “light” class but because they could not afford more than a helmet and shield and maybe some extra padding on a shirt. The weapons used also need to be taken into account. If you can dance around a knight all day that’s awesome… unless he can effectively ignore your sword strikes. Fully armored knights in plate are freaking tanks. People would be crowding around them stabbing them to no avail. That’s why war hammers and mauls became useful. Its also why swords became sharp triangular shapes after the 14th century. They had to stab through the chainmail between the cracks in the armor. Swords just don’t cut through plate.
You want to bring up enchantments. Well an enchantment would make a an armor less liekly to break or reduce impact/damage when it is hit. That is no help if you are stabbed in the unprotected stomach. Speed enchantments maybe, but they could just as easily be applied to something realistic (say splint armor and a brigandine, which provides some protection).
Here is a link to a description of different kinds of armor. It should prove helpful.
Interesting to see from an armourers point of view, here are a few other views on fantasy stuff:
Swordfighters point of view: all those weapons are crap and unwieldable!
Doctors point of view: medieval person with flawless skin and all their teeth? Inconceivable!
Jockeys point of view: that’s not how a horse works!
Fitness instructors point of view: women carrying all that stuff would be a lot more muscular!
Hikers point of view: you can’t carry extra sets of armour, weapons, henchmen, horses and 60 gallons of healing potions in that shitty backpack!
Contortionists point of view: I can do that with my spine, this is too much realism for me!
Archers point of view: try shooting that bow with those boobs, hah!
My point of view: Everybody and their mother is looking to bash stuff on the interwebs, it’s probably a fashion thing or something. Some people make a good point, some are just ranting (you’re in catagory #1, by the way, otherwise I wouldn’t have read it all the way through or bothered to comment) but most people forget that its for looking at, not for being realistic or logical, not even a tiny bit. If you want realism, look out a window. If you want entertainment, look at games/comics/internet, but please stop applying logic where none is to be found or you’ll just be annoyed by the illogicalness (what’s the word for this?) Of everything you see.
Just my two eurocents