Boob-enhanced armor would have been deadly

Here's a nice analysis of why, were you actually a female warrior of olden times, you would not have wanted to wear a breastplate that showed off your breasts. Shorter version: Room for boobs is good. But outlining each boob in steel could get you killed.


    1. But, like natural mutations, some of it turns out to be advantageous.

  1. I like how she has that image of Cate Blanchette from Elizabeth: The Golden Age… I’ve been wanting to see that and have not gotten around to it. I assume that was taken from a part in the film where Elizabeth gives that famous speech to the navy about the battle the spanish (the event which lucked Elizabeth into history)… the part about having a frail body of a woman, but the heart and stomach of a king.  That seems like it would be the correct thing for her to have worn, not armour that enhanced her boobs…

    1. Since we’re critiquing unrealistic representations of women in combat, what about her hair? Makes a *wonderful* handle for when someone gets in close and tries to slit her throat.

      1. Generally a bad idea to let your monarch get that close to the fighting in the first place.

        1. On the other hand, it is a good idea to keep your liege well supplied with horses when in battle.

        2.  How did her grandfather become king, again? Something about a horse, and a car park…

        3. So noted. And really, if someone’s close enough to try and grab her hair, things are probably sufficiently pear-shaped that a more combat-appropriate hair style wouldn’t help :) And, more than likely, no one would be trying to slit her throat in any case as she’d be far more valuable as a hostage.

          But really, this was mostly just a convenient photo to illustrate my point. Guys with ponytails (myself included), take heed.

      2. Pish. Xena knocked out a few people with a sharp whip of her tresses.

    2. It’s also fairly likely that the royal armory didn’t exactly have a large supply of “Royal Fantasy Fanservice” hardware on hand when she decided to give the speech.

      Unless you’ve got a blacksmith whose lead times are so good that you should probably burn him for witchcraft, if you want to deliver a stirring speech to the troops, you do it with the breastplate you have—not the breastplate you might want or wish to have at a later time…

      1. Elizabeth I’s father’s ex-wife, Catherine of Aragon, had a suit of armor made to fit her when she was hugely pregnant and led English troops into battle while Henry was in France.

        1. She’s always been my favorite of the European monarchs.  They don’t make ’em that tough anymore.

          1. She was pretty cool considering that her parents were arguably the most horrible people in history.

          2. That adds to her glory, not detracts.  Talk about “that which does not kill you….”

  2. On behalf of everyone interested in historical combat – thankyou.  This needs to be said more often and louder.

    Top ten things I don’t want on armour, number 1: Angled plates slanted towards my heart.

  3. The article states ‘science’, but it only speculates. They have made a hypothesis that boob-enhanced armor would be deadly, but they haven’t cited any references or performed any experiments. They’ve only stated some plausible disadvantages in their hypothesis (which is not enough to prove it was deadly). Saying “now we’ll apply some science!” is pure and utter BS if you don’t perform an experiment or cite a scientific reference.

    Here are the hypotheses:
    1. a. Armor is designed to deflect blows.
    1. b. Boob armor would direct blows to the center of the chest.
    1. c. A blow to the center of the chest is more dangerous.

    2. a. The design of the armor would kill a woman if she fell in the right way by directing a strong force toward the sternum.
    2. b. A woman falling in armor in the above way was a plausible occurrence.

    Each one of these hypotheses could be flawed. Without testing each of them, science has not been performed.

    1. I’m torn between your standing up for science and your dismissive tone.  Thought experiments and engineering approximations are useful and you don’t always need full rigour to learn something. Especially in a case this simple:

      1) a) Not exactly an unlikely hypothesis; are you really saying you need citation on this?

      1) b) I haven’t tested experimentally… because I would never find a woman in my fencing group stupid enough to volunteer.  Yes, it would.  It increases the towards-the-sternum target area from a near-impossible vertical line to a diamond inches across.  Further, it would tend to channel blows to the sternum up and down into the vulnerable throat and groin, instead of sideways as in real armour.

      1) c) Historical armour puts overwhelming effort into deflecting blows away from the centre of the chest.  They were experts in the subject on a level that no modern knowledge can match; we can safely assume they had their reasons, and it’s easy to figure out what they were.

      2) a) This is genuinely hypothetical, and even unlikely.  But it doesn’t matter to the result – the article correctly calls out the increased combat risk as far more important.

      2) b) Again, this is silly speculation on the part of the article, but it’s irrelevant to the conclusion.  Falling over in combat is extremely plausible, since your opponent is trying for just that.  Afterwards it won’t really matter much which way you fell.

        1. I love these “me toos”. It allows you to chip in and feel like you’ve countered my argument without doing anything. Pat yourself on the back. You did good.

      1. The point is that science has the be tested. You can’t claim science if it isn’t. The word science has a meaning–it literally means something. As to the hypotheses:

        1a) Deflection is only one option. Absorption is another. Immunity of the exposed areas is another. Consider the differences to approach of chainmail, scalemail, and platemail. And then understand why crossbows and the halberd were invented. You are criticizing me being dismissive by being even more dismissive of an important point.
        1b) It certainly depends on how a weapon is swung. Certain weapons types may suffer greater deflection from cones attached. Arrows and crossbows may glance off  with a greater frequency.
        1c) You basically said nothing here.

        1. Everything you said there is completely correct, of course. 

          (Well, except for a nitpick in 1a – there’s no such thing as platemail, and we’re specifically discussing the topic of breast-shaped breastplate forms, so chain is irrelevant.  But “deflect or absorb” is a distinction without a difference – real-world armour both absorbs and deflects, and it’s impossible to look at real designs without spotting the ways in which it’s meant to deflect, not just impede.  I understood perfectly what you meant, but I repeat my comment – “armour was designed to deflect” is an obvious and unobjectionable hypothesis, and I’d be surprised if anybody interested in the field bothered to state it.)

          That said, if I were to speculate, I’d speculate that the research funding to perform the study properly is not readily available.  It would be a wonderful world if every casual use of “science” on the internet actually involved actual scientific standards, but in this case reasonable speculation is probably as close as we can have.  (If you know a source, I know a lot of experts who’d gladly help with the study…)

          1. It would be a wonderful world if every casual use of “science” on the internet actually involved actual scientific standards

            This is what bothers me. We do not need ‘science’ to become the next ‘literally’.

    1. It needs saying more than once, because fantasy art directors and movie people still aren’t listening.

    2.  That article shows this as a “great example”:
      I admit it looks good, but uncovered arms, shoulders and head aside, wouldn’t the shape of the breastplate deflect blows up, towards the neck? That seems even worse than deflecting them inwards toward the sternum.
      I am no expert, but I suspect, to a great deal, design of armour depends on the weapons and fighting styles you expect to meet on the battlefield. For instance, in modern Kendo, supposedly derived from traditional swordfighting, blows to the chestarea don’t even count, if I am not mistaken. It is considered an unpenetrable part to the relatively light swords used. Instead the fighters aim for the neck and abdomen.

      1. It is a bit strange that her sword arm has no upper arm protection, but her shield arm does. I think there’s a bit of compromise here between a realistic suit of female combat armour and aesthetics

  4. Next you’re going to tell me that the kind of chainmail bikinis you see women warriors wearing in fantasy art do not offer adequate protection in combat (and probably chafe something terrible as well).

      1. Pointless?  Most of the lines in the armor point directly to the important parts.

  5. It’s very simple physics and geometry that a uniformly convex enclosure is going to be more resistant to outside forces trying to collapse it. That’s middle school stuff.

    1. No it isn’t. The static case is discussed in university level mechanical engineering courses, usually 2nd year. And in any case, you are assuming that there is a possibility to collapse it, that somebody would plausibly swing a weapon in a way that boob armor would focus, and that the boob armor makes collapse much more likely. Without modeling it, it is hard to tell. The cones and the reinforcements needed to add them might even ‘strengthen’ the armor at that area and make it less likely to collapse. They might distribute the forces in a more beneficial way. I don’t know. But I’m not just going to assume.

      Btw, modelling an impulse (much more complex than the static case) is not a trivial thing. This is 3rd or 4th year physics, or grad school for most other sciences and engineering fields since it requires PDEs and a crapload of applied math to model. None of this is middle school stuff.

      1. I’ll accept your word on the engineering, but I can tell you that there is a possibility to deform and collapse the armour, since both sides are using weapons designed for that purpose.  (Contrary to most people’s mental pictures from the movies, almost certainly not swords – a sword is a sidearm, not for use against full harness unless you have no alternative.  The poleaxe is the weapon of choice here.)

        That said, I don’t need to model the effects on the structural integrity of the armour to know that it’s very bad for the wearer.  I can model the sword moves in my head, and the results are unpleasant.  (I can assure you that there are several plausible swings, and many lunges, that boob armour would be bad against… three of the first five attacks that came to my mind would benefit, and I’m only a poor fighter – someone competent would do better.)

          1. Oh, no argument there.  Nothing involving armour/weapon interaction has ever been simple science of any kind.
            The only simple physics involved in my mental model is the (pretty obvious) conclusion that boob armour makes lunges at the sternum more likely to deflect up or down instead of sideways.

  6. While the article is interesting, it ignores a current, modern use of this: female chest protectors in fencing:

    While they are considered uncomfortable by many fencers, they are far better than not having them at all. And all modern versions do, in fact, mold around each breast.

    Some things are obviously different, however: in fencing, if you get hit in the chest then you’re hit: if doesn’t matter if the point deflects inwards or outwards. In real fighting, where it’s ok if you get hit so long as your armor protects you, this is a different matter, as the article says. So ensuring that the blade slips outwards is probably much more important. That said, if you were to get hit on a “uni-boob” breastplate, I’d wager that there is a greater chance of the blade slipping up towards the neck, which may well be worse than it deflecting towards the (heavily armored) sternum.

    1. I suspect that the main difference with fencing is the magnitude of the forces involved:

      Taking a foil or epee point straight to the sternum isn’t wildly fun; but documented lethality  is, to the best of my knowledge, zero(it helps that the tip is blunt and the blade is flexible, so it is actually quite difficult to deliver excessive force, even if you lunge right into somebody good and hard, unlike the case with a rigid, edged/pointed weapon). Also, since harder hits aren’t worth any more points, and tend to involve some loss of control, they aren’t encouraged.

      An epee or foil tip(or saber, though if you get a sabre tip to the chest something has gone a little odd…) will bruise soft tissue, sometimes even abrade a bit, depending on how hard the hit is and how vulnerable the target is. 

      The punch-line is basically that, in fencing, the only real constraints are protecting the soft tissue(groin, face/eyes, throat, breasts, with some bruising accepted elsewhere) and the forces involved are low enough that bone and substantial cartilidge structures can be allowed to take care of themselves.

      With actual swords and maces and stuff, you are wearing a steel sheel because your bones aren’t equal to the task of protecting your vital organs. Plus, ‘scoring’ does reward lethal hits as opposed to mere taps or glancing blows that are scored as ‘hits’ in fencing, so it’s worth turning a core hit into a glancing hit.

    2. That’s true, but irrelevant – the fencing protector is (a) made of modern materials and (b) not meant to protect against injury by edged weapons wielded with intent.  As you say, real fighting doesn’t care about whether you’re hit, but whether you’re injured – not the same design constraints at all..

      In historical armour, hits to the sternum are deflected sideways, precisely to avoid channeling the strike up towards the neck.  The “breasts” approach would channel blows both toward the sternum and upward to the throat; it’s doubly terrible.  The ‘uniboob’ approach has precisely the problem you indicate, which is another reason it wouldn’t exist.

      (The women I spar with in longsword do wear modern moulded fencing plastrons… underneath their unisex armour.)

      1.  Our school fencing-master (yes, we had one) referred to them as ‘kadoinkers’ due to the noise they made when struck.

    3. The fencing armor is interesting, but here’s a counterexample: women in mixed martial arts wear a chest protector that’s as flat as a board.  And it’s not a man’s protector – men don’t wear them at all. OTOH, it’s designed to protect against punches, not swords.

      1. A mixed martial arts punch is probably closer to how a sword strike works than a modern fencing foil or epee.

    4.  But that would be worn *under* the outer padding, correct?  That position would smooth out the area instead of creating a sternum valley.

      1. A fencing jacket provides some additional protection against penetrations and lacerations; but isn’t ‘padded’ enough to really change your shape much. The cloth is sufficiently stiff that, if not under load, it would lie approximately flat; but the shape of the plate underneath would be readily apparent if you landed your point in the area.

        1. Thanks.  One of my kids is thinking about going into fencing, so it’s useful info to keep in mind.

    5.  Modern sports fencing simulates unarmoured fencing. Adn they do that with blunt weapons. Deflection is unnecessary and hurts what it’s trying to simulate. You want thin armour that only has to absorb blunt thrusts.

  7.  How far are we allowed to take this line of reasoning? If the physique of the female is relevant to the shape of her armor, is it relevant to her role as a fighter? Women typically lack the reach, the muscle mass, the upper body strength, etc etc of men, does that maybe mean they shouldn’t be put on a battlefield where they might be expected to fight men?

    Game of thrones sidesteps this question, mostly, by casting a large woman for Brianne of Tarth, and realistically showing some of the bigotry such a soldier would likely endure. But I have yet to see a depiction of Joan of Arc where she wasn’t sexed up to resemble some warrior princess.

    On the gripping hand, a strong case can be made for female fighter pilots being able to outperform their male counterparts. It’s just hard to project that advantage back in time. I hope Dany can show us a thing or two when her weapon system matures.

    1. Actually, there’s plenty of historical precedent for female fighters in medieval times – as an experienced fencer will tell you, muscle mass and upper body strength aren’t actually all that important with swords (although reach is).  It’s a problem for soldiers, but for reasons completely unrelated to duelling-with-swords – more to do with the weight of armour and field gear.

      The field campaign armies of the period would be men, but local militia were often female – officially and unofficially.  (And they’d wear the same armour as the men; breast-shaped armour is stupid on many levels.)

    2. Women typically lack the reach, the muscle mass, the upper body strength, etc etc of men, does that maybe mean they shouldn’t be put on a battlefield where they might be expected to fight men?

      if you watch any kind of fighting, you’ll know that scrappiness can overcome quite a few of those disadvantages.

      1. One of the best Viking spear-fighters in Qld, Australia is a woman, my (male and sometimes bigoted) instructor who has 20 years of experience in various styles has repeatedly said I should pay very close attention to how she fights if I want to get good with a spear. Oh, and she’s about 5’2″

    3.  You’re talking averages, not specifics. There are plenty of women who are bigger, stronger and taller than some men. Women the size and strength of Brianne of Tarth do exist. But yes, on average, women were less likely to fight on the battlefield than men.

      As for Joan of Arc, I haven’t seen any depictions where she was sexed up. All the versions I’m aware of stick to the historical version in historical armour. Without a helmet so people can see it’s her, but otherwise in proper armour designed to keep her alive (and not to give her followers exciting dreams).

  8. It is conceivable that the convexity would reduce the incidence of blows sliding towards the vulnerable arm-joints. Once you have an arm off, fighting presumably becomes more difficult.

    1. True, but redirecting blows that would have hit the elbow towards the heart is not, in fact, a gain.  In full harness the vulnerable arm-joint is typically at the shoulder; the chest-plate doesn’t really make much difference there.

      1.  That is incredibly common, though. Hands, wrists and arms are your most vulnerable parts in a sword fight, because they’re the parts you stick towards the enemy. And lots of historical techniques take advantage of that. Look up the Abschnitt; they appear in tons of variations.

        In I.33 sword and buckler fighting, you use your buckler to protect your sword hand for exactly this reason.

        In tournaments and sparring with modern nylon training longswords, the required protection is usually mask and gloves. Everything else is optional.

        Of course a highly skilled fighter will make sure he won’t get hit on his hands, but that’s equally true for every other part of his body.

        1. Well, yes, all of that’s true – I was oversimplifying a lot for Boing comment purposes.  (If the arms weren’t vulnerable, the krumphau would be a lot less useful.)  But as you say, I.33 is full of techniques to defend those vulnerabilities.  And a lot of the fechtbuchen aren’t primarily discussing strikes against full harness, but against lighter and more vulnerable armour.

          (That said, our group does _not_ consider body padding optional for sparring – mostly because we don’t always use nylons.  I love my nylons passionately, but they really don’t teach everything.)

  9. This is something I learned early on, not from conjecture, but from experiences of female fighters in the SCA. I’ve seen some excellent adaptations of breastplates for women that do allow more room up top, but use a sports-bra-like uni-boob approach so that no force is translated to the sternum.

    As for the fencing armor referenced above, well, that’s fine for fencing – it’s when you are taking blows from actually sharp weapons, or blunt ones of significant mass that the problem with, er, duo-boob armor arises.

  10. Okay, now that this mystery has been solved… what are the pros/cons of the current Batman’s “nippled” armor?

  11. Not so impressed by the bibliography at the end of the linked article:

    “Information on female armor obtained from My Gaming and Tumblr.”

  12. Here, have a picture of some actual historic austrian armor actually designed for a female knight.  Yes, it conforms to body shape.

    1. Sorry blueandroid, that is a tonelet armour, not an armour designed for a female, but rather a style of armour popular in the early 16th century. Henry the VIII had an armour like this.

      1. I’m not referring to the tonlet (skirt-shaped part, for the non-armor-nerds).  This  example has breast-shapes with a valley between them.  I don’t believe that that feature makes it particularly more hazardous to the wearer than any other similar armor.

  13. I hae to quibble a bit about his conclusion.  Yes having a nice hard valley in the center of your chest could direct pointed blows to your sternum but during the time of heavy & full plate the time of crushing weapons?  With a gothic styled mace or battle axe ,( a real battle axe with a one inch long blade and a honking weight behind it), most glancing were obsolete anyway.  So outside of jousting and bodkin points most glancing planes wouldn’t to much.  Even with a later period Pescod breast plate the male chest was flat enough to land a plane on and only the stomach area had severe glancing planes.

  14. Considering the need for armor as such has all but vanished, and any remaining applications are quasi-fetishist/sexual in nature, I’m going to go ahead and say that boobs outlined in steel are preferable over their indistinguishable counterparts.

    And then give a quiet nod for efforts towards accuracy in historic depiction.

    1. Actually, the major remaining need for such armour is in fictional depictions of earlier-tech-level combat.  Where boob-armor is much too prevalent.  Hence the article.

      1.  Fictional depictions.

        In reference to the first comment: The problem with fiction is that it is fictitious.

        1. In many cases we’re talking about “historic recreations” rather than fiction.  And the emphasis for many/most is to be as historically accurate as possible.

          I used to do Voyageur recreations, myself.  The fact that I’m female was anachronistic, I admit, but otherwise we were quite strict.  Pea soup as pretty much our only food, nothing but Hudson’s Bay blankets to sleep on, only hand-sewed clothing made with natural materials available at the time (including dyes).  Handmade 26- and 34-foot canoes.  A lot of people really like learning about history by doing it or watching other people do it.

        2. It’s possible to be fictitious without being ridiculous.  It is one thing to deliberately make the world different and explore the consequences, and quite another to make it implausible out of laziness.

          When fictitious male armour is plausible, and fictitious female armour is unprotective due to over-gendering, then the problem with fiction is… not just that it’s fictitious.

          (Indeed, I’ve even seen boob-armour done right in fiction – I can think of at least one case where a female character asks for it for cosmetic / political reasons, and the armourer refuses until she points out that she has no intention of fighting in it.)

    2. Metal armor is pretty retro(even vehicles don’t rock the RHA like they used to); but the balance between uniformity and reasonable fit in infantry ballistic armor continues to vex the militaries of the present day.

  15. I think a lesson on how Sports Bras work might be helpful. If female athletes tie their boobs down, it would make sense that female warriors did too.

    1. I almost didn’t watch the whole thing, but holy crap, that’s amazing.  Why does anyone even bother hiring men in the espionage field anymore?

  16. ITT I get to understand what mods / posters feel like when they read my comments…

  17. I think that the argument against boob-outlining armor is less that it will inevitably lead to the death of its wearer as it is that there’s no real reason to have it in the first place. If you’re fighting , you’re not there to show off the girls. It’s a visual trope that’s there for much the same reason as Red Sonja’s scale-mail bikini. 

  18. Looking at historical examples of Roman and Greek cuirass, I find that many do indeed have ‘breasts’ of some sort in the design – many with deep a crevasse in the sternum area. Considering the widespread use of thrusting weapons during the heyday of Greek and Roman power, it would only be logical that the actual armorers and armies would have made some changes had they been a significant liability.

    1. Not quite the same thing.  The armour I suspect you’re thinking of is the classic Greek “muscle” armour.  Because it depicts an exaggerated male rather than female torso, the curve of the cuirass still tends to deflect
      sideways in hits to the torso, not up / down / in as
      with bad boob-armour – the crevasse you refer to is typically a valley at the upper sternum, not the larger target area created by bad fantasy armour.  (If your opponent hits there, he might as well adjust aim up and take the throat; the gorget was not a feature of classical armour.)

      Also, most of the weapons then in use had significantly less cutting/hammering power then the medieval poleaxe – bear in mind that Roman and Greek armies were making their weapons and armour out of softer materials.  (They knew about steel, but didn’t have armour-the-legions quantities of it.)

      1. The armour I suspect you’re thinking of is the classic Greek “muscle” armour.

        Bronze man-bustier?

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