Thursday, 30 December 2010

Female armour

Women in armour. It's one of those things in fantasy art, it's generally more fetish fantasy than actual armour that's going to save your life in the midst of pseudo-medieval combat. So let's have some practical lady armour!

Model: Nicole Leigh Verdin. 
Armor: Patrick Thaden & Ugo Serrano. 
Photo: Gayle Patridge

Model: Grace Holley
Armor: Patrick Thaden & Ugo Serrano. 
Photo: Gayle Patridge

Same armour, two models. Thaden and Serrano have managed to signify the femininity of the body shape by making the torso quite hour-glass (neither of the photos particularly show that, so use the links!) However, there are some practical problems especially with the abdomen section, where the armour would catch and exacerbate impact from a puncturing or hooking weapon. Nonetheless, this is stunning work.

White Dwarf 87: Dragonlady by David Gallagher

Obligitary White Dwarf Cover. 'nuff said. Well, except that Gallagher has left a vulnerable thigh exposed. The chainmail skirt is a nice idea tho', as are the hip plates which emphasise the, erm, hips. In some ways this might be an answer or reaction to John Blanche's Amazonia Gothique, whose armour is slightly less practical, but both address the passive / victim role people commonly associate with women in fantasy imagery (although this perception probably isn't borne out by the facts).

Cate Blanchette as ER I in Elizabeth:The Golden Age
Costume Design  Alexandra Byrne

This is amazing armour, very smooth and sleek, looks like it would just swim through sword thrusts. The film is actually very entertaining, while Miranda Richardson may have turned in the definitive portrayal of the role, Cate does a very nice job of expressing Elizabeths inner thoughts. There are a couple of shots in the trailer.

Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Tim Burtons Alice in Wonderland

Never seen the film, and I'm not sure I want to, but this image is just nailed on. That is a D&D Paladin, saving the cute widdle wabbits from eeeevil. If that were a cover for a campaign book I'd buy it. Bunnies & Burrows & Dungeons & Dragons, ha!  The armour is very cool, especially the scale-mail skirt which is the main nod to femininity, along with the decorative fluting.  There is also the over the hip groove, which does give a more feminine line but I could see that carrying a blow towards the abdomen rather than away.  The gauntlets, however, look like ski gloves wrapped in bacofoil. In action here.
 Model: Natalia Vodianova
Photographer: Dinos Chapman

Harpers Bazaar (UK) Dec 2010 edition oh, and video Silly couture people forgot that you can get attacked from the left as well the right, oh well, never-mind! The cover pose is awesome, she should be holding a sword hilt or a crossbow rather than her wrists. The concept is nominally based on Joan of Arc, and shot at Battersea Power Station. It's great to see a medieval trope played out by near mainstream fashionistas. The costume itself seems to be all about folding and wrapping and unravelling, a kind of extreme layered look, which is feminine by virtue of the play it makes with the display or unveiling of the body, so whilst it is a product of womens media, it seems reactive to the male gaze yet ultimately about control of that gaze and power. However, the side that is armoured is realistically so, no moulded breasts, and where the costume leaps into decorative and fanciful, it is on the shoulder where the form is extended out from the body rather than
moulding or re-presenting it.

Now, these are all pretty great realistic armours. No cheesy breast holders (which would cause a weakness in the armour exactly where the heart is), all the vitals well armoured... but (you knew there was a but coming) - the hair

It makes no practical sense to have long hair in plate armour. Of course, aesthetically it still gets the feminine notes that are generally missing after having the body totally concealed in metal. The practical problems being that hair will get caught in the armour joints and yanked, another it's going to get caught by an assailant and pulled at. Sure one option is to go Goth-punk like the lady on WD cover, but not everyone's going to shave the sides of their heads to reduce grabbage, and the  punk aesthetic isn't right for all characters, and neither is the St. Joan boycut (in borrowed mans armour):

Actually that's just an excuse to google for pictures of Milla Jollovich, if an excuse were needed. Milla didn't make the armour selection section as she's effectively wearing mens armour, which is entirely probable and possible (most breast types are easily wrapped up tight to the chest, space doesn't actually need to be made for them in the armour - tho' the Thaden and Serrano is an excellent compromise on this) but here I'm more interested in the design of armour that still signifies (or conforms to models of) femininity rather than abandons them.
So, anyway, some other hair options:

Taylor Swift 'Love Story' Princess hair

I've no idea who Taylor Swift is, nor do I particularly care to find out, but assuming that hair-do can stand some faster and more vigorous action than moping around gazing out of an archway, it's a good, very girly (fairy princess prom queen) armour-hair option. more photos here. Hmm, tracked down the video and watched it (with the sound off), there are some cool scenes where she's kind of wandering around with a lantern which are quite oldschool D&D if taken out of context, and with a little imagine adding 10ft poll in her other hand, and a Beholder floating... ok, ok it takes quite a bit of imagination.

'Milkmaid braids' from Chanel. Something a little Third Reich Schoolmistress about it, a bit too clean. (Re)found here - the original blog I found this image on had some 'ballet bridal fashion' - and the high tightly scraped top-knot ballet style hair is another potential for armour hair, but it's got Dominatrix / Chav / Sporty Spice connotations I don't like the taste of. Personal opinion aside, Ballet-dancer is a aspirational meme for a lot of small girls, and signification around those memes isn't such a bad idea for a female figher.

"Loose Bun" by Kelli Acciardo from Seventeen, with instructions. Quick, easy, the kind of thing a warrioress might put together in a haste, especially if the bands were wrapped up braids.

The great thing about braids is that they naturally lend themselves to cultures which are already involved in knotwork, i.e. Northern European, la Tene influenced, Anglo Saxon, classic 'Tolkienesque' fantasy, they're thematically tied-in (pun intended).

So there you go, sensible, feminine, fantasy armour and hair.

Note: pretty ladies cause traffic spikes (yes that's over 10 times more traffic to this post than any other) since it was posted 5 days ago.  So there's an advert above!

And here's a couple adventuress miniatures in sensible armour, as sculpted by Tre' Manor:

Eivor the Beautiful, above who is a lightly armoured, ranger type, and Ingrior of Aelfheim, Swordmaiden  below who is a little more on the fighter class.

Whilst none are in full plate, and Eivor and Ingigor suffer from ETS (Elmore Thigh Syndrome, named one of the all-time great D&D fantasy artists Larry Elmore who frequently represents warrior ladies with exposed upper legs). Quite coincidentally, within days of this update Tre' released two human female fighter types both with fully covered limbs.

Vilhanna of the Shield

Ylvfriodr of Ulfrstadt

The cloaks / furs across the shoulders on Ylvfriodr will certainly prevent hair-trappage in armour joints. Although I fear Vilhanna might suffer.

These miniatures are available, along with some other amazing fantasy characters at the Red Box Games miniatures webstore.

Late update:     

Odysseus Osborne sent me this picture of Shannon wearing armour he's designed:

Shannon who is a fully trained HEMA Sword & Buckler fighter
"The armour based on the viking women's apron dress and made for use with a long dress, to cover the movements and signalling. It was found that if the tassets were sent longer to cover the knee, if becomes almost impossible to attack the lower leg as well, due to the severity of the angle of the sword." For me, practical concerns aside - the extended tassets (the long pieces handing down the leg) really help feminise the costume. More at: Odysseus gallery


  1. I missed this the first time around, but, holy full-plate, Batman! This is one awesome post!

    I've been looking for realistic looking pics of fantasy women for a while, and that is not an easy job. The images you've presented here, while not really era-relevant, is more than I hoped I'd ever find.

    Thank you for posting this.

  2. Oh, and this post has been perma-linked on my blog :)