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Author Topic: So you want to buy some armor?? Here's a 'get started' guide!!  (Read 9157 times)

Ian

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Developing a Living History Hard Kit, or You Want to Buy Some Armor!

This guide is intended to help the new armor enthusiast get started in this rewarding hobby.  My emphasis will be on developing a kit that is focused on historical accuracy.  In order to really get the most out of this, your patience, diligence, and hard work is required.   If you just want someone to tell you what to buy, this may not be for you.  The advice contained herein may not adhere to certain HEMA/WMA, SCA, or other combat groups that have specific safety requirements.  Please check with your specific group about individual requirements. 

Localizing Time and Place

The first and most important thing you can do if you desire to create one cohesive impression is to determine the region and time period that most appeals to you.  The more you can narrow this down the better.  Newcomers to this hobby often make the mistake that most modern people make, and that is grouping the Middle Ages in to one giant time period.  Just as we look back on how styles change drastically from the 1980's to the 1990's to now, so too did fashion evolve in the Middle Ages.  A knight of 1300 looks nothing like his counterpart of 1350 and he in turn looks nothing like his counterpart of 1400.  That being said, an English Knight of 1380 has significant differences between his knightly counterpart in Germany in the same year!  This is why it's so important to try to localize a time and place.  The more specific the better.  A knight of the 13th century is far too vague to develop an accurate kit from.  An English Knight from the South of England in 1382 is best!  A quarter century is ok, a decade is even better, and you can take it from there. 

Pick something that interests you.  There are a few ways to go about this.  Pick a period in history that most appeals to you.  Maybe you're a huge fan of the Hundred Years War, specifically Edward III's campaign in France, or maybe you're a Wars of the Roses guy and are fascinated by the events surrounding the “Kingmaker.”  Perhaps going on crusade with one of the monastic orders like the Knights Templar or Hospitaller is something that always came to mind when you thought of a knight!  Another way to go about it is to pick a style of armor that most interests you and take it from there!  Is there a certain type of helmet you'd like to base a kit around?  A certain style of sword?

In order to accomplish this, period artwork is going to be one of your best sources to get an idea of what's out there.  Artwork can't necessarily be relied upon for ultra specific details in armor construction, but it will definitely give you a feel for the aesthetic and style of armor of various times and locations.  An excellent resource to view period original artwork is http://manuscriptminiatures.com/  .  It contains a database of manuscript illuminations from across the Medieval era.  It's search options allow you to narrow down years and regions.  Get a feel for what's out there, and start to narrow down what most appeals to you.  Various books on armor also give great overviews on how the style of armor progressed through the ages.  One commonly referenced and recommended title is Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight by David Edge and John Miles Paddock.  This particular work breaks down the Middle  Ages in to manageable chunks by century and will help you narrow your focus.

Getting Specific

Assuming you now have an idea of a time and place of interest, it's time to start looking at specifics.  One of the most common tried and true method of really figuring out the specifics of armor is to look at funerary monuments.  Brasses and effigies of dead knights were commissioned by the families of these noble lords often at sums of money that would equate to an entire year's income or more.  At prices like these, the sculptors took great pains to replicate a knight's image and his armor at its very best.  Check out the amazing resource at http://effigiesandbrasses.com/ .  Narrow your search to about 15 to 20 years or so, and look at your region of choice.  Compare and contrast different regions if you prefer.  A great method to start developing a coherent kit is to pick a specific effigy and model your kit after that one.  Being able to point to a specific effigy or brass is a great way to have a compelling primary source that documents your choices.  A more broad resource that you can use here, is a compiled analysis of over 1,000 effigies and brasses that will give you an idea of what individual pieces of armor were in use at what time, and where: http://talbotsfineaccessories.com/armour/effigy/effigy%20analysis.html

OK, time to buy armor right?  Wrong!

One of the pitfalls of developing a hard kit is the strong desire to buy the shiny bits first.  This will almost always, without fail, result in disappointment.  Usually this disappointment manifests itself in wasting significant amounts of money.  Making purchases out of order will result in ill fitting armor that not only fits poorly, but functions even worse.  Once you finally commit to doing things the more preferred way, you'll find yourself buying a lot of stuff over again.  Save yourself the heartache and do things the slow, but proven way.

Start from the inside out.  You cannot purchase armor that fits if you can't measure properly, and you can't measure properly if you don't have well fitting arming garments.  The arming garments will make or break how comfortably you are in your armor and how well it functions.  Research the arming clothes of your chosen time period.  For example, a mailled knight of 1250 would more than likely be wearing a padded gambeson as cushioned foundation for his hauberk.  A knight of 1360 in a transitional plate harness will be wearing a much more tailored arming cotte, that may still contain padding for his smaller maille haubergeon, but tight and fitted in the waist to properly suspend his plate cuisses.  A knight of 1450 will be wearing a very fitted arming doublet, with little to no padding, but serving as an anchoring point for many of the plate components of his harness.

**An aside on the proper suspension of a leg harness**
   Leg harnesses can be incredibly fatiguing and very uncomfortable if not properly supported.  The weight of your leg harness should never come to rest on your shoulders.  If your garment is ill-fitting, and you tie your leg harness to it, you can imagine the weight of those leg pieces being transferred up to and hanging from your shoulders.  Some folks accomplish this with a belt, but I recommend a properly fitted pourpoint or arming doublet.  These garments will not restrict mobility and move with the wearer.  The key to a properly suspended leg harness is to bare the weight of the leg armor on your hips.  In order to accomplish this your garment must be tight enough on the waist that when your plate legs are hung from it, it essentially locks itself in place.  This requires that your waist be narrower than your hips.  If this is not true for you, this method will not work properly, and you should consider other techniques like the belt, but this will not be ideal.  A tightly fitted garment will still work, but not quite as well as it would if your waist were narrower than your hips.



OK, time to measure yourself for some steel!

Now that you've got yourself properly outfitted in the correct undergarments, you can properly measure yourself for your armor.  Any measurement you take should be measured OVER the arming garment and any padding you intend to wear under it.  If you don''t do this, your armor will be too tight, and you'll be scrambling to sell it to fund your re-purchase.

I highly recommend following the specific instructions of your armorer on how to measure yourself.  They will know best what measurements they need in order to create your harness.  Some armor, called munitions armor, is not custom fitted to the wearer.  It's designed to fit a wider range of people, is usually cheaper, but will not feel as good as custom fitted armor.  You may find that many custom armorers would prefer to fit you in person.  If you can swing it, this is highly recommended as it is the only surefire way to ensure that you have been measured properly and appropriately for the harness you're about to invest your money in.

Finding an armorer!
There are lots of choices out there.  You will wide find a variance of skill levels and price ranges available to you on the armor market.  You may be looking at spending a few hundred dollars for everything you need, up to tens of thousands of dollars depending on how elaborate and fitted your armor will be.

There are far too many armorer's for me to list, and there are already enough resources to help you make that decision.  One of the go-to places for finding an armorer is a wonderful internet resource known as The Armour Archive (AA).  You can find it here at http://www.armourarchive.org 

*A word of caution – the Armour Archive is in general, an SCA centric community so if you're looking for something else, be specific in your requests or you may be guided down a path you're not looking to traverse.  Things like bar-grill visors for helmets, straps that hold a visor closed, or wide oculars (the eye slits in a helmet) are generally peculiar to things like the SCA and other combat organizations but are not generally historical.  Make sure you're clear about the purpose of your armor when seeking help so others may guide you appropriately.  That being said, there is a wealth of high-level knowledge to be found on the AA and very helpful people to get you to your goal.  Many of the best armorers in the world hang out on the AA and are more than willing to answer questions for you.

Custom or Off-the-shelf
This will largely be driven by your available budget and goals.  Obviously custom armor is going to look, feel, and fit better than off-the-shelf armor.  But that's not to say that off-the-shelf armor is no good.  Made by capable craftsmen, off-the-shelf armor can be of outstanding quality.  If you have the budget, you will not be disappointed by a high quality custom armorer.  Your armor will fit and function like a second skin if done right, and that's how it should be. 

Shop around and don't feel pressured to go one way or another until you're completely satisfied with what you're going to buy.  Know that armor is an investment.  It's not cheap, and when properly maintained will last you a lifetime.

Armor Maintenance
No armor is maintenance free.  If you're looking for something that you can rip off after a day in the hot sun, dump in a tub and pull it out 4 months later to do again, then go by yourself some plastic or aluminum armor.  If you want the real deal, it will require maintenance.  Usually this is just in the form of keeping your armor oiled and rust free.  There are a myriad of products on the market that can accomplish this.  Many high quality firearm care products will work as well as more common products like WD-40.  There are even specifically made waxes that can be used for arms and armor.  Seek out what others are using in the community and you'll find that there are lots of methods that are all highly effective.  The leather straps on your armor, depending on frequency of use, will eventually wear out or break.  This is a repair that can easily be done by you if you have some basic skill with a hammer, and have access to basic tools like a power drill and a hammer, and access to some basic supplies like a rivet (or a clipped nail), and leather strapping.  If you're not up to it, your armorer will probably be more than happy to do this work for you for a small fee.  Chances are also high that if you're involved in a living history organization, or other re-enactment group, someone in your group can help you repair and replace straps and give you tips on how best to maintain your armor.

Enjoy your kit!
This guide is by no means a completely exhaustive guide to developing your kit, but I hope that it will get you started and headed in the right direction!  I wish I had something similar when I started, so I hope that it will serve some purpose for people interested in this hobby.  Developing a living history quality historically accurate kit may seem overwhelming or like a very daunting task.  While it does require considerable research and hard work, I assure you that it is one of the most rewarding experiences when you start to see your effort manifest in a beautiful harness.  Please stick it out, and enjoy yourself along the way!  See you at the next event!

*** For a more in-depth look at each of the components of a late medieval harness, I invite you to watch this series of videos I produced for YouTube.  In it I cover each component with a little more focus, and give a general survey of surrounding time periods ***

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLllw4zFP7rK_FvP5_XhbxaHL6Mozats7Q
« Last Edit: 2015-09-10, 13:06:34 by Ian »
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Ian

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How to narrow down that kit you've always wanted to buy!!!


This is by no means a comprehensive end-all-be-all definitive tome of armor progression but this is a good way to get an idea of what different harnesses looked like at different times.  For people looking to get in to a harness for the first time, these resources are invaluable and are a stepping stone in the research required to put together a historically accurate kit.  My focus is on plate harnesses so you may find this to be plate-centric.

The first is a graphic displaying a progression of English effigies from 1217 to 1444.  Each was selected as a generic representation of the date they are listed for.  Obviously some styles last for a decade or more, so these are not the only option for the given dates, but they serve to give you an idea on what may have been typical for the given time:



The second resource is Dr. Doug Strong's analysis of effigies from 1300 to 1450.  This should be mandatory study for anyone considering armor:
http://talbotsfineaccessories.com/armour/effigy/effigy%20analysis.html

Once you get a general idea of what you're after, the following resources will get you specifics:
1. Here's the database of effigies, searchable by time period and geographic location:
http://effigiesandbrasses.com/

2.  This is a database of illuminated manuscript miniatures, searchable by the same as above:
http://manuscriptminiatures.com/
« Last Edit: 2014-05-06, 01:13:46 by Ian »
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Sir James A

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Awesome post and topic, Sir Ian. Stickied!!
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Lord Dane

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Agreed. Awesome & helpful post Sir Ian. Will be very good reference.
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Sweet!  Looks like I'm a 1340s guy!
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Very helpful, Sir Ian!
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Ian

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I've updated this.  The original post is now the second post.  A while back I started to write a document that would help people get started in the Living History armor hobby, and I never got around to finishing it.  I will edit it over time as knowledge improves and I think of other stuff to throw in it, but it should still get people heading in the right direction. 

Please read it in it's entirety if this is something you're considering.  The goal behind this effort is to help new folks get started without having to duplicate a lot of the work that inevitably occurs when someone decides they want to do this.  I've aimed to answer a lot of the beginner's questions, while at the same time helping you understand what you're getting yourself in to.
« Last Edit: 2014-05-06, 16:13:58 by Ian »
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Sir Edward

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This is awesomely good stuff. Thank you so much for working on this!
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Where was your article 20 years ago when I started down this mad path?!   ;)

You have included some very good information Ian.   8)
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An excellent thread; I set it to notify for myself.  This makes for a great base to work from; thanks for posting it, Sir Ian.  What I would've given to have had this when I got started long enough ago for it to be a warm nostalgic memory now.  lol
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Excellent post indeed Sir Ian! Thank you for compiling all this great information!  :)
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D’azur à trois fasces d’argent, et au chef gueule chargé de trois étoiles d’or.

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Ian

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I invite constructive feedback and input on anything else you'd like to see discussed or added to the document.  I'd like to eventually make it as complete as possible to benefit the largest number of people.
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Naythan

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Ian, This is Wonderful! I wish I had actually found modern chivalry before I ever started buying Armor. Alas so long ago now, But I will undoubtedly use this If I start a new kit or just with the continuation of my own.
Danke Ian!
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Sir James A

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Shameless self-promotion but maybe we can cross-link with my post about buying plate armor, or we can merge them?
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