It’s one of the most tired tropes in high-concept fantasy and science fiction: armoured boobs built into the costumes of female fantasy heroines.
On the street they’re more commonly known as metal titties: and they’re ludicrous.
Daniel Merten has been making armour for 25 years as an offshoot of his jewelry manufacture business and is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in Sydney, which is a living history group.
From both a practical and professional stand point, he says the thing that annoys him most about the armoured boobs trope is “the sheer discrepancy of it”.
“You look at a lot of fantasy and sci-fi and you see obvious things that are meant to enhance the female’s physiology: you see the separation of breasts and all sorts of things like this.
“It’s less than ideal. As the armour comes back in towards the sternum, it’s what most armourers will describe as a funneling effect.
“So if I have a ridge down my breast plate, swords, spears and axes are going to hit that and slide away: it’s going to move it away from me and help protect me.
“However, if I then put a divet in to that section, of course that’s going to then form a valley for all of those weapons – arrows and stuff - to catch on and if you have something that will catch a weapon, you’re more likely to punch through the armour.
“The armour is incongruous, it’s not going to work.”
Merten says armour is created as a “series of glacis glancing surfaces” that aim to “drive weaponry away and protect the person”.
The armoured boob cliche, does the opposite of that.
“We have inherited a marketing trope that isn’t realistic in anyway,” he says.
Yet that’s not to say it can’t be done right, infact, there are several examples in pop culture where filmmakers, showrunners and game creators have actively dressed their female heroes in armour that would not only protect them in combat but armour that also manages to avoid cashing in on a woman’s sexuality.
Here are some of the best:
A character so awesome she sparked her own feminist test i.e the Bechdel Test wherein a character either passes or fails the Mako Mori Test depending on whether they have their own agency and a story arc not determined or impacted by a man. Therefore it makes a lot of sense that her Pacific Rim armour would be just as progressive. Almost indistinguishable from her male counterpart’s, it’s not sexually charged or obviously drawn for the male eye: it’s all about practicality here.
Brienne of Tarth
“Brienne of Tarth is a very good example in Game Of Thrones,” says Merten. “She’s a combatant, she’s a killing machine. She’s wearing appropriate armour: it’s designed to protect. She’s a powerful character. She is showing us what a knight is: she’s just a person who fights.”
“In the latest Batman Vs Superman movie, Wonder Woman’s bronze bustier … in a real fight, it’s less than ideal,” says Merten. Marvel’s Lady Sif from the Thor films and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D series couldn’t be further from that, with a solid breast plate obviously designed for her physique but managing to avoid falling into that trope of individual breasts separated by metal divets.
Joan Of Arc
Based on a historical figure, the filmmakers behind both the Milla Jovovich and Leelee Sobieski films took far less liberties when it came to her costuming. Rather, they based the armour off what Joan Of Arc would have actually worn and fought in while conducting combat.
While most video game costuming can be irksome when it comes to the representation of females, Merten says the Halo series is one of the leading exceptions. He adds: “I actually like the Halo armours because with both sexes they’re actually protective armours, there’s not much of a difference between them.”
A rather underrated blockbuster reimagining of a Disney classic, Kristen Stewart’s armour could have very easily been something flirty and feminine. Rather, it’s identical to the men riding along beside her in the film’s climax and adds a sense of authenticity to what is an otherwise high-concept universe.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the History Channel’s breakout hit series features some of the most legit and realistic armour on screen, but the Shieldmaidens in the show – led by the kick-ass Lagertha – are clad head-to-toe in costumes that are meant to help them kill you. “Armour is designed to protect the wearer in a combative situation,” says Merten. “No matter what it is.”