By Olivia Villanova, Historical Interpreter
Suits of armor evolved to mimic men’s suiting and opulent court attire before becoming passé in style and function, but many contemporary fashion designers have since adopted materials, silhouettes, and protective elements of armor in their garments. Fashion armor takes inspiration from the past and future as innovative mail and bulletproof fabrics converge with streetwear, jewelry, and couture.
Some materials of fashion armor—clear plastic, PVC, and metal mesh being favorites—suggest a fascination with advancing technologies while maintaining historical shapes and techniques. Alexander McQueen and Paco Rabanne both show ways of innovating mail and plate textiles, replacing steel with plastic disks or delicate silver and gold paired with jewels. The invention of oroton, a light and flowing mail, allowed for armored textiles to be used with no context of protection.
Fashion and cultural trends are highly cyclical, so the popularity of armor within contemporary fashion is not surprising, nor is it likely to fade entirely after this recent spike. With resurgences of Y2K futurism in popular fashion, Space Age takes on armor may resurface, advances in military technology may bring mech suits or cybernetic structures out of the niche, and rising social anxieties over global affairs could bring to light post-apocalyptic stylings of corroded metals and leathers reminiscent of ancient warfare. While we may not know how armor will be referenced in upcoming seasons, its history as a diverse and mainstay inspiration assures that it will.
For Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2017, white and red lace suggest imagery of the Knights Templar while the leather stays recall studded harnesses and bolted metals.
For Paco Rabanne Fall/Winter 2023, the house staple of mail garments is shown with delicate chains and large disks constructing mini dresses for looks 39-43.
Gianni Versace, in 1982 invented oroton. Oroton is made of small metal discs chained together creating a fabric with the drape of silk but a visual hardness of metal. The material gained fame by Paris Hilton’s birthday dress and by more recent wearing by the Kardashians and Jenners.