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By Olivia Villanova, Historical Interpreter

An early moment of fame for armor in contemporary fashion came in the 1960s Space Age. Barbarella’s titular heroine is a space warrior who wears miniskirts and bras made of metal-mesh and plastics, molded, plated, and chained into sexy and futuristic armor. This speculative take can also be seen in the costumes of Mad Max, the visuals of Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, and the works of designers like Junya Watanabe and Iris van Herpen . They challenge the conventional materials of armor, distort silhouettes, bring new technology for protection and combat, and even reimagine “Joan of Arc as an armor-clad Power Ranger villainess” in couture.

Joan of Arc, as Rita Repulsa or not, is commonly cited as an inspiration for armor in women’s fashion. This occurs both literally, such as in Zendaya’s 2018 Met Gala look by Versace, and in allusion, recreating historically male suits of armor as women’s wear. This repeated reference makes sense; it harkens to the medieval period while challenging the constructs of gender in clothing. The popularity of medieval aesthetics off the runway creates a positive feedback loop, as costumes in fantasy dramas put their own spin on period influences. Shows like 2022’s “House of the Dragon” raise popular interest in these references and present stylized costume armor, igniting consumers’ desire for inspired wearables: chunky metal jewelry and plate or mesh-like textiles.

Zendaya dressed as Joan of Arc by Versace for 2018 Heavenly Bodies Met Gala Neilson Barnard / Staff/ Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

References

Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén Film, “Barbarella’s wardrobe: Exploring Jacqes Fonteray’s intergalactic runway,” Fashion & Consumption 5, no. 2 (2016): 196, https://doi.org/10.1386/ffc.5.2.185_1. Fonteray notes the blending of plastics and other “non-conventional materials” with the Middle Ages and Renaissance as the base concept. Iris Van Herpen’s Meta Morphism collection references the shapes and textures of expositions the armor of the animal world.

Anna Wintour, “Letter from the Editor: Intelligence Gathering,” Vouge, September 2006, 158. Wintour is referencing the Christian Dior Fall 2006 Couture collection by John Galliano, featuring asymmetric uses of gauntlets and chain headdresses atop dramatic gowns.

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exhibition

The Age of Armor: Treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection at the Worcester Art Museum

Jepson Center
Organized by the Worcester Art Museum and curated from its impressive Higgins Armory Collection, this exhibition explores the ways in which armor was used and transformed due to technological innovations and evolving styles of warfare from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. Visitors will discover the different and often surprising stories embedded in these powerful objects — many painstakingly engineered, elegantly designed, and treasured as the expression of their owners’ taste, sophistication, and prowess.
exhibition

The Age of Armor: Treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection at the Worcester Art Museum

Jepson Center
Organized by the Worcester Art Museum and curated from its impressive Higgins Armory Collection, this exhibition explores the ways in which armor was used and transformed due to technological innovations and evolving styles of warfare from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. Visitors will discover the different and often surprising stories embedded in these powerful objects — many painstakingly engineered, elegantly designed, and treasured as the expression of their owners’ taste, sophistication, and prowess.
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