The world of leather garments is vast, and its contents can be traced to the beginning of recorded history. One of the earliest and longest-lasting types of protective leatherwear is leather armor.
Leather armor is a garment meant to protect the wearer from injury. Historically, these garments were worn alone or under metal armor to protect knights and soldiers during battle. Today’s leather armor is made and worn by craftsmen working with dangerous materials and hobbyists.
Let’s explore some about the different types, uses, and fit.
What is Leather Armor?
Leather armor is any type of leather garment made specifically to protect the wearer from harm. Leather armor has historically been used by artisans and craftsmen who work with hazardous materials. Those working with glass and metal, in particular, continue to use modern leather armor today to protect against the high temperatures and dangerously hot material they work with daily. Most modern leather armor made for this purpose can be purchased from specialty retailers or leather workers.
Leather armor is any type of leather garment made specifically to protect the wearer from harm.
Traditional armor is meant to protect the wearer from injury during battle and can cover all of the body or only part of it. The earliest armor in history was made from thick, layered leather, which protected the wearer’s skin from scrapes, falls, or slashes. Later, leather was used as a layer under metal plate armor to protect from any damage which punctured or otherwise broke through the thin metal plate. Hobbyists and history lovers can find reproduction leather armor from leather workers and artisans, who make reproduction garments using historically accurate techniques and tools.
What to Look for In Leather Armor
Your desired design for leather armor has more to do with personal preference and body type than anything else. Because leather armor is so old, there are countless styles to choose from. Those who want historically accurate, truly protective armor may opt for traditional Medieval, Roman, or Celtic armor. For cosplayers, armor inspired by video games, movies, or other pop culture mainstays will influence your armor’s design.
The proper weight of leather armor depends on what armor part it is. Medium-weight armor is best for limbs to allow for unhindered motion, while heavier armor is essential for the core to protect organs. Cosplay, costume, or LARP armor is usually lighter than reproduction armor for comfort and wearability.
Leather armor should be fitted properly, meaning you’ll need your measurements to purchase, commission, or create your own. The retailer, By the Sword, offers a great guide on the proper way to measure for armor (click here to view their measurement guide).
Determining leather armor’s battle readiness is important for those participating in reenactments. If the armor is made using historically accurate materials, techniques, and tools, it should be battle-ready. Thick, layered leather with metal studding will be highly protective and rugged. Leather armor made for cosplay or costumes does not need to be battle-ready.
Types of Leather Armor
Leather armor has existed since humans have needed clothing and protection. Because of its long history, leather armor can be found in countless different styles for multiple purposes, from recreational costumes to battle-ready gear.
Studded Leather Armor
Studded leather armor is made from thick, layered leather and held together by studs. This armor is also covered in studs for added protection. Serving as a halfway point between leather and metal armor, these garments are popular among cosplayers and LARPers.
There’s no evidence that studded leather armor actually existed. While some types of armor, called brigandine, used metal studs to hold metal plates between layers of leather, armor covered in metal studs simply didn’t exist. In fact, leather armor covered in studs would actually be rather useless, as a stray arrow or well-placed sword could pierce through the leather between the studs. In addition, heavy studs would add stress and unnecessary weight to the leather material and eventually lead to a warped, poorly-fitting garment.
Female Leather Armor<
Female armor is simply leather armor made for women. As with most other female-specific garments, female leather armor will most likely be more form-fitting and thinner than its male counterpart. For this reason, those buying female armor will need to consider their measurements more than if they were purchasing male armor.
Female armor’s appearance and historical accuracy depend mostly on whether it’s based in fantasy or reality. Many types of fantasy armor will be corset-like or feature a sort of bra-shaped molding – this is not only historically inaccurate, but dangerous. Female leather armor was historically rare, but was molded much like male armor to properly protect and support the chest and ribs of the wearer.
Greaves are a piece of armor worn to protect the shin and knee. The shin bone is one of the closest to the skin in the entire human body, so it can be easily injured, bruised, or broken. Greaves protect this vulnerable bone to prevent the wearer from being left unable to walk. In leather, this piece of armor deflects and softens blows and protects against scrapes or slashes.
Historical Leather Armor
Leather armor began as the primary type of armor in history. Early soldiers wore leather armor, whether alone or under chain mail. Later, leather armor would be worn to supplement plate armor in places where metal plate armor was impractical, like elbows and knees. Leather would also occasionally be used as an added protective layer around the neck and face in lieu of chain mail.
While leather was rarely used for a full suit of armor, it was used throughout history to provide daily lightweight protection and warmth. Primarily leather armor used during battle was supplemented by metal plates attached between the layers of leather, in a style called brigandine.
Leather Armor for Cosplay
Cosplay leather armor is important to distinguish from reproduction leather armor. Cosplay armor is not necessarily made with usability and historical accuracy in mind, but rather proper look and comfort. For this reason, leather cosplay armor may be made from faux leather, or even plastic covered in either faux or genuine leather. Cosplay leather armor is usually not functional.
Boiled Leather Armor
Boiled leather armor was a major advancement in the world of leather armor. Boiled leather was a popular material in the Middle Ages, used for items meant to last and withstand extensive abuse. In armor, boiled leather elevated normal leather armor to a viable replacement for chain mail.
Boiled leather was made by treating the leather via submersion in water of an extreme temperature and coating it with some type of waxy, fatty substance. Historians cannot pinpoint exactly how boiled leather was made; though several recipes have been found and translated, most of them contradict each other.
Leather Body Armor
Leather body armor is the torso armor worn by many men during Medieval times. Body armor protects the vital organs and soft tissue of the abdomen from damage during battle or hunting.
Leather Armor Vest
A leather armor vest will only cover the torso of the wearer. An armor vest made from leather may be studded with metal for extra protection. Most armor covering the torso is more protective than other pieces to protect vital organs. For this reason, a leather armor vest will probably be far thicker and heavier than other pieces of leather armor from the same set.
Medieval Leather Armor
The Middle Ages was the heyday of leather armor. During this time, leather armor grew from simple leather garments to leather and metal plate and boiled leather. Medieval leather armor was worn under chainmail or to supplement plate metal armor.
Functional Leather Armor
Functional leather armor is armor that is made to battle-ready specifications. This armor would hold up in a battle, and thus is made with historically accurate tools and techniques. Functional leather armor is multi-layered, bonded, and most likely fully or at least partially studded with metal for added protection.
Custom Leather Armor
It’s possible to purchase custom leather armor from specialty shops or leather workers, though it’ll cost you a pretty penny. Reproduction clothing retailer By the Sword offers custom leather armor to the buyer’s precise measurements for a variable price; for reference, their ready-made full-suit leather armors start at around $1000.
Leather Armor Suit
A leather suit of armor will include all pieces of armor. The full suit will cover arms, legs, torso, and may also include armor for the hands, face, and head.
RFB Viking Leather Armour
Ready for Battle (RFB) Viking leather armor is popular among collectors and reenactors. RFB Viking armor is made with heavy woven leather and may also incorporate brigandine techniques, which adds an extra layer of protection via metal plates.
Viking armor is often made to sustain rough, heavy use, and is highly adjustable to fit in with any extra armor or protective gear. Viking armor prioritized covering the torso, as this part of the body is the most vital and most dangerous to injure.
LARP Female Leather Armor
Somewhere between cosplay armor and reproduction armor sits LARP armor. This type of armor is meant to be functional for recreational “battles”, but may or may not be made with historically accurate techniques or tools. For women, LARP leather armor is most likely closely fitted and inspired by games, movies, or other pop culture influences.
Fancy Leather Armor
Fancy leather armor is highly embellished armor. Embellishment may include embossing, embroidery, metal studs or plates, or hand tooling.
Leather Armour Set
An armor set is simply a full outfit of armor. A leather armor set will cover the torso and limbs of the wearer and include all necessary pieces.
Here is a video showing beautiful womans leather viking costume preparing for battle
Leather Armor for Cosplay Inspired by Video Games and Tabletop Games
Leather Armor from Minecraft
Minecraft is an extremely popular “sandbox game”, a genre which allows players almost endless creativity and little to no objectives or quests. In Minecraft, players must craft absolutely everything they need, from tools and weapons to building materials for houses. Players can create leather armor to protect themselves from enemies and other players; this armor offers weak protection. Minecraft cosplay offers a challenge, as the entire game is made from cubes! For this reason, it may be best to use faux leather over a heavy board frame to create leather Minecraft armor.
Leather Armor from DND
Dungeons and Dragons (commonly called D&D) is perhaps the most famous tabletop roleplaying game of all time. Originally designed as a fantasy game, D&D has evolved into an incredibly customizable, limitless game for those who love strategy and creativity. The game offers multiple types of leather armor for players to acquire: leather armor, which is a common, light armor, and studded leather armor, which is slightly less common and more protective.
Leather Armor from DND 5e
Dungeons and Dragons attempts to include as much realism as possible in a fantasy roleplaying game. In the most current 5th edition of the game, leather armor is categorized as light, common armor. Its slightly more protective counterpart is studded leather armor, which is heavier and less common. Because of the varied art for this armor, cosplayers can feel free to get creative when creating their own D&D leather armor.
Leather Armor from Skyrim
Skyrim is the 5th installment in the Elder Scrolls video game series. Skyrim’s leather armor is highly detailed and unisex, including metal detail, layered leather, and a helmet. This particular armor may pose a challenge for less experienced cosplayers. For those up to the challenge, faux leather may be a good choice due to the amount of leather needed for the project.
Here is a video showing different types of leather armor used in video games and in movies
Leather Armor from Pathfinder
Pathfinder is a roleplaying game similar to Dungeons and Dragons. Like the latter, Pathfinder’s players have the opportunity to find several different types of armor and gear. In Pathfinder, there are multiple types of leather armor; these armors differ in protection levels and in the benefits they bestow upon those who wear them. Pathfinder’s leather armors have corresponding art, allowing cosplayers to create reproductions. Like Skyrim’s leather armor, the armors in Pathfinder are quite detailed, and only those with experience should attempt them.
Leather Armor from Osrs
OSRS is Old School RuneScape, an online roleplaying game designed to feel like a retro game. Like many similar games, OSRS is a fantasy game set in a vaguely Medieval world. The game allows players to find or create gear, including armors. OSRS’s leather armor appears simplistic due to the game’s retro graphics, making it easier for newer cosplayers to create their own OSRS leather armor.
Leather Armor from Fallout New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas is the fourth installment in the Fallout game series. Set in a post-apocalyptic alternate world in which Atomic Age technology has continued to develop, Fallout New Vegas takes place in post-atomic war Las Vegas. Players must find or craft all gear and weapons in-game, including armor. New Vegas’ leather armor is a modern-looking full-body armor, covering the player from the neck down and offering lightweight protection. Because the in-game armor is made from a leather jacket, pants, and modified football pads, cosplayers can have some fun recreating it from real-world pieces for an accurate costume!
Best Leather Armor
|For a unique, affordable cosplay base – Elefan Cornelia Costume Armor Set||This leather armor set is super unique and able to be worn for a variety of costumes. Its simplicity is modern, but the available colorways and construction of the body armor and bracers feel distinctly antique.||Amazon||$12.99
|For a beautifully detailed Viking armor set – Viking LARP Armor||Viking armor is hard to get right – it’s either too roughly made, too neat, or just looks fake. This armor set is 100% believable, yet still pop culture-inspired. The detail in this armor is unreal, with gorgeous embossing, fur detail, and scuffs and scratches for a pre-battle worn bonus. The listed price is for a set of chest armor, shoulder epaulet, and detachable scale piece, but the seller also offers the pieces separately.||ElMarquesLARP on Etsy||$552.51|
|For historically accurate non-Western armor – Star Lamellar Armor of Song Dynasty||Steel Mastery’s collection of leather armor is second to none, and this reproduction Chinese armor set is the best of the best. The set’s gorgeous colorway and historical accuracy are richly satisfying, and it’s available for purchase either ready-to-wear or custom. Truly accurate, well-made non-Western reproduction armor is hard to find, but Steel Mastery has done it with this set.||Steel Mastery||$790|
Where to Buy Leather Armor
Medieval Armour’s leather selection is one of the best available, going as far as describing pieces for those who are just starting to dive in. They offer historically accurate and fantasy-inspired armor, and their prices are quite reasonable – an armor set costs around $500.
Medieval Collectibles’ selection is almost identical to that of Medieval Armour, with armor sets purchasable at very reasonable prices. The major difference is that this site focuses on historical accuracy.
Etsy is a stronghold for creators, especially those who do seriously involved, skilled work. Leathercrafters on Etsy offer leather armor pieces as well as full suits, but, as is the case with other retailers, it’ll cost quite a bit. For costume leather armor, Etsy is an excellent resource.
Andracor advertises itself as a resource for LARP gear. They offer genuine leather armor and protective garments, both historically accurate and pop culture-influenced, at very affordable prices. In addition, their site uses models of different genders to showcase the same item, which is a great benefit to any LARPer or cosplayer!
Armor Venue’s selection is expansive and moderately priced. Their pieces are clearly of excellent construction and span the whole of armor history.
Steel Mastery’s site is sleek and fun to navigate. Their selection is massive, with fantasy and historical armor (including some armors direct from pop culture giant franchises). Their prices are relatively high, but in line with the detail and care they put into their pieces.
Amazon is a great resource for faux leather goods, especially for cosplayers. Limited leather armor pieces are available on Amazon, but some leather armor-inspired garments can be found here.
By the Sword
By the Sword offers an incredibly extensive collection of full suit and armor pieces, including custom-made armor.
Leather armor has existed throughout history as a lesser-known defensive garment. Its secondary status to metal armor did not make it less important.
On the contrary, leather workers pored over leather armor, seeking to make the best defensive leather garment possible while retaining the beautiful, natural qualities of the material. Today, collectors, cosplayers, and reenactors alike can find any type of leather armor to suit their fancy.
How much does leather armor cost?
For a full suit of leather armor, expect to pay upwards of $1000. There can be significant variations in cost based on quality, thickness, adornments, and size.
Is studded leather armor real?
Studded leather armor is real, in a sense. The heavily studded armor we see in pop culture is simply embellished for effect or modified brigandine, which was a real type of studded armor whose studs held metal plates in place under a layer of leather.
How effective is leather armor?
Historically, leather armor was extremely effective against scrapes and blows. With the development of more advanced weapons, leather armor lost some of its usefulness. Still, leather armor worn under metal plate served as extra protection.