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The relationship between clothing and armour is as old as war itself. Cloth has long been used for its shielding properties in practically all cultures and dates back to ancient civilizations. Even today advanced fabrics such as Kevlar and Dyneema protect modern soldiers against injury. During the Middle Ages the use of fabric for armouring purposes reached great heights. With the pervasive use of mail armour, specially designed padded garments were developed to compliment chain mail. This provided not only an extra layer of protection, but also padding for the mail itself. This garment, known as a gambeson but also referred to as an aketon, was a very typical piece of military kit throughout the Middle Ages. Over many centuries the gambeson evolved to meet the changing nature of armour and was often combined with later plate defenses or worn as armour in its own right.
This style of gambeson was popular in the late 15th century and into the 1500's. The shoulder padding was thought to be more of a fashion statement than an armour reinforcement, although the extra padding on those strategic areas is undeniably useful. The design works well (and looks great) with a steel breastplate but it does not permit the use of spalders. This style of gambeson is commonly seen on tapestries and in period illustrations. In the Middle Ages, black was an expensive dye, so a black gambeson (or any black cloth garments) would have singled out an individual as being a man of noble birth, an officer or a man of means.
Don’t be misguided by claims that lighter gambesons are superior. A medieval gambeson was packed tight with filling such as horse hair and raw sheep’s wool. They could stop arrows - they were dense/heavy! An extra kilo or two in a gambeson is of little consequence to freedom of movement, but the material that goes into adding that extra weight can dramatically improve your chances of not getting bruised up or worse. A modern reproduction gambeson weighing not much more than a kilo is not suitable for any training other than solo drills. The padding on such “gambesons” is quite minimal and would provide little to no protection from blows by a waster or other weapon simulator. The overall structure is often far too thin to absorb a blow from anything stronger than a boffer. Thus its use as armour would be limited at best, non-existent at worst. Such lightweight gambesons (not sold by us) would provide some padding under mail, but not much. They have about the same amount of shock absorbtion as a thick sweater. At best it would prevent the mail from chaffing – if that’s all you want, that’s fine, but if you want to avoid cracked ribs and broken collar bones, please consider our range. The Medieval Shoppe will look after you!