Contemporary treatises on manners, such Baldessare Castiglione’s 1528 The Book of the Courtier, covered many topics, including appearance and good taste. According to Castiglione, a gentleman’s “first duty” was to excel at handling every kind of weapon and, presumably, to be properly attired while doing so. In the 16th century, male fashion was often more ostentatious than female dress, and armor was indelibly linked to current styles. Even armor made for fighting can be dated according to its decoration and shape just as precisely as civilian clothing. Most notably, from about the 1530s onward, the style of breastplates was influenced by the close-fitting jacket known as a doublet. Both the doublet and the breastplate were designed to emphasize a man’s shoulders. In the second half of the 16th century, armor also increasingly showed off men’s legs, mirroring trends in the fashion of the day.

Jacob Hadler. Portions of an Armor for Field and Tilt (detail), c. 1580/90. English. George F. Harding Collection.