I Tried to Do Everyday Things in a Full Suit of Armor
I did everything from ordering Starbucks to my morning yoga routine...except I was clad in $30,000 worth of metal.
Every Sunday, the Game of Thrones fervor sets the internet ablaze with chatter about Westeros. There's a lot to talk about: the relentless violence, the nudity, the fact that we finally figured out why Hodor could only say "Hodor." But besides all of the plot twists this season, I've begun to really appreciate the detailed costuming, including the men (and one lady) who regularly wear suits of armor. It seemed incredible that people could get on with their daily lives wearing all that metal.
My initial curiosity spiraled into a full-on inquisition (or, really, reading all the Wikipedia articles I could about armor). My cursory research revealed that, rather than turning the wearer into an unoiled Tin Man, armor was the pinnacle of technology of its era—like a NASA space suit crossed with a Ferrari. Sure, it was a little clunky, but certainly more comfortable than a sword through your heart. Top-shelf armor provided its wearer a full range of motion as well as protection against all manner of weapons, including arrows and bullets.
So if knights of yore were easily able to mount horses and run across battlefields in the gear, just how difficult or easy would it be for me to do some of the common, everyday things of 2016 while in a full suit of armor?
I put the question to Chris Gilman, who owns Global Effects Inc., a costume and prop shop in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley, just north of Hollywood. Gilman doesn't just design armor for film and television; he also participates in full-contact medieval fighting in his free time—which is to say, he knows a lot about wearing the stuff.
Gilman told me there was "a lot of bullshit" in the on-screen representations of armor. "Game of Thrones has armor that really isn't really armor," Gilman said. "They do sword fighting that seems soap opera. It's like doing a movie about Muhammad Ali where all the boxing scenes use John Wayne–style fighting, all haymakers and uppercuts you see coming from a mile away."
A real suit of armor, he said, is like a bespoke suit, meticulously crafted for a sole individual. But as I didn't have $30,000 available to commission one tailor-made to my frame, Gilman let me borrow his. It was slightly oversized—Gilman is 6'2" and I'm 5'11"—and I looked a little like I was headed for my medieval Bar Mitzvah. But it had plenty of flexibility and wasn't nearly as heavy as I'd expected.
An hour later, now fully dressed for battle, it was time to square off with modern times.
USING A COMPUTER
I spend large chunks of my day behind a laptop, so I decided to start there. Opening up the computer screen was easy enough, but I soon learned that my gauntlets had rendered the trackpad useless. I also had to hunt and peck for each letter on the keyboard.
My attempt to type out "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" at my normal pace resulted in this monstrosity: "The qu9lckil b rown f9oc jum0edfn 0[ocv4en the nolsxynfdo[g."
Even if I found a trackpad workaround with a USB mouse, a five-word-per-minute output wouldn't really fly for my profession.
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For all the difficulty I had typing on a keyboard, the gauntlets were still surprisingly dexterous. I was surprised at how easy it was to tear open a packet of soy sauce and nimbly pick up pieces of sushi with chopsticks.
Frankly, the hardest part was getting the visor of my helmet to stay up long enough to shovel the sushi into my mouth, but that seemed like something I could master over time, given enough practice.
RIDING A HOVERBOARD
The hoverboard is to millennials as the horse was to Medieval knights. If the latter could endure a jolting ride on horseback in a full suit of amor, then surely I could ride a hoverboard wearing the same.
Despite having some prior experience on hoverboards, I was worried that I might wipe out and somehow break the metal plates on Gilman's suit. Obviously, that's an irrational fear, since these things were designed to take blows from longswords.
Fortunately, my balance was true, and I rode my fuckboy chariot with no problem. I also think this might have been the first time in my life I've done something nobody else has ever done before me.
This was the first time I really felt the suit's lack of fit come into play. Gilman had warned me that if I had a suit that actually fit me, I could expect "twenty percent better flexibility," and that restriction became apparent as I lay out my yoga mat.
As I attempted to bend over into downward-facing dog, I toppled forward, catching myself with my palms and stubbing my pinky in the process. It hurt, but I realized if I was complaining about one bloody fingernail, I'd have been dead in like ten seconds in the actual Middle Ages.
Other yoga poses were easier to manage. I made my way through cobra, tree (slippery, but doable), and warrior one, even with the extra 20 pounds of metal weighing me down.
I felt pretty optimistic about driving when the gauntlets allowed me to use my fob and open the door as usual. Unfortunately, there was no contorting myself into the driver's seat of my Honda. I couldn't even get into the car, let alone behind the wheel.
It was probably for the best, though. Instead, Gilman loaded me into the back seat of a panel van for the trip to my final trial.
Arriving at Starbucks in a full suit of armor would be a spectacle anywhere but Los Angeles, where the jaded motherfuckers barely even noticed me as I approached the cashier to order.
I pulled my debit card from my period man-purse (or really, just "purse," as women weren't allowed to handle money back then) and was able to order from the barista like normal. She seemed amused, but not entirely shocked.
Order up, I plunged the straw into my iced coffee and headed back to Gilman's shop.
GRADE: C (Mostly because I'm an asshole for showing up at Starbucks in a suit of armor).
Overall, I was pretty surprised by what I was able to accomplish in my armor. Sure, the suit left me drenched in sweat and the helm kept matting my hair to my eyes, but the weight of the metal was tolerable and the Birkenstocky-y mandals I wore under my sabatons provided solid traction for getting around.
"People in the Middle Ages were far more sophisticated than people today give them credit for," Gilman said. "We think we're so clever, but a lot of the technology we enjoy today is the direct result of methods and crafts they perfected then."
Maybe some day, if I'm fabulously wealthy, I'll spring for a truly bespoke, murdered-out suit of armor and join Gilman and his crew on the field of battle. But for now, clanking around in a secondhand suit for the afternoon was definitely good enough.
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