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Padded armour, widely recognised as the gambeson in the medieval European context, exhibited remarkable diversity across different cultures and eras, reflecting regional adaptations to warfare and material availability. Notably, the Byzantine Empire developed its version known as the "kavadion." This armour was similarly protective, worn beneath mail or lamellar armour to cushion the body against blows and prevent chafing from metal armour. The kavadion was part of a broader tradition of textile-based armour that could be seen across the empire's extensive trade networks, influencing neighbouring regions such as the Middle East and North Africa.

In the East, variations like the Mongolian "deel," sometimes quilted similarly to gambesons, served as daily attire and light armour. It offered protection against the climate and during skirmishes, highlighting the dual utility of padded garments. Similarly, in Japan, warriors wore "wadded" garments beneath their armour for additional protection, known as "haramaki." These garments show the universal recognition of the importance of padded armour in providing both comfort and defence, adapting to the specific needs of each region's warfare and climatic conditions.


Padded attire has been a fundamental component of battle gear for centuries, providing essential protection and comfort to warriors. This diverse range of armour pieces served practical purposes and bore the marks of evolving fashion in military apparel. Here's a closer look at some notable types of padded clothing, their historical significance, and their distinguished users.

Image: courtesy of Canterbury Cathedral


The quintessential element of a medieval warrior's wardrobe, gambesons were extensively used from the High Middle Ages. These garments were made from quilted layers of linen or wool, capable of being worn independently or underneath chainmail and plate armour. Renowned for its ability to dissipate the impact of strikes, the gambeson was a favoured choice across various ranks, from knights to archers.



Emerging in the 12th century, the aketon was a lighter counterpart to the gambeson, often worn beneath heavier armour. Its padded and quilted design was essential for knights' mobility and comfort, particularly during the Crusades, offering insulation against climate extremes and cushioning against combat blows. The aketon was produced as a shapeless form or padded attire, and later evolved into the pourpoint, that were shapen more after the body of its wearer, while still offering in plenty of padded protection. Of course, the rich would have the pourpoint shapen to their body.


By the late Middle Ages, the arming doublet had become indispensable for knights donning plate armour. Designed to bear the armour's weight and provide attachment points for plates, arming doublets merged functionality with high fashion. They were often elaborately adorned, reflecting the wearer's status and wealth. Notably, King Henry VIII flaunted arming doublets that were protective and symbolic of his regal bearing.


Used from the 14th through the 17th centuries, the jack was a practical padded jacket favoured by soldiers and militia. Typically sleeveless and shorter than a gambeson, it sometimes incorporated metal plates or hardened leather for enhanced defence. The jack's adaptability made it popular among light cavalry and infantry, and it was appreciated for its mobility and faster drying capabilities.


The padded coif was common in the early medieval period. It served as crucial headgear, protecting the skull, neck, and shoulders when worn under helmets or as standalone armour. Figures like William Wallace relied on padded coifs for additional defence beneath their more substantial armour, highlighting its indispensable role in combat.


These padded garments reflect a rich tapestry of historical armour development, showcasing the strategic adaptations made by armourers to meet the changing demands of warfare and armour technology. Each piece was meticulously crafted to suit specific battlefield roles, ensuring that warriors were both well-protected and able to move comfortably during combat.

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Today's live-action role-playing (LARP) enthusiasts, Renaissance Fair goers and reenactors seek not only to immerse themselves in history, rich, detailed storylines and character arcs but also to wear gear that enhances their experience while providing the necessary protection. Modern gambesons testify to how traditional designs can be ingeniously melded with contemporary materials and personalisation to meet these needs.


Gambesons and padded jackets were traditionally worn under armour or as standalone defences. They offered protection against bludgeoning weapons and helped cushion the wearer from the impact of blows. In the realm of LARP, where the combat is simulated, but the physical activity is real, the gambeson still serves a crucial protective function. However, today's LARP gambesons go beyond mere functionality. Material innovation is central to the evolution of the LARP gambeson. Whereas historical versions were made from layers of linen, wool, or even old clothes, modern versions often incorporate advanced, lightweight materials like polyethylene foams or high-density polyesters. These materials provide similar levels of protection and insulation but with less bulk and weight, increasing the wearer's comfort and mobility.

In this video, Jeppe (our Word Warrior) dared Michael (our in-house Viking and Service Shaman) to do push-ups to prove that padded armour can be life-threatening when soaked in water because of the added weight (imagine a knight falling into a river). Michael gleefully disproved Jeppe's theory while sporting our modern Gambeson Warrior. This test highlighted the superior safety of contemporary materials however.


Modern LARP gambesons stand out for their customizable design. LARPers can select options that reflect their character's era, status, and personal aesthetic, from richly colored fabrics for noble characters to rugged, utilitarian looks for rangers or rogues. The integration of modern tailoring techniques and materials ensures a better fit for comfort and effective padding, crucial for protection during dynamic movements. Many suppliers provide made-to-measure services, enhancing safety and overall LARPing experience.

Personalisation extends to the gambeson's functionality; some gambesons are designed with removable padding, allowing the wearer to adjust the level of protection based on the intensity of the combat expected. Others might integrate hidden pockets or loops for carrying props and tools for practicality.

Today's LARP gambesons embody a blend of historical reverence and modern innovation, offering not just a piece of protective clothing but a crucial component for character identity and storylines. These gambesons are designed to be as versatile and dynamic as the characters that you bring to life, supporting a wide range of physical activities while contributing to the visual and narrative authenticity of the experience.