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breastplates illustration
Illustration by Callum Abbott

A brief history of the breastplate in fashion

From its creation in ancient Greece to its recent stint on the red carpet c/o Zendaya, fashion has long fawned over the breastplate

We’re only two red carpets into award season, and thus far the looks have been… disappointing. But, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and this year, that silver lining comes in the form of Zendaya

Rocking up to the Critics Choice Awards on Sunday night, the Euphoria star opted for a hot pink breastplate taken straight from Tom Ford’s SS20 runway collection, and, unsurprisingly, the look went pretty viral pretty quickly.

It’s not the first time the breastplate has been seen within the fashion realm, though. The unique style has been reinterpreted time and time again throughout the industry’s long history, by some of its most prevalent designers. 

Originating from ancient antiquity, the breastplate, or ‘muscle cuirass’, was first created to protect those in battle, while also mirroring the ideal human physique. Going on to become a fixture in medieval armour, the piece moved into the realms of fashion throughout the 20th Century, with designers inspired by both its aesthetic and meaning. 

From Alexander McQueen to Thierry Mugler, those who have used the breastplate in their collections have become renowned for their relationship with the female body and how they have used their designs to interpret it. Here, we look back on some of the breastplate’s most iconic moments in contemporary fashion.


YSL, 1969/AW02

A pioneer in many aspects of fashion, from his androgynous designs in his Le Smoking tuxedo suit to his iconic couture dresses, and crocodile leather jackets, Yves Saint Laurent secured his place in fashion history for pushing the boundaries of what women of the day were seen to be. In 1969, he enlisted sculptor Claude Lalanne to create a mould out of the model Veruschka von Lehndorff’s breasts and torso, thus creating this golden breastplate. The piece would later become incorporated into two dresses for the brand’s Haute Couture 2002 collection.  

ISSEY MIYAKE, AW80

First created by Issey Miyake for his AW80 collection, when the Japanese designer was experimenting with body moulding, his version of the breastplate seems to be most similar to the one designed by Ford last year, with the American designer seemingly paying homage to the Japanese creative. Famously worn by Grace Jones soon after its incarnation, like liquid the item flows across the body, while still retaining a robotic feel through its metallic finish. The Issey Miyake label, now under the creative direction of Yoshiyuki Miyamae, has gone on to explore the shapes and boundaries of the female body in his current designs, which sees spring-like pleated creations captivatingly move around the body.

THIERRY MUGLER, 1980s

Admired for his ability to encompass unbridled fantasy throughout his work, Mugler has become renowned for his ultra-sexy, often futuristic take on femininity. It was at his SS89 show, however, that the French designer debuted a transparent Plexiglas bustier. Thereafter, the designer presented a motorcycle-inspired breastplate as part of his SS92 collection, which famously went on to feature in George Michael’s Too Funky music video, before being worn by the likes of Beyoncé for her I Am… world tour in 2010. Most recently Kim Kardashian, who frequently posts her self posing in archival Mugler pieces, wore a golden breastplate created by the designer back in February. 

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, SS96/AW99/SS01

McQueen became renowned for his intense fascination with finding the beauty in the ugly and subverting traditional observation of the female form. For his SS96 collection The Hunger’, which was inspired by the 1983 vampire movie of the same name, McQueen debuted a transparent breastplate with live worms encased within it. He then went on to use breastplates in a number of his other shows, such as his AW99 show ‘The Overlook’, and his infamous SS01 collection ‘Voss’ (pictured above). This piece then went onto become a feature in the MET’s exhibition Savage Beauty, dedicated to the late designer. 

SINEAD O’DWYER, 2018

This RCA grad and Dazed 100-er has gained a legion of fans for her unique subversion of female beauty standards. Speaking to Dazed in an interview last year, the young creative had this to say of her silicone moulds: “My collection started as an exploration of how you perceive your body versus the reality of what it actually looks like, and ended with me creating pieces that fit the body, as opposed to forcing the body to squeeze into the garment.” Notably the only female designer present on this list, it is interesting to compare and contrast her perception of the female body with her male counterparts. 

TOM FORD SS20

The latest designer (and likely not the last) to provide his take on the breastplate was Tom Ford with his SS20 collection. The piece, which was worn by Zendaya, as well as Gwyenth Paltrow on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, hit the runway in New York back in September. The simplistic design simultaneously pays tribute to those that came before him while looking firmly towards the future. The only question that remains is just who will wear it next?