Part of what draws people into a world is costume design. The Lord of the Rings films are a prime example, boasting countless iconic armor sets for viewers to admire. These battle suits don’t just look nice, though.
Many costumes carry a deeper meaning. They often reflect the wearer’s culture and its history within the larger Lord of the Rings lore. In essence, their very designs can tell a story. Maybe that’s what makes them so iconic.
7/7 Sauron’s Armor
This suit is only onscreen for a few minutes yet leaves a lasting impression. During the prologue, the Dark Lord encases himself in soulless, metal plating. It’s vaguely reminiscent of medieval knights and equally imposing.
At the same time, it seems like a perversion. The jagged edges and spikes make a more oppressive silhouette. These then culminate in an elongated crown at the top. All in all, this armor is exactly what an evil overlord wears into battle. It carries his inherent inhumanity and superiority, giving him an overwhelming presence beyond his meager screen time.
6/7 Men Of Gondor
This is also what people would expect from knights, albeit those closer to the light. That’s evident through not only the bright metal and sturdy frame, but also the allusions to history. The feathered texture on the helm–unique from typical medieval designs–is a nod to the winged helmets of their Numenorean ancestors. That alone would set this armor apart, but the history grows richer on the body.
The chestplate has an immaculate tree motif. This sublime image brings to mind the White Tree in their capital, which itself stems from the one in Numenor. Considering this gift of the Valar, incorporating it into their armor shows the Gondorians haven’t forgotten their roots or old alliances. That remembrance ties into the hopeful message of rekindling those bonds.
5/7 High Elves Of The Second Age
The Elves streamline much of their armor while maintaining some essence of their divine origins. The suits worn in the prologue beautifully exemplify that. The golden plating is striking, especially against the dark backdrop of Mordor. Smaller plates then overlap around the rest of the body like leather straps. Topping it off is a blue cape clashing elegantly with the gold. These pieces defy traditional armor conventions, curving to achieve a flowing effect. The Elves can get away with this due to their enhanced agility and senses. As such, the armor is utterly unique to them.
Aiding this piece’s memorability is its prominence throughout the films, as it lays the foundation for later generations of Elf armor. Elrond wears similar material in The Hobbit. In addition, the color scheme, leaf textures, and curved helmet designs seem to inspire Thranduil’s troops in the Battle of the Five Armies. These variations echo the graceful quality of the original, complementing the wearers more than any other costume.
The kingdom of Rohan lives and dies on cavalry. Its citizens have a deep respect for their horses, and that’s clear from every aspect of their culture. Nowhere is that love more apparent, though, than in their armor.
The Rohirrim look like extensions of their mounts. This shows in both the earthy tones and the material. The leather mixes seamlessly with occasional metal. More distinct than normal knights, the suit is lightweight enough to enable swift riding. It’s during these rides that viewers see the horse tails on their helmets, which look truly elegant in motion. More importantly, they signify the soldiers’ symbiosis with their steeds. The elements mean the Rohirrim’s armor fits their equestrian specialty like a glove.
3/7 Thorin’s Travel Garb
The Middle-earth movies have many Dwarf characters, but none have more presence than Thorin. Originally a prince of Erebor, he was displaced after Smaug the Dragon ravaged his kingdom. Eventually, he leads his exiled people in a quest to reclaim what’s theirs.
The outfit he wears in the first two Hobbit films reflects that. It may be lightweight, but it bears the blocky design emblematic of Dwarves. On top of that lie a series of furs and a cloak, which go well with his flowing locks. These all portray someone who’s been on the road yet still carries some authority. That perfectly sums up a hardy ruler like Thorin.
2/7 The Witch-King Of Angmar
The Nazgul already have a minimalist design that works for their otherworldly menace. They wear black cloaks with jagged gloves and boots. No distinguishing features exist beyond these, creating a haunting sight which betrays their hollowness and lack of humanity. Adding more armor to this outfit could have compromised its sleek simplicity, but that’s not the case.
The Witch-king’s suit has only enough additions to differentiate him from his followers. The shoulder pads are natural extensions of the gauntlets, and he sports a helmet which stretches upward into a spiked crown, hearkening back to his master.
What Sauron doesn’t have, however, is a scowling faceplate. The Witch-king’s mask combines creepily with the rest of his costume and body language, giving an imperialistic presence akin to Darth Vader. Consider how long that Star Wars villain has terrified moviegoers, such a comparison is nothing to scoff at.
1/7 Mithril Vest
Mithril is perhaps the most precious metal in Middle-earth. Thus, Dwarvish craftsmen reserve it for their greatest works, and this is one of them. Bilbo receives this kingly gift in The Hobbit before passing it to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. They each wear it underneath their normal clothing, meaning that it could have been a generic piece of chain mail.
Thankfully, the vest’s subtle qualities help it stand out. The lightly-colored material is far more ornate than typical chain links. Enhancing that beauty are the curved patterns around the borders and the countless tiny jewels within. These infuse the mithril garb with a divine aura. You truly believe no blade can pierce it. Moreover, its brilliance brightens up even the darkest places, outshining any other armor placed on top.