Bad news first: Tony Stark's futuristic exoskeleton does not exist in real life. Good news: it's not hard to dress up as a retrofuturistic Iron Man! All you need is a bucket and a willingness to shoulder sixty pounds of heavy metal.
Reality provides us with plenty of examples of inventors making low-tech battle suits, given humans' penchant for shooting projectiles at each other at high velocities and whatnot. Here are ten zany body armors right out of the history books.
10. Future G.I.
I have no clue whatever became of this 1959 atomic supersoldier, but I assume he escaped back to Living Island to rescue H.R. Pufnstuf and Freddy the Flute from the tyrannical reign of Witchiepoo.
8 & 9. The newfangled military helmets of World War I
Bashford Dean's 1920 book Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare features a wealth of experimental helmets, most of which meshed with the sartorial guidelines laid out by COBRA Commander throughout the 1980s. Here's my favorite — John Berkeley's man of mystery mask — along with some of the other weirdo headgear you'll find in this book.
Numerous experiments were made by the British in the direction of producing a shield for the face. One of the earliest forms [...] was devised by John Berkeley of Newcastle [...] It was merely a steel plate which fitted under the peak of the soldier's cap and was pierced with vertical and transverse slits in front of each eye. This design is only one of many which never passed beyond an experimental stage.
7. French trench armor, 1915
It's unclear when and how long this armor was implemented, but Monsieur Homme de Fer right here makes wearing a bulletproof half-cylinder on your head appear très languid. He's very Daft Punk: The Ragtime Years.
5 & 6. Cop armor
Throughout the early-to-mid-1900s, inventors fiddled with many different prototypes of protective gear for police departments. Several of these designs made officers look like some combination of refrigerator box robots and Lord Humungus' cabana boys. Let's take this 1959 outfit touted by Philadelphia police. Maybe I would've actually watched Cold Case if all of the officers dressed like this.
This 60-pound plastic suit was tested in Detroit in 1958. "Note headlights for night cops," instructs the article.
Hollywood, the plot for any RoboCop prequels begin here.
"Christ on a cracker, Mugsy! Here comes Inspector Lima Bean!"
And finally, behold the natty "Parisian Gun Musketeer" look of 1938.
4. World War I radiographers, circa 1918
Although this outfit wasn't equipped for the battlefield whatsoever, it's worth mentioning, as radiographers of the Great War wore absolutely smashing pervert suits.
(Photo: H.J. Hickman/Wellcome Collection.)
3. Dr. Brewster's armor
In the early 1900s, Dr. Guy Otis Brewster of Dover, New Jersey was at the vanguard of zany body armors. Perhaps his most famous suit was this bulletproof suit, which bestowed the wearer with the mien of a warrior polygon. His tests of this unusual costume garnered him press coverage such as this:
Experiments were made with this body defense at Picatinny Arsenal in April, 1917, when Dr. Brewster stood in front of a Lewis machine gun and received an impact of a number of bullets at full-service velocity (about 2,700 foot seconds). His armor weighed about forty pounds. It is interesting to record that the wearer gave no sign of the great impact to which he was subjected. He declared that it was "only about one tenth the shock which he experienced when struck by a sledge-hammer."
Dr. Brewster's experiments with body armor didn't stop with the battlefield. In 1913, he touted the benefits of this cage-like boxing armor to the San Francisco Call, giving readers an eyeful of his post-apocalyptic maître d' garb. And judging from that headline, the doctor was tantalized with visions of a newfangled women-versus-astigmatics boxing league.
2. Ned Kelly's last stand exoskeleton
After his final heist left him and his gang surrounded by police in a hotel, notorious Australian bushranger Ned Kelly (1855–1880) went out in a blaze of glory. How so? Kelly and associates got hammered and threw on homemade supervillain costumes. As Australian National University explains:
The other outlaws were equipped with armour made from plough mould-boards and Ned was protected by a cylindrical headpiece, breast and back plates and apron weighing about 90 lbs (41 kg). Little sleep and much consumption of alcohol affected their judgement and, although the armour limited their movements and use of firearms, it gave them a false sense of invulnerability [...]
[Kelly] was brought down by bullet wounds in the legs [...] Despite strong agitation for a reprieve Kelly was hanged at the Melbourne gaol on 11 November. He met his end without fear. His last words were 'Ah well, I suppose it has come to this,' and by another version, 'Such is life'.
1. Samuel Schwarz's machine gun vest
This fashionable undergarment popped up in the May 1929 issue of Modern Mechanics magazine. Who needs repulsor blasts when you can accidentally murder your loved ones with a hug? To quote an ether-addled adman I just made up, "No minutes for intimacy today, honey! I'm sporting Sammy Schwarz's patented Ballyhoo Singlet!"