If you're going into battle, you've got two wardrobe options: You can dress in something practical -- camouflage, body armor, boring shit like that -- or you can slap on a SpongeBob costume, paint your flamethrower bright pink, and hope the enemy is too confused and/or terrified to remember which end of their weapon is "kill."
Look at that magnificent bastard: You'd call bullshit on that armor set in Skyrim. No way that's practical for battle. That does nothing but look awesome on the cover of a Dungeons and Dragons compendium. But that's not just a painting: That is the very real armor of the Polish winged hussars, who held the title for the most brutal cavalry force in the world for most of the 16th and 17th century. They wreaked absolute havoc on battlefields throughout Europe, all while sporting huge angel wings on their backs.
The hussars' wings increased in elaborateness in direct proportion to their success on the battlefield. It was like they were defying logic to stop their winning spree. The practice started from mere paintings of wings on their shields and eventually ended up in the massive structures you see below, which were created by gluing eagle, swan, ostrich, or goose feathers onto a wooden frame that arched over the rider's back. Presumably, somewhere in the middle stage, there was a guy who just flapped his arms really hard as he rode into the fray.
"FEAR THE SEAGULL!"
Historians aren't quite certain what the wings were for, aside from looking bitchin' airbrushed onto the side of a van. Some say that the unnatural sound created when the hussars attacked at full gallop, feathers fluttering, unnerved their opponent's horses, who must have thought they had accidentally stepped on the eggs of some terrifying new type of bird. Others guess that the wings served as protection against lasso attacks. But we know the truth: Some guy drew a pair on his Trapper Keeper while bored in war class one day, and every other hussar was like "That looks rad."
The Aztecs were pretty hardcore. Aside from giving the world such invaluable gifts as chocolate and the ziggurat, they were chiefly a warrior race. Every single Aztec male was trained to be a fighter. The absolute best were promoted to a series of elite warrior societies, each tier of which had different, increasingly elaborate costumes. That's right: The Aztecs leveled up in reality.
Eagle warriors covered themselves with feathers and had huge eagle helmets, their faces peeking out from the open beak. We're, uh ... we're sure that looked way more badass than it sounds, and ... nope:
It's like if a xenomorph was designed by Jim Henson.
OK, but that's only one of the two options. We also have the jaguar warriors, whose costumes were made from the pelts of -- did you guess it? -- jaguars. There you go: Now you're getting badass. You're a fucking jaguar; you're a deadly cat on the pr-
Huh. Kind of looks like Max from Where the Wild Things Are.
Well, maybe they lose something in still images. We know that in battle, at least, the eagles and jaguars were a force to be feared: To even be eligible to join either group, an ordinary warrior had to capture four more-reputable fighters in battle. Not just kill, but capture. They had to go up against four other warriors, each of whom was revered for his prowess in battle, and take them alive to be used in a sacrifice. And the very best of the jaguar and eagle warriors got promoted again, to the most prestigious warrior society: the Cuachicqueh, aka the Shorn Ones.
All right. Now we're talking! That is a badass name. That's a gang from The Road Warrior. That's a special caste of Lovecraftian un-gods. That's the name of some particularly crazy Norwegian black metal band. And the Cuachicqueh lived up to the hype: Each Shorn One swore never to take a step backward during battle, on pain of death at the hands of his comrades.
"Now put on your debutante gown and fight like a man!"
So now we get the intimidating armor, right? We're talking devil horns, spikes, random glowing bits ... nope again: The Shorn Ones painted their faces in alternating patterns of blue, red, and yellow. They also shaved their heads completely bald, apart from a single braid above their left ear. Actually, when you put all of those uniforms together on the field, as they would be in battle, the overall effect does sound pretty terrifying. Imagine a half-naked Skrillex Starburst charging at you with what looks like an entire Wild Rumpus behind him. See if you stand your ground.
Honda Heihachiro Tadakatsu was a legendary samurai also known as "the warrior who surpasses death itself." The nickname is a bit unwieldy -- it's no "star-cougar," or even "the meat-snake" -- but in terms of content, it does sound pretty damn tough. And Honda Tadakatsu absolutely deserved it.
Despite participating in many battles throughout his life, Honda never sustained even a single significant injury. And he wasn't one of those "sit back in my tent and play Go while the real warriors duke it out" generals. He was right there on the frontlines, fighting, all while wearing an enormous, instantly recognizable kill-me sign.
The top-heavy antler helmet was offset by the weight of his massive balls.
This armor was not ceremonial: Honda Tadakatsu went into battle in a helmet with a massive set of deer antlers on it. If the opposing samurai army was a boss fight, Honda would be its ostentatious, bright-red, blinking weak point. Attack here to defeat.
And not one single significant injury.
Old-school samurai weren't exactly gentle pansies wafting in the breeze. They didn't generally panic and flee when they saw Honda the man-deer charging at them. In fact, his reputation was so great that most samurai would target Honda specifically, just for the chance at the glory of being the first one to lay a finger on him. Legend has it that he first started to wear the deer antlers after one of the animals saved his life -- it supposedly showed him a route to safety after he was ambushed by enemies. But man, if we survived a few dozen battles without a scratch, we might be get bored of life on its default setting, too.
"OK, what if I paint a bull's-eye on my chest? Will that be fair?"
Honda just turned the difficulty up to "expert" and waded back in.