FIre Nation armor appears to have been heavily inspired by different types of armor used by the Chinese throughout their history. Zuko’s armor appears to be inspired by a type of Chinese armor called “Cord and Plaque”, which features a breast plate consisting of two plates over the chest and two plates over the back held together by shoulder straps and cords around the waist.
Cord and Plaque armor would typically be worn over either lamellar armor or “mountain pattern” armor. Lamellar armor is made from small plates either laced or riveted together to form a suit of armor. The famous terracotta soldiers depict soldiers that wear lamellar armor from the Qin period.
Mountain pattern armor is a type a Chinese scale mail armor. It derives its name from the fact that the individual scales are shaped like the Chinese character for “mountain”, 山, Shān. The scales interlock to form a coat of mail.
Zuko’s costume retains the overall shape of either lamellar or mountain pattern armor, but the texture is left out. This is understandable for a hand drawn animated show, as it would be incredibly tedious and time consuming to draw the individual plates and scales of lamellar or mountain pattern armor. It would, however, be cool to see these armor designs incorporated into Zuko’s costume for the live action show that Netflix is producing.
There is some evidence that plate armor existed in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but it doesn’t appear to have been widely used. It featured plates held together by bands of cloth. Uncle Iroh’s armor could be modeled after Chinese plate armor or could be another example of mountain pattern armor with the pattern of the scales left out.
The armor worn by Fire Nation Firebending soldiers is distinct from non-Firebending foot soldiers. Like the armor worn by Prince Zuko, the Firebending soldiers wear cord and plaque armor. They also wear a helmet with a protective face mash and ornamental spikes. Chinese armor was known to incorporate protective masks and Japanese Samurai were known to wear protective masks and highly decorated helmets. It appears that the design of the Firebender’s masked helmets took their shape from the shape of Chinese Helmets, but may have taken some stylistic inspiration from Samurai helmets.
The armor of the Fire Nation’s foot soldiers appears to have been modeled after either the Ming Dynasty era lamellar and mountain pattern armor (again with the texture absent) or from Qing Dynasty era Brigandine armor. Like lamellar armor, brigandine armor consists of many small plates. It differs from lamellar armor in that the plates are riveted to cloth rather than laced together.