The evolution of the firearm is an interesting one — from the unknown Chinese origins of gunpowder, to the fire lance, and the slow development of handheld tubes that use gunpowder to force a projectile outward and into an enemy target. By the 1300s, what we consider guns today were well along in development, and by the 1500s they had been definitive in enough battles that the world was starting to really dig its teeth into the future of warfare.
And as the predator’s teeth sharpens over the ages, so the prey’s hide begins to thicken. The development of body armor was an inevitable result of the evolution of firearms — it had certainly been produced specifically for arrows and other weapons in the past, so the concept was not a new one.
In the 1500s, several European nations were beginning to test the development of “pistol proof” armor. One has to realize that the effectiveness of guns at this stage in history was not anywhere close to the effectiveness of weapons we have today. While that might sound obvious, it’s important to realize when understanding that what might not have worked now, could have worked perfectly well back then — for example, suits of armor wrought in steel. Wearing a silk vest could likely save someone’s life back then, but it’s not about to stop a .45 today.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that the world started to see the earliest significant stages of ballistic vests and armor that were finding their way into the public eye. On the commercial side, Ireland, Korea and Japan were all developing various sorts of tailored armor.