Since the mithral versions of a chain shirt and a breastplate (see Mithral Armor in the DMG) specify they can be worn under normal clothes, I had initially presumed this to be a feature unique to these magic items. However, upon reading the description for a chain shirt:

Made of interlocking metal rings, a chain shirt is worn between layers of clothing or leather. This armor offers modest protection to the wearer's upper body and allows the sound of the rings rubbing against one another to be muffled by outer layers.

It seems to suggest that a normal chain shirt can also be worn underneath other layers, but doesn't specify 'normal clothes' like the mithral chain shirt does. Can a mundane chain shirt be concealed under light clothes like a shirt?


8 Answers 8


IRL chainmail was typically worn over a type of Gambeson or padded armor. Which would make it very bulky. Whereas you could wear an oversized tunic or something over it, it would be very obvious you were wearing something more than just clothing.

Here are a couple of great clips from Shadiversity on YouTube on Gambeson and Chainmail.

A chain shirt is just the part of the chainmail that covers the torso and arms. Having woven chainmail myself even being very careful there will be burrs and such so wearing this over normal clothing would be a problem and part of the protection of chain comes from the gambeson worn beneath just like part of plate's protection comes from the chainmail beneath it.

These are, of course, real life examples. But this is a fantasy game and anything not covered in the rules and descriptions of the items is left to the DM, obviously (and even anything actually covered by the rules is left to the DM). Myself I take a bit of a cue from history and made adjustments to my own games to remove things that are way over the top, but left in things that I could deal with.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But this question is discussing a chain shirt, not chainmail, which is a different item (in 5e, at least). Are the terms interchangeable with regard to real-life items? \$\endgroup\$
    – Temp
    Dec 21, 2017 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ The video on Chainmail actually just shows a piece of it similar to a shirt and what would have to be worn under it to make it even remotely wearable and comfortable. The only real difference between the two is lack of greaves and longer sleeves and perhaps the coif if you want to get really technical, which is why I think it is relevant. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Dec 21, 2017 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zso A chain shirt is just the part of a chain mail suit that covers the torso, but worn alone, similar to how a breastplate is just part of a plate mail suit. So yes, they're the same thing, as far as their construction and bulk go. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 22, 2017 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ It would be be great if you put the content of the comments in your answer, they provide useful context. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Dec 28, 2020 at 21:25

No, it can't be concealed under a shirt

If you read the description of the normal chain shirt carefully, you'll see that it is "worn between layers of clothing or leather. A simple shirt is not the same as wearing it between layers and it would not be muffled.

Mithral chainmail is unique in the fact that it does not require those extra layers of clothing and leather to muffle the sounds of the rings, therefore allowing you to easily hide it under normal clothing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A modern shoe is worn with a sock, but socks are not built-in to the shoe. IMHO this interpretation is a bit of a stretch. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kroltan
    Dec 21, 2017 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I read this as that it can be worn between layers of cloths (undershirt/padding - chain shirt - outerwear). However, it will likely not be "hidden" between the layers of cloths. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 21, 2017 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Realistically (if such matters), a chain shirt would be worn over padded cloth mostly for comfort: you really don't want maille against your bare skin unless its particularly finely-made and undamaged, and padding helps absorb impacts. It might further be worn under a tabbard, but would be noticeable even if fully covered: steel maille is a bit bulky (imagine wearing a shirt over a winter coat). Mithril maille is implied to be very fine and strong links which can be comfortably worn as a shirt and which adds very little additional bulk. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 21, 2017 at 18:15

Yes: But wide open to interpretation

Short of somebody finding a direct quote I don't think we will reach a clear agreement here so I will start with - Speak to your GM.

My interpretation however is relying upon a bit of (or lack of) knowledge of how people used to dress in the past. Long underwear was very common because there was no central heating etc and I would rule that the chain shirt can be worn over your underwear and underneath your shirt.

This satisfied the between layers requirement in the description.

However I think the intention is that it is worn above your standard clothes and underneath a coat or similar.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As someone who has made armor and fought in it (SCA and HMB), chain over undies is a bad idea. You would want a padded arming garment under (a form of armor itself). Without this, there will be little to no impact protection, just slash protection \$\endgroup\$
    – Btuman
    Dec 21, 2017 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Btuman I think I read somewhere in the PHB that this is included as part of the armor itself. I know there is a similar description on plate armor. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Dec 21, 2017 at 15:14

A mundane chain shirt can be worn under clothing, but not concealed under normal clothing

I think this is the key distinction here. As many of the other answers have already outlined, a mundane chain shirt requires more padding underneath, making it bulky and hard to conceal. The "layers of clothing or leather" need to go somewhere.

While both a mithral chain shirt and a normal chain shirt may be worn under clothing, for a mundane chain shirt that clothing would not be "normal" as it would need to be wider to accommodate the bulk of the armor. It would not conceal that you are wearing armor.

Is a mithral chain shirt detectable under clothing?

In contrast, the rules text for Mithral Armor states:

Mithral is a light, flexible metal. A mithral chain shirt or breastplate can be worn under normal clothes. If the armor normally imposes disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks or has a Strength requirement, the mithral version of the armor doesn't.

That this armor is concealed is implied by the fact that the clothes are described as normal (and that it does not impose disadvantage on Stealth checks).

To some extent the idea that the mitral chain shirt is not detectable under clothing is due to collective awareness of the well known story in the Lord of the Rings, where nobody realized that Frodo was wearing a mithril chain shirt under his clothes for weeks. For the shirt to be as undetectable, it should both be not visible and make no sounds betraying its presence.

The description of mithral armor does not explicitly say that it does not make any sound. Neither a mundane breastplate, nor a mundane chain shirt impose disadvantage to Stealth, only full chain mail does so, so being made of mithral gains nothing in rules mechanics for these armors when it comes to sound. This is only implied by extrapolating from those armors that do have disadvantage on Stealth: if those are more silent, then for the muffled sounds of chain shirt, a mithral chain shirt should be silent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can think of an edge case: if the character is wearing thick cold-weather over-clothes (think parka), then wearing normal mail underneath might not be detectable, esp. to casual observer. If it were game-critical, you could translate this into perception checks -- virtually trivial DC for mail under "normal" clothes, higher DC for "thick winter" clothes. This would probably fall under the "not normal" aspect of this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jul 15, 2022 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave No objections here. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15, 2022 at 16:57

Short answer is no, but if you are being historical about how garments are being worn it shouldn't matter. The padded clothing that was worn as a part of armour was often used as a clothing as could be quite fashionable. Further details below.

The Chain shirt described in 5e matches a style of wearing mail hauberk. A hauberk is a t-shirt shaped piece of chainmail that the sleeves go down a little above the elbow and the bottom hangs a little below the groin. There is also a hauberken which cuts off around waist. Chainmail as listed in the PHB references the full body chainmail that knights wore before the introduction of plate armour.

Chainmail of any type was almost always worn over some kind of padding. This wasn't just for comfort, it also also protected against percussive force. Hauberk was commonly worn underneath other armours that couldn't suitably cover the whole torso. "Chain shirt" was usually called jack over hauberk. The inner layer of padding could be a little thinner than normal but that was only because the outside was thick instead.

All of which is to say, the padding is just as important as the chain and it was quite bulky. Normal clothes would not have fitted over the top.

Oh, as a last point. The hauberk usually dangled out the bottom of the jack so hiding that would be hard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A couple of external links to sources supporting your jargon would add greatly to this answer's quality. \$\endgroup\$
    – ValhallaGH
    Nov 10, 2018 at 16:21

Yes, in real life you can absolutely wear, and almost certainly conceal, a chain shirt under normal clothes. In D&D it's - as with all things, up to your DM. However, consider: -

For starters, the Player's Handbook says:-

a chain shirt is worn between layers of clothing

(emphasis added by me)

A chain shirt, or "byrnie", is a t-shirt-length item. It's not a long-sleeved garment, and it's supposed to be quite close-fitting to the body.

Let's address the issue of bulky padding. While it is undoubtedly more comfortable (in terms of getting hit, not say, heat exhaustion) and effective to wear armour over padding, the arming jack and later arming doublet (gambesons are generally a separate, stand-alone item of bulky padded armour) appear about a thousand years after the invention of mail armour. Celts, Romans (well, a "sub-armalis", a thicker than usual tunic), Angles, Saxons, and even Vikings until about the Norman invasion, wore a simple tunic under their mail.

When I do Dark Ages LARP and re-enactment, wearing real mail armour (riveted, steel, mail) I wear it over an old tunic - you don't need to wear significant padding under it to stop sword cuts.

Lindybeige does a video on mail, where he wears mail under his sweater, and only reveals he's wearing a mail byrnie/mail shirt halfway through the video. I'm linking it here https://youtu.be/RssIl2v0C1k

As with a lot of D&D questions, while the text hints at the possibility of it being "muffled by outer layers", it's down to the DM to make the final call. If I was DMing, I'd allow a chain shirt to be worn concealed, but allow NPCs to have a chance of noticing it if they were really looking. As for full mail ("chainmail"), no, since it's a lot longer and harder to conceal, and in 5e includes that padded arming jack or "gambeson" [sic], and doesn't explicitly mention other clothing covering it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for both good, real world support from experience and historical data, and linking to Lindybeige. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15, 2022 at 14:23

There is a risk that the answer to this is a matter of opinion, but having read the discriptions in the PHB and the DMG it would seem that a “normal “ chain shirt can be worn under normal clothes and therefore possibly concealed.

The wording of the mithral armor in the DMG is slightly ambiguous as it doesn’t explain whether the shirt is just worn under normal clothes against the skin or if it is still sandwiched between layers of leather or clothing. It is really a matter of interpretation whether it is worn like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings or if, for all intents and purposes, it is similar in construction to normal chain shirts.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I keep seeing the Lord of the Rings comment come up, and I think it might be worth pointing out that, other than the fineness and lightness of the mail, and its magical strength, unlike historical armour, Frodo's armour DID include a padded leather undershirt. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15, 2022 at 13:12

When you look at LARP or reenactment, you will see what the rules describe: chainmail is typically worn over some usually padded undergarment, and often covered with another thin layer of clothes, such as a surcoat bearing your or your lord's banner.

This does not serve to hide the chainmail. It is quite obvious that you are wearing armour underneath, if just for the fact that a surcoat is rarely worn without armour under it.

You can certainly not hide a chain mail under a normal shirt, unless that shirt is several sizes too large for you.


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