Bulletproof clothing or bulletproof or ballistic vests are apparel specifically designed to protect the wearer from the impact of firearm bullets on his/her vital organs. It essentially absorbs and reduces the impact of projectile bullets and small fragments from explosives, by preventing its penetration within the wearer’s body.
Bulletproof clothing generally is worn on the torso. It is made by layering woven or laminated fibres, with ballistic plates of metal, polythene plates or ceramic inserted into it. Generally, worn alongside other protection armor components by police forces, security guards, combat soldiers, and private citizens of eminence, etc., these vests catch and deform the bullet by spreading its force and lowering its speed through friction.
Did you know: As per an International Association of Chiefs of Police study, ballistic vests have saved over 3,000 officers since 1987. The association currently has a membership of about 20,000 Police Chief Executive Officers, from about 100 countries.
The history of bulletproof clothing
If we go way back into the history of mankind, people used to use animal skins to protect themselves against injuries and attacks. As the weaponry started advancing, so did the protection. Wooden and metal shields were used as defensive covers against attacks.
The idea of bulletproof vests though, came in the 1500s, when the Italian and the Roman empires built first body amours with metal layers to deflect bullets. However, then the metal body armor wasn’t as effective against firearms. In the 1800s then, softer silk body armors were developed by the Japanese. These armors were much more effective but expensive.
In 1901, the assassination of President William McKinley forced the US military to explore the idea of soft body armors too. The silk armors were effective against the low-velocity bullets, but not the new generation artillery. Hence, the idea of silk armors couldn’t sustain for very long.
During the World War II, flak jackets were invented, using ballistic nylon fibres to protect against ammunition fragments. These were bulky and broadly ineffective but were used widely, as they did offer a sense of better security to the soldiers.
It was the 1960s, when new fibres were discovered, which made the bulletproofing possible. The DuPont’s Kevlar ballistic fabric was invented in the early 1970s, to be used in tires. Its strength, in addition with added layers of fabric, to ensure waterproofing and extra strength to the Kevlar fabric brought in the bulletproof fabric into the picture.
Did you know: The National Institute of Justice (USA) tested multiple Kevlar versions for several years, for the protection against 38 Specials and 22 Long Rifle Bullets. They concluded that Kevlar vests were capable of stopping most common lead bullet impacts.
Kevlar is basically a type of plastic with extremely high tensile strength, owing to the tightly bound, parallel molecules, that makes the fabric bulletproof. Kevlar fabric shows the property of absorbing and distributing the energy that comes in contact with it. Thus, Kevlar can effectively cushion, catch and prevent the bullet from penetrating through the wearer’s body.
Did You Know: Having an exact fit is essential for the bulletproof vest to be effective. If the Kevlar is not positioned effectively on the body, it will not be able to disperse the impact of a bullet. Hence, these vests are made to fit exact body types and heights.
The body armor industry
This industry is being driven by the increased development across the globe, in soldier modernization programmes. So a substantially large number of countries are acquiring bulletproof vests for their armed forces. The industry is still experimenting with their focus on improvement in materials being used in bulletproof clothing, to explore armor performance to protect the wearer from blade attacks along with firearms. Moreover, growing focus on wars is boosting up the requirements of bulletproof clothing globally.
Some of the major brand names working in this industry are Miguel Cabellero Bulletproof Designer Clothing, Balde Runner, Garrison Bespoke, Aspetto, and BulletSafe. In the US alone, the bulletproof body armor manufacturing industry can be valued at $465 mn a year, as per a Market Research report. By 2024, according to a Grandview’s 2016 research, the global market for bulletproof clothing is expected to be worth around $5.7 bn.
How is bulletproof clothing made?
Bulletproof clothing is made using fibres or filaments that are both lightweight and strong. Kevlar® is the most widely used option, where a solid thread is spun out of a liquid chemical blend. Another option for raw material in bulletproof clothing is Dyneema®, which is a made by a gel-spinning process from a polythene base, providing incredible strength and softness to the material.
These fibres/filaments are then converted into yarns and sheet materials for usage in final clothing. The bulletproof panels are made of multiple layers of this ballistic material, and the required thickness is determined based on the level of protection that has to achieve from the garment. Multiple layers of this ballistic fabric are cut and sewn together to provide the required protection to the wearer. These layers of sewn ballistic material are then put into a protective envelope, which is heat sealed to ensure the protection of these layers from humidity and water.
Did you know: The carrier in itself, without the panels, does not provide any ballistic protection; it is just like wearing a T-shirt
The ballistic panels are fitted into carriers, which have pockets to insert the panels, ensuring they are held at proper positions on the wearer’s body. This carrier along with the ballistic panels together constitutes bulletproof clothing.
How effective are bulletproof clothing?
Did you know: Bulletproof clothing is not actually knife resistant clothing, but can help the wearer even in vehicle accidents.
Unlike the name suggests, a bulletproof vest is not truly bulletproof, it is actually just bullet resistant. It can prevent the certain type, sizes and speeds of bullets penetrating the body, but even when the bullet is stopped, the impact can injure the wearer. However, bulletproof clothing has been proved to provide protection against a multitude of small caliber weapon attacks to the wearer.
Did You Know: Bulletproof body armor is designed only to protect the wearer from small caliber weapons.