With Western origins dating back to the mid-16th Century, body armor in any variation has been around for quite some time. Around this time in the East, the Japanese had themselves pioneered the use of soft armor, crafted out of silk.
The first use of soft body armor in the United States came about in the late 19th century, though the issue here was while the garments were effective against low-velocity bullets, they were all but useless for any bullets travelling more than 600 feet per second. Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated while wearing this type of body armour, so while this body armor was ineffective, it wouldn’t have helped him survive a gunshot to the head.
Use of body armor throughout World War II was mostly restricted to the military, as the ballistic nylon it was made of was too cumbersome to wear. Body armor as we have come to know it only really makes its strides in the 1960s, as a response to the increase in police officer deaths.
Body armor was revolutionized in the early 1970s with the discovery of Kevlar. Stronger than leather, cotton and polyethylene, Kevlar that has been woven into a fabric is five times as strong as steel. Goldflex, Spectra and Twaron are other materials of a similar nature that do the same job. Of the four, Goldflex is both the lightest and the one that offers the most ballistic protection.
The National Institute of Justice reports that since the early 1970s, more than three thousand police offers’ lives have been saved thanks to adequate protection by body armor. There are, of course, different levels of resistance and protection offered by body armor. The type of vest (or other armor) is, of course, dependent on what you’re looking to be protected from. There are six levels of protection, as outlined by the NIJ. From level Is, which protect against .22 caliber rounds impacting at a minimum velocity of 1050 feet per second to the hard armor Level IVs, which are designed to protect the wearer from “armor piercing projectiles” at a minimum velocity of 2850 feet per second.
In addition to thinking about your desired level of protection, comfort may also be a factor when choosing your own body armor.Interamer’s body armor FAQ notes that the Level IIA, which is the second lowest level of protection, is the best bet when it comes to comfort and concealability. The thickness of this option is only about 4mm thick. The Level II, which is the next level up, is the one generally worn by police officers. For comparison purposes, this one is about 5mm thick.
Body armor has certainly come a long way since its inception half a millennia ago; its quality now is unparalleled, and above all, it’s easier to wear (and buy).