TLDR: They don’t. Fit, function and coverage matter more than gender.
I’m on the cusp of breaking my golden rule, but I’m writing this post at the request of Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader, a frequent visitor of this blog. He spotted this promo shot from the new Power Rangers movie reboot:
Notice anything about the way the costumes are different for the male and female characters? Perhaps in the chest area? Hoffelder did, and he wanted to know whether body armor in reality is divided along similar lines.
The short answer is no. Here’s why.
Body Armor Basics
If you’re not already familiar with body armor, here are a few posts you may want to check out first:
- Can a “Bulletproof Vest” Also Stop a Knife?
- Does Getting Shot While Wearing Body Armor Leave a Bruise?
- Could a Wall of Corpses Wearing Body Armor Offer Protection During a Gunfight?
To summarize, ballistic body armor disperses kinetic energy from a projectile to prevent said projectile from penetrating into the person (or character) wearing it. Think of goal netting stopping a soccer ball. Body armor does this using panels inserted into a vest, a vest with those panels already built in or a hard shell vest. (Note that I’m using the colloquial “bulletproof vest” and “body armor” interchangeably here, and that there are types of body armor other than a vest.)
Fit > Gender
When matching body armor to a person in the real world, there are a few factors that take precedence over anything else:
- Coverage (Are the vital areas protected?)
- A snug fit (Is the body armor too loose or too tight? Does it ride up or down too much? Does it remain in place whether standing, sitting, running or crouching?)
This doesn’t mean men and women won’t have different needs in these areas. Of course they will. But so will each individual. That’s why manufacturers make their products customizable with Velcro, straps, buttons and more. See for yourself here at Body Armor Outlet. Products aren’t divided by male/female.
Here’s an example of a female police officer being fitted for body armor:
That isn’t to say there aren’t fit issues specific to females that deserve attention:
The Takeaway for Writers
The end result looks a lot less like this:
And more like this:
It’s not fair to compare a Power Ranger character up against IRL body armor. One is a product of Pavlov’s dick marketing techniques, and the other is a life-or-death priority.
The point for writers, however, is valid. When it comes to weapons, what you see in pop culture is often a crude caricature of the real world.
Get the Book
The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:
3 thoughts on “Do Men and Women Use Different Body Armor?”
Now I’m curious what your “golden rule” is.
It’s hardly boob-plate but in reality men and women should and increasingly do wear differently designed armors.
It’s not strictly necessary for men and women to use different armor but the reality is that men and women are shaped differently, rather noticeably in the torso region. The majority of women would actually put themselves at great risk if they use armor designed for men. The U.S. Army found that 85% of female soldiers couldn’t get a proper fit with armor designed for men, resulting in discomfort and large gaps in armor protection. The International Association of Chiefs of Police say that “busts push the front armor panel forward, enlarging the underarm gap and therefore lessening the area of coverage between the front and rear panels” thus notably reducing the effectiveness of male and ‘gender-neutral’ armor on many female officers.
The National Institute of Justice actually requires male and female bulletproof vests to be certified separately because of the differing shapes that male and female bodies require for coverage, in the NIJ’s own words “Male armor panels are typically considered to be flat and female armors are typically considered to be curved due to shaping to conform to the female physique.” Furthermore the IACP notes “Soft body armors designated as female differ from male and gender-neutral vests in that they can incorporate curved or shaped protective panels to accommodate the female bust” and “a material that works perfectly well as a flat armor may not perform well when subjected to folding, cutting, stitching or even changes in the stresses in the materials as it is shaped to provide protection.”
Individual manufacturers note that men and women are themselves shaped differently and thus require differently shaped armor to provide equal protection. U.S. Armor says of their female line “In our research of body armor needs of female officers, we have learned that one size does not fit all. Not just a smaller version of a male panel or a fold over “princess cut”, we instead design our female ballistic vests specifically to your body contours.” Notably, Body Armor Outlet sells armor from manufacturers, such as Armor Express and Point Blank Body Armor, that do differentiate between their male and female models without presenting which model is available on their website. However a different website, Atlantic Tactical, does divide products by male and female.
Even with military vests and plate carriers there’s a trend towards improved fitting and shaping for women as they’re officially put into more combat roles. The US Army, in their design of the female version of the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, stated that “Females are not small males […] We have specific proportions that require designs for fit and function for uniforms as well as equipment.” and the design of the female IOTV “While providing the same high-level ballistic protection, it has an improved quick release system, narrower shoulders, front ballistic plate insertion, more adjustability in the waist area, and a collar that can accommodate the regulation hair (bun) styles of female Soldiers.”
Click to access Femalebodyarmor.pdf
Click to access 247281.pdf
Thanks for the tip to make sure body armor is a snug fit. I recently decided that I would like to get some bulletproof inserts for my wife and I after hearing about crime in our neighborhood. I’ll be sure to find inserts that fit correctly to ensure we are wearing them properly. https://atomicdefense.com/collections/body-armor-insert-plates-and-panels