Comfort Level

Manufacturers meet the growing demand for better women's body armor with new designs, new technology and a unique line of new products

     Later this year, SAVVY will offer vests that are manufactured using the advanced draping system of the second shaping technology. "The vest actually drapes from the back all the way to the front to provide continuous protection on the sides without the worry of overlapping the front and back panel," Milligan explains. Thermal Forming is the third technology SAVVY will be using to produce women's body armor, and those designs are still in development. "It's a process of heat and pressure that forms a bust cup in the vest," she says. "It's a technology that a lot of people are really excited about."

Fit for females

     Many existing body armor manufacturers and suppliers have long provided female officers with a variety of options in tactical and protective vests. The products offered by companies such as U.S. Armor, Protective Products International (PPI), ForceOne, Armor Express, First Choice Armor and others include vests that are entirely custom designed, custom fitted, or manufactured in both men's and women's cuts. Some manufacturers can adapt existing body armor to fit the needs of female officers and offer customizing services on a case-by-case basis, while others have rolled out lines of products designed specifically for women.

     U.S. Armor has a history of providing female officers with body armor. "We've been making women's vests for over 30 years," says U.S. Armor's general manager Georg Olsen. "We've always worked with those suppliers with the longest histories of manufacturing ballistics materials, like DuPont and Honeywell."

     As a result, U.S. Armor offers body armor shaped and manufactured specifically for women — a one-piece design that uses darting to shape cups into the front of the vest.

     Olsen agrees that seams can indeed create problems when body armor materials are cut in order to reshape a vest — particularly when such reshaping involves creating more room in the front or narrowing the vest near the bottom.

     "When you seam armor back together you have to put one piece on top of the other," he explains. "Then you have to back it with armor so nothing goes through the seam, and that can make the vest very bulky and uncomfortable."

     PPI also concentrates on body armor for women. In an article on the "Yes Ma'am" Web site — a clearinghouse for women's law enforcement supplies — PPI reports that it also conducted research and field interviews with women officers. In addition, PPI products are available in traditional women's cuts along with products manufactured using radial offset pleating, thermal forming and advanced draping technologies.

     ForceOne offers a women's version of vests that are more often made for male officers. "Any of our ballistic packages have a Princess cut available; they're very comfortable and fit very well," says Hank Atkins, president of ForceOne.

     Armor Express also offers custom-fit vests for men and women. In addition, the company now features new products just for women officers. "We've been addressing the needs of female officers for quite a few years," says Mary Crawley, marketing coordinator for Armor Express. "Some officers like a vest to completely overlap on the sides, some like it to meet exactly, some like the lower part of the vest to hit the top of their belt buckle. We can accommodate whatever they want."

     Armor Express introduced its line of for-women-only body armor earlier this year. "More and more agencies are mandating body armor wear for male and female officers," Crawley notes, "but there are a lot of women out there still wearing men's armor — it's a market that definitely is in need of direct attention." The Armor Express line is manufactured using a specialized darting system that creates built-in cups without cutting the armor, which Crawley says is important because the process does not create seams in the ballistics that could rub or chafe.

Extreme measures

     Olsen, too, has watched the demand for female body armor grow in recent years and notes that branches of law enforcement beyond mainstream patrol units have welcomed more women into their ranks. "We're certainly very much aware that there are more women in law enforcement and that there's a need for a specialty product to address the needs that women have and men don't, all across the board," he says.

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