1st Edition

Bulletproof Fashion Security, Emotions, and the Fortress Body

By Barbara Sutton Copyright 2023
    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    In the context of gun proliferation and persistent gun violence in the United States, a controversial security strategy has gained public attention: bulletproof fashion. This book examines concerns about security focusing on armored clothing and accessories for civilians.

    Available for children and adults, such ballistic products include colorful backpacks, elegant suits, sports jackets, feminine dresses, trendy vests, and medical lab coats. These products are paradigmatic of a "fashion of fear"—the practice of outfitting the body with apparel aimed at maximizing personal security. This fashion encourages the emergence of both a fortress body and an armored society.

    Sutton also explores the wider social factors influencing the bulletproof fashion phenomenon, including the inequalities associated with neoliberalism and the militarization of civilian life. The book sheds light on the role of emotions in relation to discourses and perceptions of security, and encourages feminist and sociological studies to pay attention to the linkages between security, bodies, and dress. It is ideal for students and scholars interested in security and gun violence, culture and politics, neoliberalism and consumption, and bodies and emotions.


    1. Security and the Fashion of Fear

    2. Emotions and Security

    3. Emotions and the Commercialization of Bulletproof Fashion

    4. Aesthetics of Security: Emotions, Bodies, and Bulletproof Fashion

    5. Feeling and Thinking about Bulletproof Fashion: Stakeholders’ Perspectives



    Barbara Sutton is a Professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is interested in body politics, multiple forms of violence, and intersecting inequalities, among other sociological issues. Her book Bodies in Crisis: Culture, Violence, and Women’s Resistance in Neoliberal Argentina (2010) received the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize from the National Women’s Studies Association. She is also the author of Surviving State Terror: Women’s Testimonies of Repression and Resistance in Argentina (2018), which received Honorable Mentions for the Distinguished Book Award by the American Sociological Association Sex & Gender Section and for the Marysa Navarro Book Prize by the New England Council of Latin American Studies. She co-edited the book Security Disarmed: Critical Perspectives on Gender, Race, and Militarization with Sandra Morgen and Julie Novkov (2008) and Abortion and Democracy: Contentious Body Politics in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay with Nayla Luz Vacarezza (2021).

    "Since Cynthia Enloe analysed the militarisation of Campbell’s soup cans, feminist scholars have been revealing a variety of previously invisible ways that (gendered) militarisations pervade everyday life across the globe. Bulletproof Fashion is an important contribution to this work, both empirically and theoretically. Starting at the tragic reality of the rise of children’s bulletproof clothing responding to American school shootings, Barbara Sutton demonstrates that the fashion of fear has become a norm not an exception. Sutton links this militarised fashion to the security state in a book as important as it is fascinating, as innovative as it is timely."

    Laura Sjoberg, British Academy Global Professor of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

    "This book is a must-read for anyone concerned with understanding individualized approaches to gun violence prevention specifically and violence prevention more generally. Sutton lays out the stark choices that we as a society face. Do we move in the direction of guns everywhere and citizens including small children attired in body armor that purports to protect them or in a more collectivist direction of mutual care that addresses the underlying causes of gun violence? Sutton’s book will help us to understand the powerful interests pushing us in the direction of a militarized society where we are all responsible for our personal safety rather than looking out for one another."

    Mary Bernstein, Associate Dean of The Graduate School and Professor of Sociology, University of Connecticut, USA

    "Barbara Sutton provides an unflinching consideration of the grim collision of unfettered violence and marketized fear. In civilian-marketed bulletproof fashion, Sutton identifies the quintessential commodity fetish, the object imbued with mystical meaning above and beyond its mere use value. While the Kevlar vest or backpack is not likely to protect us from the onslaught of firearm violence, we spend billions for a taste of invulnerability, for a symbolic bulwark against the unbearable burden our bodies are asked to bear in 21st century America. In accessible, cogent prose, this book exposes the stark emotional and political implications of an increasingly armored body politic."

    Caroline Light, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Harvard University, USA

    "How do fears of gun violence influence not just our emotions, but our bodies and even clothing choices? How do desires for maximizing personal security take shape through fashion? Barbara Sutton’s important and timely book examines the new phenomenon of bulletproof clothing -- from leather jackets to women’s corsets to young children’s backpacks -- to show how fashion helps Americans manage their fears of becoming the next victim.  Bulletproof clothing turns the systemic problem of gun violence into an individual consumer choice, and exacerbates social inequalities of race, gender and class. Anyone who wants to understand the effects of excessive gun violence in the US should read this surprising and compelling book."   

    Elisabeth Anker, author of Ugly Freedoms