By 2009, the New York Times was crediting others in pop culture with the fad, including Jack Bauer of "24" fame. The paper also cited the concerns of the time: terrorism, crime, and a bad economy. Bulletproof wear started popping up more in video games, such as the immensely popular first and third-person shooter game "Call of Duty," which has released nine versions – many involving bulletproof gear – since the game came out in 2003.
And the fashion soon spread to motorcyclists, too. Sites like MCVestonline.com and BikersDen.com hawked tactical bulletproof-style vests and bragged about their benefits – even though the gear wasn't actually bulletproof. "Tactical or SWAT-style motorcycle vests… have become a staple in any motorcycle enthusiast's wardrobe," BikersDen.com wrote on its site in 2011. "Regardless of what you ride, these bulletproof-style motorcycle vests will turn heads as you ride by."
And then, last year, came Sandy Hook. The second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history ignited a nationwide gun debate, and it also caused a spike in demand for bulletproof items - especially for kids. In the month after the shooting, Miguel Caballero says it received 1,000 requests for products in its kids' collection. Elite Sterling Security, which distributes Caballero products in the U.S., says it has gotten more than two dozen requests since December from companies hoping to resell its clothing. Another maker of bulletproof gear, Bullet Blocker, says business on its apparel side has grown about 100-150 percent since the shooting, more than it ever had since the company launched in 2007.
Those requests, of course, were overwhelmingly for safety purposes. But Sandy Hook appears to have had an impact on bulletproof fashion, too.
"What's thriving is tactical jackets, or windbreakers with four compartments – to conceal something, but also for personal fashion," says Story, who has watched demand for bulletproof gear at Uncle Sam's increasingly become more about looks than practicality. He says some customers have even bought vests – again, for fashion – that can withstand a straight-on shot from an AK-74 assault rifle. "When you have incidents like this that are just so horrific and that are splashed in front of you on a regular basis, you can't help but not think about it, even on a sub-conscious level."