Fashion can be an odd and sometimes questionable facet of society, especially for those who just don’t get it. At the New York Fashion show just two weeks ago, a Calvin Klein model walked the runway in various renditions of…safety clothes. How that is considered fashion is better left to the industry professionals, but designer Raf Simmons decided it was the perfect platform to express the importance of safety.
While safety clothes and gear are important (and apparently fashionable), it’s probably more important to understand how they work and what you can do to optimize their effectiveness.
Types of Reflective Materials
There are primarily two different types of reflective material that can be found on most safety wear.
- Micro-Prismatic: This type of reflective gear is actually quite complex and highly effective. A carefully laid out assemblage of tiny reflective prisms are sealed inside a sheet of specialized plastic vinyl. Light passes through the transparent sheet of plastic and hits one side of a prism. It then bounces across to another prism and then back at the source (making a triangle of sorts). This is considered retro-reflective because it focuses the light directly back at the source instead of refracting it to multiple spots.
- Glass Bead: Commonly found on most safety workwear such as high visibility jackets and vests worn by construction and roadside workers. The tape consists of a multitude of small reflective beads that bounce the light in various directions. This is a popular option because it’s effective, but costs less to make than micro-prism tape, which makes sense when you think about how a construction worker or laborer can walk more than 30,000 steps a day (three times the amount of the average person). So, they probably go through a lot of vests.
Both of these are extremely viable options for increasing visibility, but they have a small downfall: they need light to work. Reflective gear is only effective if there is a light source to reflect, such as car headlights, which for the purposes of many wearers is an adequate source. However, let’s say you’re walking down the side of the road wearing a hi vis hoodie. If a car pulls out adjacent to the road, the lights aren’t hitting the reflective tape and therefore are not reflecting any light back to the driver. They might not see you as they pull onto the road until it’s too late. Wearing neon or bright colors can help make sure you’re seen as well.
When choosing which safety gear to buy — and you definitely should buy safety clothes — make educated decisions based upon how well they’ll perform rather than how they’ll look on a runway.