This article is from the Fencing FAQ, by Morgan Burke with numerous contributions by others.
The higher quality metallic vests are made of stainless steel,
which is much more corrosion resistant than copper. Your foil
vest should come to your hip bones, and be form-fitting but not
too tight. Most vests come in right and left-handed versions,
but ambidextrous (back-zip) versions are also available and
sometimes have higher hips.
Careful rinsing of your stainless steel vest in lukewarm water
following a tournament or rigourous practice will wash out most
of the sweat and salts that will damage it. Old sweat turns
alkaline and can be quite damaging to the lame' fabric. The salt
crystals left behind from dried sweat can also be abrasive and
conducive to corrosion. Occasional handwashing in lukewarm water
with a mild detergent (eg. Woolite or dishsoap) and a small
amount of ammonia is an excellent way of cleaning your stainless
steel vest/jacket and prolonging its life. Some fencers
recommend neutralizing the alkaline deposits in the vest with
lemon juice added to the bath.
Rinse your vest after washing and hang dry on a wooden or
plastic hanger. Avoid folding, crumpling, wringing, or abrading
it. All of these will fatigue the metallic threads in the
Similar care should be taken with sabre metallic jackets, cuffs,
and mask bibs.
With proper care, quality stainless steel vests and jackets
should last 3-5 years of regular use. Copper jackets will
usually not last more than 1-2 years under regular use.