In Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, American archaeologist Lupe Montoya is described as wearing a "terrorist jacket" in several places:

Kivrin’s tutor Latimer, looking older and even more infirm than usual, was standing next to one of the trunks. Montoya was standing over by the console wearing jeans and a terrorist jacket and looking impatiently at the digital on her wrist. Badri was sitting in front of the console, typing something in and frowning at the display screens.


“Well, great,” she said, jamming her papers angrily into the pockets of her terrorist jacket. “The whole village will have washed away while I’m stuck here.” She stomped out.


Montoya was covered in mud, too. She was wearing her terrorist jacket and thigh-high fisherman’s waders like Basingame, wherever he was, might be wearing, and they were wet and filthy.

I've tried looking up "terrorist jacket", but I'm only seeing things branded "terror" and a few references to vests that suicide bombers wear. Is this an actual item of clothing, or is it some sort of future piece of fashion that we're supposed to imagine? As you can see, there's not much context to go on in figuring out what it might look like.

There was some suggestion on SciFi Stackexchange (from which this was migrated) that this may be a fanciful prediction for how language may evolve in the future, and that the author is suggesting that the distinction between "bomber" and "terrorist" may disappear in future British English. My question is: is this an actual type of clothing, or was it made up for the book?

  • 2
    Within the world of the novel, is there any lore having to do with terrorists? If so, this phrase might just refer to the fact that the type of jacket Montoya wears is the same type as terrorists would wear in the world of the book. Or it may just refer to a trench coat or military jacket. Military jackets are popular and carry (at least superficially) connotations of radicalism.
    – DyingIsFun
    Jan 27, 2016 at 0:28
  • @Silenus It's possible. Willis doesn't go into explicit detail, but this is a "post-pandemic" world where cats are extinct and, among other things, St. Paul's Cathedral has been destroyed by a futuristic equivalent of a suitcase nuke.
    – Paul
    Jan 27, 2016 at 0:38
  • That said, it's not like it's a post-apocalyptic book about the aftermath of a terrorist-dominated 21st century or something. It's just something that happened in the past of that world. I don't recall any other mention of terrorists.
    – Paul
    Jan 27, 2016 at 0:41
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    If I were to read "terrorist jacket" in a news article or some such I'd take it to mean the typical leather-look short jacket that looks kind of like an aviator's jacket. These would be convenient (to the terrorist) for being able to hide weapons underneath without appearing excessively bulky.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 27, 2016 at 0:51
  • 1
    I think Willis made up the name "terrorist jacket", just as she made up the name "pinpoint bomb". It is easy to recognize a pinpoint bomb as an advanced suitcase nuke; less easy to recognize just what kind of jacket Willis was envisioning. Something rough and durable with a lot of pockets and hip length or longer, would be my guess. One reason Willis's future seems so real is because she does not do unnecessary explaining. I forgot about the no cats; does she say anything about mice?
    – ab2
    Mar 15, 2016 at 21:58

2 Answers 2


A Google Books search finds three books with one or more matches for "terrorist jacket" besides Connie Willis, The Doomsday Book (1993). One book is older than Willis's and two are younger.

The early occurrence is from Meade Minnigerode, The Magnificent Comedy: Some Aspects of Public and Private Life in Paris, from the Fall of Robespierre to the Coming of Bonaparte, July, 1794-November, 1799 (1931) [combined snippets]:

When the time came to strike down Hébert, and Chaumette—when it was necessary to be clear of any indulgent taint, when policy required a display of terrorist zeal, lest it be said that the attack on Hébert was counter-revolutionary in character—Robespierre made himself the patron of the blood drinkers; he slipped on his terrorist jacket and was as comfortable in it as he had ever been in his immaculate blue coat. Later, when policy required, he would perhaps slip it off again. He spilled blood, Thibaudeau was to record, "solely as a deliberate necessity in order to ... surmount obstacles. ... The scaffold was the only weapon that he knew how to handle; he made use of it without pity and without remorse."

In this excerpt, the author might just as well have spoken of Robespierre's "terrorist hat": the sense is purely metaphorical and the word jacket (or hat) stands for role—the particular role that the man is to play when appropriately garbed (metaphorically speaking).

Next, from Joseph Black, Vladimir Putin and the New World Order: Looking East, Looking West? (2004):

As we have seen, officials in Moscow looked forward to the upcoming APEC meetings in Shanghai, where they hoped to hear what they had gained by closing the [Lourdes surveillance] base in which there had been some 1,000 personnel housed. Confusion on this issue was common on Moscow, where misguided rumors circulated that it was not to be fully closed down. Certainly the Russian communist press kept pressure on the Kremlin and the public to maintain links with Cuba and, above all, to prevent the U.S. from fitting Cuban for a terrorist jacket, making it subject to attack by the coalition.

In this excerpt Cuban appears to be a typo for Cuba, and the sense of the sentence is that the U.S. government is eager to act (metaphorically) the role of tailor and impose the identity of "terrorist" on the Cuban government. The jacket in question may also carry a hint of being a straitjacket. The sense of the expression here is quite similar to its sense in the previous example.

And from Susan Rosenberg, An American Radical (2011):

They interviewed all of us. We had thirty minutes each. I went first,and when I was finished I hoped that everyone else had been more detailed in their descriptions, as I didn't think I had been clear enough. The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] team had been sympathetic, but the problem of my “terrorist jacket” seemed to be a big concern. They asked me question after question about my record. Dr. Korn said that it was clear to him that the unit had a specific intent.


The BOP [Bureau of Prisons] had admitted to the ACLU that while we had been housed in the HSU [High Security Unit], there had been no threats by outside forces to either retaliate against the BOP or to free us and that our placement there was simply a matter of the "justice community's" decision. We believed that if we relied in the BOP's answer, we would never get rid of the "terrorist jacket." They would construct a larger version of what we were in, with all the necessary controls in it. We further believed that our psychological files needed to be released to prove that the HSU was an experiment in psychological torture.

In Rosenberg's book, jacket has a very specific meaning:

A "prison jacket" is security identification that determines your resulting placement in either a maximum- or minimum-security facility. It is based on the moment of the crime. Because the crime and its severity are frozen in time, this ensures that the prisoner is her crime. Because you cannot undo the events that have occurred, you are reduced to the greatest mistake of your life, or the most extreme behavior of your life.

Essentially, Rosenberg had been assigned a prison jacket of "terrorist"—that is, the federal prison system had labeled her, for administrative purposes, a terrorist; she compresses that idea into the expression "terrorist jacket."

If we turn now to the examples from Willis's book, we immediately see that "terrorist jacket" as used there is neither a metaphor nor a specimen of bureaucratic jargon. It's simply descriptive: Montoya is wearing a jacket that the author thinks looks like the kind of jacket a terrorist might wear. The absence of any other instance of "terrorist jacket" in the Google Books database strongly suggests that this term is strictly Willis's invention, and that you could go to an Abercrombie & Fitch or Burberry or FCUK store anywhere and not find a rack of outer garments for sale beneath a placard with the alluring name "terrorist jackets."

  • 3
    The Rosenberg quote suggests to me that the "jacket" is a file folder, in fact or metaphorically. I have heard, in discussions about personnel in business, stuff like "I looked at his jacket and he has all sorts of experience".
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 8, 2016 at 3:59

I would suggest that it is either the practical M-65 American Army jacket, probably bought from an army surplus store or the Belstaff Roadmaster jacket favoured (according to Belstaff) by Che Guevara.

Both are weather resistant and have many pockets making them suitable for field work of all kinds from archeology, through forest hunting to armed insurrection.

Anything to do with Che has been popular with members of the counter-culture for decades and, apparently, the M65 has become fashionable in some circles recently but I suspect that there might have been a dip in the popularity of both garments during the hedonistic 1990s when the book was published leading to a rather derogatory nickname for any jacket of that type.

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