Dressing for Concealed Carry
May 23, 2016
It's amazing to me how poorly many of my fellow police officers conceal their off-duty gun. It's as though they are content with any garment as long as it drapes over the gun to some degree. Perhaps this cavalier attitude stems from the idea that anything is less conspicuous than carrying their full-size duty pistols while on the job. What many fail to realize is that there's a big difference between their gun being covered and being concealed.
Successful concealed carry requires more than mere fabric covering your handgun. The better you hide the fact that you're packing, the more likely you are to maintain the element of surprise, which plays a huge role in most armed confrontations. Concealed carry is about finding the perfect balance of concealment and accessibility. Too far in either direction could be detrimental to your health.
I've carried a concealed handgun for more than 17 years and still experiment with different combinations of gun, holster and cover garments in attempt to find a better way to conceal a particular gun while at the same time ensuring I can access it in a hurry.
The maxim "dress around the gun" is well-known in concealed carry circles. The idea being that with substantial enough attire one can adequately conceal any type of handgun. The problem here lies in that your mode of dress must be congruent with what others are wearing to avoid drawing undue attention.
I have to admit that as a rookie police officer I didn't give much thought to concealed carry clothing, and in the beginning I toted a full-size Glock in a fanny pack. I'm pretty sure fanny packs fell out of fashion about the same time as acid-washed jeans and aviator sunglasses, but, nevertheless, my fanny pack enabled me to conceal my gun plus a couple spare magazines and still be able to draw either relatively quickly. Of course, that I wore that pack at all was cause for suspicion—of my fashion sense, if nothing else.
Consider this timelier example of a concealed carry fashion dilemma. In North Dakota in February, a heavy jacket might enable you to easily conceal a full-size concealed carry pistol worn comfortably in an outside-the-waistband holster. The jacket wouldn't garner any extra attention because everyone else would be dressed similarly. But that same jacket would be an epic concealed carry failure if you wore it in California on a warm summer day. Sure, your concealed carry gun would be hidden, but you'd likely be miserable, and the mere fact that you were wearing such inappropriate attire for the environment you were in would surely bring unwanted stares.
It's important to choose the right clothing. Again, what you wear will be predicated on your concealed carry gun and holster and where it's worn. While there are numerous locations on the body to carry a handgun, this article will focus on waistline concealed carry, which is by far the most popular and, in my opinion, the most practical mode of concealed carry.
Once you've selected your concealed carry handgun, you need to consider where along your belt to carry it and whether you'll be using an inside-the-waistband or outside-the-waistband holster.
Speaking of belts, be sure to strap one on that's wide enough to keep your holster from sliding around and sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of daily carry. A flimsy belt will not hold the weight of your gun and may sag, which could tip off a miscreant that you're packing.
Your decision to wear an open cover garment, such as an unbuttoned shirt or unzipped jacket, or a closed cover garment, like a T-shirt or pullover sweatshirt, is largely a matter of personal preference. However, with an open garment, something as seemingly innocuous as a gust of wind could lead to a major wardrobe malfunction that exposes your gun to the world. Why then is open-garment carry so popular? Because it tends to facilitate an easier and therefore faster draw.
If you opt for an open cover garment, make sure the fabric isn't so thin that the slightest breeze sends it flapping behind you like a superhero's cape mid-flight.
Another potential hang-up with an open cover garment that's too thin is that when you hook the shirt with your hand to uncover your gun, the fabric could actually wrap around your hand creating a potential nightmare scenario. Imagine desperately sweeping away your cover garment to get to your gun only to have the thin fabric entangle your hand. By the time you unraveled your hand from the garment, you could be dangerously far behind the eight ball.
Closed cover garments are less prone to exposing your gun by way of a wind gust, but they are also typically more cumbersome to draw from. Of course, with practice drawing from a closed cover garment can be surprisingly fast.
"Tuckable" holsters are becoming increasingly popular thanks to the deep concealment they provide. With a slightly oversize shirt made of relatively thick fabric (like a typical dress shirt), the only indication of a holster is a low-key, black metal clip. When coupled with a black belt, it's unlikely to draw much attention. Initially, drawing from a tuckable holster can be a bit of a challenge, but I've found that with practice it's really not that bad.
Another consideration regarding closed cover garment selection requires some inspection. Inside some shirts, near the bottom of the button line, the fabric is not sewn completely together. When you don't get your closed garment out of the way quickly enough, the resultant gap inside the shirt will tend to capture the muzzle as you attempt to drive your gun toward the target.
Could you shoot through the fabric of your shirt? Absolutely. But having your gun snag on your garment will impede your draw and could lead to you dropping your gun. Do yourself a favor and ensure there is no such gap in a shirt you intend to use as a closed cover garment.
A cover garment's pattern, or lack thereof, is another important consideration. In the same way a horizontally striped shirt can make you look wider, a plain or predictably patterned shirt can accentuate your gun. That's because even the slightest wrinkle or bulge in the fabric sticks out like a sore thumb and can draw a person's eyes to the gun.
Multicolored, random-pattern shirts, particularly those of the Hawaiian variety, make great concealing garments because they help mask minor changes to the naturally draping of the shirt created by the gun. Such shirts can produce a sort of sensory overload to the human eye and make it much more difficult to detect that the wearer is armed.
Be prepared to swallow your pride when you're shopping for concealed carry clothing. If you're like me, you'll want to order a size bigger shirt than you'd normally wear. A slightly oversize shirt mitigates the gun printing through the fabric. It also makes drawing the gun easier because there's more garment to grab hold of.
The real ego crusher comes when shopping for pants. If you're planning to carry IWB, expect to purchase pants that are about two inches bigger in the waist. This will allow for the extra girth created by the gun and holster. Trust me on this. It's not worth it to try to squeeze everything into pants that are too small for concealed carry just to be able to say that you wear a particular size.
In most cases, when you carry a concealed handgun along your waist, especially IWB, an undershirt will make you much more comfortable. An undershirt provides a barrier to prevent your gun or holster from rubbing against your bare skin.
It also helps protect your gun from sweat, which can lead to corrosion. There are holsters that are specifically designed to keep the gun from contacting your skin, but even with such a holster, you can't go wrong with an undershirt.
Another potential concealed carry pitfall is dressing like a gunfighter. If you're wearing a "contractor" shirt, freshly creased tactical pants, a pair of $300 desert tan boots and a belt designed for rappelling, people may speculate that you're armed even if your gun is not visible.
Add to the mix any firearm-themed logo apparel and you might as well be openly carrying your firearm. (For similar reasons, I'm not a fan of affixing firearms-related stickers to my vehicle.) I would rather a potential foe have no idea that I'm armed. It's all about having an ace up your sleeve and using the element of surprise.
I'm often asked how I carry concealed. I have to admit that since I'm often "testing and evaluating" a new gun or holster for an article, there's not as much consistency to my daily carry as I would like.
My preferred concealed carry style is appendix with only a T-shirt as a cover garment. I can easily conceal my Glock 19 in this manner and bring it into play very quickly. The main gripe with appendix carry is that it can be uncomfortable when you're seated. Like most other carry methods, it's about finding a holster that feels comfortable and experimenting with it to find the sweet spot.
Concealed carry is a very individualized endeavor. Two people given the same gun and holster combo might prefer entirely different carry methods and cover garments. What works well for me may be the most uncomfortable or impractical thing imaginable to you and vice-versa.
Just remember there's more to concealed carry than a strapping a gun to your hip. You need to consider how you will comfortably and efficiently conceal your gun while going about your daily activities.
But concealment is only half the battle. You must also be able to deploy your gun instantaneously in response to a potential deadly threat. Don't underestimate the importance of choosing proper clothing to maintain the element of surprise.