September 24, 2010
If you carry concealed on a regular basis, you need to dress for success.
An average-size shooter can hide just about anything under an untucked shirt with a quality IWB holster.
Photo by Lynn Pedigo
I can't recall hearing much gun club chatter about wardrobe selection. In fact, not once have I heard our local IDPA champ discuss his favorite cuts, fabrics or colors. If I had to guess, I'd say most shooters spend more time agonizing over a tactical reload they may never execute and room clearing techniques they will never use than they do trying to conceal their CCW rig.
Well, that's too bad, because if you have a concealed carry permit, what you wear is even more important than what pistol you carry. And based on the number of times I've "made" people who were packin' in my area, a lot of shooters could use some serious help in the wardrobe department.
The problem starts from the day most CCW holders get their permit in the mail. At first, feelings of pride, excitement or, perhaps, gravitas, overwhelm the newly minted pistol packer. But then reality hits. How the heck am I going to hide this damn thing? As overwhelming as solving that problem may seem, dressing appropriately and concealing your pistol is not that difficult with a bit of forethought.
Deciding what to wear may not be as exciting as choosing between the latest Wondernine or custom, light-rail-equipped 1911, but your daily wardrobe is the first factor you should consider when you decide to carry concealed. Instead of jumping in head-first with a new gun, think about how you're going to hide it.
If you wear a suit, odds are you don't have to do much to conceal a pretty decent-size pistol. In fact, I regularly carry a full-size 1911 under my suit coat. Well, by regularly, I mean the once or twice a year I wear a suit. But you get the point. A suit jacket, especially if it is a nice, dark color, makes it easy to conceal a full-size 1911 in a standard belt scabbard or inside-the-waistband holster. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer companies require their employees to wear a suit on a daily basis.
Casual Friday or regular, less formal workplace attire makes hiding a full-size pistol tricky. In the winter, you can easily conceal just about anything under a coat or jacket. In fall weather, a sweatshirt or windbreaker will easily hide most guns provided you choose your holster appropriately. But dressing nice, even if that means jeans and khakis, is tough to do with a sweatshirt or windbreaker, and those unsightly concealment vests don't look good either.
That leaves fewer options. Tuckable holsters will help you hide a medium-size pistol, but they're slow. Ankle holsters limit you to small-framed guns and are even slower. Pocket holsters are an excellent alternative, but they limit you to a J-frame-size revolver or pocket pistol.
I wear a Kel Tec P3AT in a Bulman pocket holster or my NAA .380 in an Aker pocket holster on a regular basis (I use whichever one my wife doesn't). Either pistol is very effective up close and personal, but they have limited range and firepower.
Warm-weather carry presents a more difficult problem. Here on the Texas Gulf Coast, it feels like summer every day, making T-shirts or golf shirts the order of the day for those of us not required to wear a suit to work. Concealing a decent-size pistol under such flimsy garments takes a quality holster and careful attention to details like colors and cuts.
To effectively conceal a midsize pistol under a golf or T-shirt, said garment must be cut generously enough to keep the gun from printing. Golf shirts are great, but box-cut shirts, which are designed to be worn untucked, are an even better choice.
Concealment vests, like this one from Sig, are effective but are too gunny for the author's taste. His is relegated to range use.
To further conceal your favorite blaster, stick with dark colors or patterns. Dark colors help conceal the outline of your pistol; dark patterns just about make it disappear. Combine the right shirt with a quality holster and a sturdy belt with loops that match those of the holster, and even small-framed shooters can conceal a full-size pistol fairly easily.
Some shooters may opt for a tactical vest rather than altering their wardrobe. While they certainly do cover up the gun, such vests don't do a good job of keeping savvy people from "making" you as a pistol packer. They may meet the letter of the law, but they won't help you escape the prying eyes of savvy criminals. The same goes for fanny packs.
Once you decide how to hide your heater, you have to figure out which one to carry. Once again, the size of the gun you carry will be determined by what you wear. Sure, that new Wilson Combat .45 may look sexy, but it's pretty hard to hide under jeans and a T-shirt. Conversely, the sky's the limit if you wear a suit or live in cooler climes.
If you can get away with it and don't mind the weight, a full-size pistol in your favorite flavor, whether it be Glock, 1911, Sig, etc., is the best choice. You can get a full firing grip, long sight radius, better accuracy, reduced recoil and greater reliability. Of course, a full-size, steel-frame gun with a spare mag or two is a pretty sizeable load. That's why most shooters opt for smaller pistols.
Unless you're trying to hide your gun under a T-shirt, a midsize gun is probably your best bet. They are big enough to shoot accurately, don't compromise reliability as some of the smaller automatics do, yet are lighter and easier to conceal than a full-size gun. Some of my favorites are the Glock 19, Sig P239, and the Officer's or CCO-size 1911s.
If you don't feel up to packing a midsize or have a need for deep concealment, a compact or even sub-compact pistol is your last real choice. Pocket pistols and snub-nosed revolvers hide easy, but they lack fire power and stand-off distance. But if you lead a relatively low-risk life--i.e. live in a relatively safe area, have a regular daytime job, don't carry large sums of cash or jewelry, etc.--you can probably get away with it. You will probably never need your handgun, but those pea shooters will still get the job done up close and personal.
A more effective choice for deep concealment would be one of the subcompact semiautos such as the Glock 26 or 27, Kahr PM
9, etc. These pistols are plenty small, yet offer real sights, effective cartridges, and decent triggers. You can't (and shouldn't) just throw them in your pocket, but they will conceal easily, even under a T-shirt, with a little assistance from a quality holster and belt.
Once you know which pistol you're going to carry and how you're going to hide it, you have to select a holster. Choosing from among the many makes and models is difficult, but you can simplify the process by focusing on those things that really matter: concealment, comfort and accessibility.
Every holster is a compromise. Some are more comfortable than others but perhaps not as concealable. Others may hide great but make a fast draw impossible for anyone short of a side show contortionist. Evaluate your body type, weapon size and concealment garments to come up with the right holster for you.
A classic belt scabbard such as those from (left to right) Blade-Tech, Matt DelFatti and Milt Sparks are tough to beat for daily carry, provided your regular wardrobe can cover it.
Weapon size is a critical consideration when deciding on a holster. For example, a full-size 1911 won't work with a pocket or ankle holster unless you're the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wore a Beretta 92 in an ankle holster in "Kindergarten Cop" without a bit of trouble. Still, a standard belt scabbard or inside-the-waistband holster would have been a better match for a full-size gun.
Body type is another limiting factor. For example, IWB holsters are very concealable, relatively accessible and pretty darn comfortable--provided you have six-pack abs and have yet to see the onset of love handles. But as your girth increases, the pointy parts of your pistol can make your soft parts sore pretty darn fast. Shoving said shootin' iron between your pants and extra parts just exacerbates the problem.
For full- to medium-size pistols and full-figured guys, a standard, high-rise belt scabbard is a great compromise. It is very comfortable, easily accessible and relatively concealable under a jacket or box-cut shirt. You might be better off with slightly shorter-than-standard barrels, but this is the best rig going for daily carry.
For slimmer shooters, the IWB holster is the perfect choice. It is relatively comfortable, reasonable accessible and eminently concealable. In fact, an average-size shooter can hide just about anything under an un-tucked shirt with a quality IWB holster.
As you step down in size, hiding your pistol becomes much easier. Here you have the luxury of choosing from holsters that are comfortable, concealable and accessible. For example, a J-frame Smith & Wesson or baby Glock hides pretty easily in a belt scabbard underneath anything, including a T-shirt. IWB holsters make them disappear.
For deeper concealment, a pocket holster with a small auto pistol is a handy way to pack one of these potent pocket rockets without altering your daily wardrobe a bit. After all, just about everything has pockets, and even folks who can't walk and chew gum at the same time can manage to find their pockets more often than not.
Other specialty rigs, such as ankle, cross-draw and shoulder rigs, as well as fanny packs and day planners with hidden pistol pockets, have their place. For example, shoulder and cross-draw rigs are perfect for people who spend a lot of time seated in a car or office, while ankle rigs are ideal for backup guns.
I have written several times about my disdain for obviously "gunny" accessories such as fanny packs, but they have their place. In fact, I tote my J-frame Smith & Wesson in a fanny pack on my evening run. I don't wear shorts with belt loops when I run, so I use the fanny pack to keep my revolver, ammo and iPod handy. In the right situation--such as running, hiking or biking--the fanny pack is right at home, and not near as obvious as it is in, say, a restaurant.
Day planners and specialty bags with pistol pockets can also come in handy. For example, if you take your suit coat off when you get to the office and lead a relatively low-risk life, you can get by nicely with your carry gun tucked away in a bag or day planner. But keep that bag close so your pistol is there if you need it and to keep it from falling into the hands of a child, a fool or a crook.
Pocket holsters such as those from Aker (at left, with an NAA Guardian) and Bulman (right, with KelTec P3AT) are a great way to carry a sub-compact auto. Sizewise, the J-frame S&W (top) represents the upper-end of pocket carry.
No matter how many rounds your pistol holds, don't forget to pack a spare magazine or two. The extra weight on your off side will help balance out your pistol, and the extra rounds will come in handy if, God forbid, you do get into a firefight. And, if you have a malfunction, a quick magazine change is a quick and easy way to get your gun back into the fight. That would be pretty tough to do without a spare magazine.
A small, powerful flashlight is another useful accessory to consider. I don't always carry a flashlight, but I'll stick one in my pocket or on my belt when I leave the house late in the day.
A quality folding knife can also come in handy. I use mine for a variety of mundane tasks throughout the day, but I can also use it for self-defense in a pinch. And I know that pointy blade will slide right into the ejection port of my 1911 if I need to force out a stuck magazine.
Carrying a folder is easy--just stick it in your pocket. But flashlights and magazines are best carried in purpose-built pouches attached to your belt. I usually order them to match the color and belt slots of the particular belt and holster I intend to wear them with.
Don't skimp on your belt. A thick, solid belt is essential to keep your gun from flopping around, which is uncomfortable and ineffective for concealment. An inch-and-a-half is probably the most versatile belt width. It is comfortable, looks good with everything, and is wide enough to support a full-size gun.
Carrying a concealed weapon is a serious responsibility. In addition to obvious things, like staying abreast of state and local laws, permit holders must train regularly, maintain their equipment, and keep their weapon concealed at all times to avoid becoming a target or alarming the non-shooting public.
None of these tasks is too difficult. A little planning and attention to detail is all you need to dress for concealed carry success.