More women are coming to the conclusion that they should learn to defend themselves, and many turn to firearms as an equalizer. Working with the female students of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, many have questions about how to integrate concealed carry into their lives.
Once you’ve picked out a gun, found ammunition and researched proper training, the job of carrying a firearm has just begun. How does a woman integrate a gun into her wardrobe as safely, securely and comfortably as possible? Face it, carrying around a block of metal stuffed with heavy lead projectiles can be a challenge. Add to that the problem of keeping it invisible to everyone else and you begin to understand why it’s termed a “lifestyle” to carry a firearm for self-defense.
Concealment is of utmost importance. Producing a gun is a last resort in an emergency and ups the ante in a big way—keep it as your “hole card” until needed. Also, the comfort of your fellow citizens around you is important to maintain if you want to be thought of as one of the “good guys (or gals)”. Hence why I’m not a big advocate of open carry in public, even though it is legal in some states.
Carrying your gun on the belt is still the best way to have it secured and ready to access. I never liked to wear a belt, but when I decided to go to carry daily, I changed the clothing choices I preferred from soft, elastic-waist knits to jeans, chinos or trousers with belt loops. Fortunately, most of us have these things in our closets already. The belt itself is very important, as it is the foundation of the carry system. It should be sturdy and designed to carry a holstered gun. For a woman’s curved hips, a contoured belt is much less binding and infinitely more comfortable than a straight belt. I would recommend buying your belt, holster and any spare ammunition carriers from the same manufacturer to ensure the best fit of the components. Plan to invest some money—like shoes, you get what you pay for in quality, functionality and durability.
There are a number of holster styles and materials. Inside-the-waistband holsters (IWB) are the most concealable as a significant portion of the holstered gun is tucked between your body and pants, with the belt over the top holding it in place. Some are designed with a gap between the holster and belt loop to allow a shirt to be tucked over the butt of the firearm, concealing it completely (tuckable IWB). Outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters are worn on the belt, outside the pants, with the body of the holster outside the belt. Some of these are set as flat to the body as possible anwd contoured to follow the curve of the torso.
Both IWB and OWB holsters frequently have what is termed “rake” or “cant,” which means the cup that holds the firearm can be tilted, forward or rearward, to make it easier to reach for the gun and to set the butt more closely against the body for better concealment. Where you choose to carry your gun will determine which degree of rake is most comfortable. Some experimentation will be required to find what works best for you. The most extreme rake can be found in small-of-the-back (SOB) holsters, which rest over the spine. Though I would not recommend placing a gun over the spine due to the risk of serious injury should you fall on it, these holsters are available and some people find them useful.
A holster should be molded to fit a specific firearm. A holster designed for concealed carry should cover the trigger guard completely to prevent anything contacting the trigger until the gun is drawn. One that covers most of the gun except for the grips is going to be more comfortable against the body than one that allows sharp parts and hard edges to poke into the skin. Less chance is given for a control to be inadvertently moved during carry (such as a safety lever pushed out of position). Every person I know that carries a firearm on a daily basis went through a process of experimentation and elimination before finding the optimal combination of holster and belt for their firearm. The fit is as individual as anything else you wear. In order to avoid too many holsters filling up the inevitable box of gear in the closet, stick with a good, basic design from a reputable manufacturer who asks for the specific make and model of your firearm to ensure a proper fit.
The type of clothing required for some events can have a big effect on how to carry. More formal attire, such as a professional suit with a skirt, or a dress, can present challenges. There are alternative methods of carry for when belt carry isn’t possible. If a jacket is going to be worn the entire time, consider a shoulder holster and a small-framed gun as an option. Vertical drop shoulder holsters work best for the female frame. There is less chance of the muzzle showing against the back of the jacket when bending and reaching than with the horizontal holster positioning in this system. A floor-length dress, skirt or full-legged dress pants offer the opportunity to tuck a small firearm into an ankle holster. Look for one that has padded backing to cushion against the leg. It should be a snug fit.
A little practice wearing this system before your event is always a good idea so that you can cultivate a natural walk that doesn’t bash the gun against the opposite leg. Be sure to be conscious of how you sit, too, to maintain concealment. A similar system that’s a bit more daring is the thigh holster for under a shorter skirt or dress. It can attach to a garter belt like stockings. Here, too, care must be taken to maintain concealment while sitting or walking. Those of us with substantial thighs, however, might find this impractical and uncomfortable. If your clothing permits access to the waist area but a gunbelt is not practical, carry in an elastic compression band holster, such as the Belly Band is an option. It can be positioned anywhere on the torso, from under the bust to low on the hips, to take advantage of the cut of the clothing for maximum concealment.
Three examples of cant are shown here on this Wilson belt. Leftmost is a BladeTech crossdraw IWB for the Kahr PM40 showing a rearward cant. Center is a Kramer #3 IWB for the Kimber Tactical Pro II showing an FBI cant. Right is a Kramer #1-1/2 IWB for the Kimber Pro Carry II showing straight drop.
Compression undershirts with holsters are available that tuck a gun against the body, under the arm, like a shoulder holster. A carry pouch designed to tuck a gun on the front of the abdomen can be purchased. Many manufacturers offer outer clothing designed with reinforced pockets to carry a firearm. A small firearm can be secured in a nice leather vest or jacket from Coronado. These garments have holster straps built in for this purpose. Another option available from a number of holster manufacturers is a pocket holster designed to look like a wallet when tucked into a pants, jacket or shirt pocket—although pocket carry is often not practical for women, as the cut of women’s clothing tends to be closer to the body and is often made of softer, lighter fabrics that cling and “print” the silhouette of the pocket holster and firearm.
It should be noted that most of the above methods of off-the-belt carry don’t lend themselves well to medium- or large-frame guns. If you usually carry one of these bigger firearms, it might be worth considering a smaller version of your favorite gun for these “deep cover” situations that require alternative carry. Especially if you find yourself needing to dress formally on a regular basis. Be sure to put in some training time with any backup gun you might purchase to be familiar with its controls and its “feel” when fired, so you can be as competent with it as possible.
There are many fashionable purses available today designed with concealed holster pockets for your firearm. Sometimes this type of carry is the only practical option. Keep in mind that security must be foremost in your mind while your gun is in your purse. At no time should the purse be left unattended with the firearm in it where it might be forgotten, stolen or accessed by unauthorized persons. A waistpack is a handy carry device provided it’s appropriate to the situation—like jogging, walking, bicycling or any activity they were designed for. Many are available in all price ranges and many materials, colors and styles. Any kind of off-body system should have a dedicated, discreet pocket for the firearm that has some kind of holster device to keep the gun in place and cover the trigger and trigger guard.
The key to successful and comfortable concealed carry is maintaining the flexibility and creativity to blend in with your environment in much the same way you always have. Look natural, and train hard.