Dressed to Kill: Sartorial Guidance for the Well Armed Man Part IX

Over the last few weeks, I’ve touched on some of the challenges that can present themselves when balancing your loadout with your wardrobe. I’ve also alluded to the fact that I’d be sharing my own personal trial and error with what has worked for me personally.  Well buckle up kids, because today’s the day! For reference, all of the gear and clothing that will be shown in these photos is my own personal stuff (with one limited exception that I’ll mention). I’ve spent a good amount of time and money working this stuff out, and hopefully these experiences can help shortcut that process for someone else out there.

With that being said, this is merely a guideline; what has worked for me personally. I’m not about to tell you how to carry any more than I can tell you what underwear to buy or what beer to drink. Taste, perceived comfort, physique, and most importantly context will vary from person to person. So you’re still going to have to spend your own money and experiment, just hopefully less so that I have. So let’s jump into this”

Most of the folks reading this have at least some semblance of an idea of how to carry a firearm, even if they don’t do it themselves yet. We’ve all seen something on TV or a movie where the character on screen is packing a heater. But rarely does that ever become a focal plot point. Rarely does it ever become problematic for the carrier. Things go smoothly, because that’s what the script says needs to happen. The issue? Those aren’t real fights.  So let’s look at some of the most common/popular methods of carry as they pertain to the real world (at least my real world) and pick them apart a little bit. 

To establish a baseline, here’s what this particular suit looks like as is, with no gun underneath it:

Carry Method #1: Outside the Waistband (OWB)/Hip/3 O’clock Carry

This is the one we’re most used to seeing, typically from some flavor of law enforcement (both uniformed and plain clothed). It’s certainly the most convenient and accessible. However those folks are expected to carry firearms, and so it’s generally a non-issue if that fact is discovered. Let’s break down the challenges presented:

  1. An OWB holster above all else requires a cover garment. 98 degrees with a 105 heat index? Too bad. You get to keep that jacket on buddy! Personally I don’t see a huge point in carrying a pistol to defend my life if the method with which I’m carrying that pistol has me praying for death. 
  2. Because the holster is the outermost layer, it will print and bulge under a well tailored jacket. The way the jacket fits the torso, any asymmetry will be even more noticeable. 
  3. Aside from printing, there’s a very high risk of accidental exposure, and not just how you might think. Sure the jacket can blow open putting the gun on display, but that’s generally addressed by putting some sort of weight in the strong side coat pocket (although that again can negatively impact the lines of your very very very nice suit). The vents on the jacket also pose a risk. If it’s buttoned (as it should be whenever you’re not seated), the vents can pull open, exposing the holster and/or firearm. Sure you could have the vents sewn shut, which will give you a very sleek, European silhouette, but a ventless jacket that’s improperly tailored looks VERY out of place. 

Carry Method #2: Ankle Carry

We see this a lot from Hollywood as well, generally in the role of a backup gun.  It can have its merits, however there are some elements that make it a less than optimal choice.

  1. Properly tailored trousers that flatter the body don’t really have a lot of extra room. Excess fabric is visually cumbersome, and makes the wearer look bulkier than they actually are. The pants generally have:
    1. Tapered leg
    2. Shorter hem (little to no break)
    3. No cuff
    4. As mentioned, it’s not ideal for in-fight weapons access (IFWA). It generally requires both hands to clear the pant leg and defeat the retention on the holster. If you look at the examples here from Active Self Protection, and here at the evolutions from Craig Douglas’ ECQC, you can see how accessing that firearm when you need it could be harder than you think.
    5. The risk of exposure is less than with OWB carry, but it’s not minimal. Properly hemmed trousers, even with a full break, expose a good amount of sock/ankle when the wearer is seated. 
    6. From listening to interviews with some long-time coppers, ankle guns can pose a pretty serious health risk as well. Chuck Haggard has said on numerous occasions that if you are going to wear an ankle gun, it needs to be under a pound. “I’m pretty sure carrying a 26 on my ankle is the reason I don’t have any cartilage in my left knee”
These are not “skinny jean” cut trousers, they’re a pretty standard tailored fit. You can see how far up the leg I had to run the gun to avoid it peeking out the bottom

Carry Method 3: The Shoulder Holster

Whether you’re a fan of Miami Vice, James Bond, Die Hard, Bullitt, Boardwalk Empire, Last Man Standing, The Untouchables…well you get the point. Hollywood loves the shoulder rig. And they look pretty badass, as long as the outcome of your fight is already predetermined by the screenwriters and you can take it off between cuts. See where I’m going? This is the one holster I actually had to borrow from a friend, since I’ve never owned one personally. I’ve learned all the problems with shoulder rigs from people that did try using them regularly. Here’s what they ran into:

  1. Just like with OWB carry, the jacket is required.
  2. Just like with OWB, a properly tailored jacket will make any irregularities underneath much more obvious. I have suits where I can’t even put my flask or phone in the inside pocket without it being obvious. I could barely even button my jacket in these photos
  3. In order for it to be properly secured, the tie downs must be used to keep the gun from banging around and making noise. 
  4. Everyone I’ve ever talked to that has tried to wear one for more than a few hours has reported that they’re grossly uncomfortable, and result in a lot of back and shoulder pain.
  5. Just like the ankle gun, they’re not well suited to in-fight weapon access because:
    • Cross draw is easy to stuff/foul
    • Easy to lose control over in a grapple, since the grip is facing your opponent.
  6. As with OWB, the risk of exposure is high, even more so because the gun is further away from the belt-line where it’s socially unacceptable to spend too long looking. 

This specific topic could probably be a research paper unto itself, but I try and keep these postings relatively short & digestible. I’m going to continue this next week, where I’ll show you what I’ve actually found to work pretty effectively. Stay tuned!

If you want to learn more about what violent assaults look like and how those situations unfold, you really need to be watching Active Self Protection’s YouTube channel. 

If you want to experience what the chaos of a violent assault feels like in a consequence free environment, you should take Extreme Close Quarters Concepts from Craig Douglas over at Shivworks

If you want to hear a salty veteran cop share his insights on what does and doesn’t work in reality, you can find Chuck Haggard both on his website and as a regular guest on the Primary & Secondary podcasts

13 thoughts on “Dressed to Kill: Sartorial Guidance for the Well Armed Man Part IX

  1. Some of your comments are dead on, but I also want you to know that you need a new suit – your jacket is way too tight in the first picture (with no gun/holster). By being that tight to begin with, it makes every little bulge obvious when you put on the 3 oclock or the shoulder holster. If your jacket draped a little bit instead of hugging your skin as it does – most of those bulges would go away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Admittedly I’m about 20 lbs heavier than when that jacket was tailored.

      I tried it with several other coats, to the same effect.

      I kept this one specifically because the lighter color photographed better and made the issues more apparent.

      Additionally, were the jackets tailored expressly with carrying in mind, other alterations could have been done.

      My next article is going to highlight what I’ve found works without having to modify one’s wardrobe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your comment about shoulder rig being uncomfortable is contrary to my personal experience.

    I wear a shoulder rig, custom made, and uncomfortable is not a word I would consider pertinent.

    It is almost unnoticeable to me while wearing it, other than one problem I have after sitting for long periods. It tends to slide off of my left shoulder. As long as I am sitting or standing it’s fine, but the transition from sitting to standing seems to make it slip.

    Regardless, the shoulder rig is great for long road trips because it’s not poking me in the ribs, it’s great for social situations because I wear it under a snap front shirt, then under what ever else, jacket etc I’m wearing.

    And if I have to more quickly, it’s very secure, does not move around a lot.

    Much prefer the should rig over any other method I’ve tried.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great man! I’m thrilled you’ve found something that works for you.

      Sadly, that’s not the experience for everyone, and from the interactions I’ve had, there seems to be a much higher concentration of failures than success.

      Just as with clothing a bespoke item certainly helps to create better fit and function, but most folks are going to resort to their local gun shop, or yves internet. That means that, if they’re lucky they’ll land a Galco which, while it’s the industry standard, still has a spotty success rate.

      Plus it still seems to pose a pretty big concealment challenge unless you opt for a muzzle down configuration.

      But I’m not here to tell anyone what to do, just allow them to draw their own conclusions.

      Who made your rig?

      Like

  3. This was very informative. I thought about wearing my handgun with an Ulticlip mounted holster with the clips behind the belt (clipped directly on to the pants) with the shirt tucked in. I haven’t tried it yet, but I would think this would be a good solution as a belt would conceal the exposed clips that you talked about in your post #5.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve found it simple: NEVER buy a fitted jacket. I buy mine 2 sizes bigger than I might could wear. I sew any vents closed, except the bottom 2″ or so. And I use an IWB. Works great for me.
    OTOH, my combat boots probably give me away, because I never wear fairy shoes.

    Like

    1. Unfortunately that’s not an option for everybody. Ill fitting clothing can potentially have a negative professional impact especially if there are circumstances where your meeting with clients or having to set an impression. Everybody’s circumstance is going to be different.

      Like

  5. You’re starting with clothes that are too tight to begin with. None of my clothes are that tight. The secret is to dress around the gun, not simply add your gun to the way you already dress. Most people wear clothes that are too tight due to current fashion. Pants should be at least 1″ larger in the waist (for IWB), etc. Be a trendsetter!

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    1. Dessing around the gun is not the universal solve everything phrase that people like to think it is. As Pat Rogers used to say mission drives the gear train.

      People’s contacts is primarily what will dictate what they have the ability to carry. I would encourage you to watch this clip from Paul Sharp.

      Like

  6. A dress shirt-tie variant: I conceal an SP101 in light, nylon-velcro rigs (Deep Conceal, or belly bands that are over a tee shirt but under my dress shirt. They are accessed through a gap created by two unbuttoned buttons. The gap is covered by my tie. Sport or suit coat becomes optional.

    Liked by 1 person

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