Have you ever fought someone while wearing a suit jacket? I have…Kind of. When I took ECQC back in 2017, I actually wore a suit jacket through the evolutions. Why? Well “train how you fight” does have some merit when correctly applied. I live and work in an environment where a jacket of some kind is either necessary or encouraged, and I had absolutely 0 idea how it would impact my ability to fight. We’ve all seen the movies where 2 dudes are mixed up in a fight, one will jerk the lapels of his opponents jacket down to his elbows, binding the arms. (I’ll see if I can find the scene from the Untouchables where Connery pulls this move). When the weekend had wrapped up, nobody had tried to use the jacket against me. The only time it got in the way at all was when I was tied up with my opponent, and I ended up “shooting through” the front left chest panel because it was hanging down between my pistol and my attacker.
Fast forward a couple years, and I actually get suited up to go out to the range and run some drills. Mind you this is your typical “square range”. The only pressure is the shot timer. Well wouldn’t you know it, that’s when things start to get interesting!
During one course of fire, where I’m testing the draw from my preferred tuckable holster setup (KSG Armory Sidekick) the timer beeps, I draw, and as the pistol comes up to my eye-line I realize that my support hand has grabbed a big ol’ fistful of necktie! I didn’t get a good enough look at it to see if it would bind up the slide, I just remember thinking “whelp, let’s see what happens!” fully expecting one shot then a failure to eject.
In this particular instance it thankfully didn’t interfere with the slide and I was able to continue the string of fire, but only because I happened to get lucky. My brain wasn’t prepared for that scenario, and didn’t know how to respond!!! And that was in the most controlled setting possible. So please realize that anyone that starts a sentence with “I’ll just…” followed by some creative problem solving in the midst of a fight is probably lying to themselves.
There’s no good way for me to consistently replicate that problem (other than just putting myself in the situation enough for it to happen organically) so this is where visualization comes into play. As I replay the event over in my head, the best solution I’ve come up with is simply to release my support grip and engage one-handed. Even if I can’t duplicate the error, I can practice the response. This is a great example of what William Aprill refers to as “parking spaces”; the concept that the brain has a much harder time processing information it’s never encountered before.
In another iteration of the drills my vest was serving as the cover garment. The advantage to this is, traditionally when a vest is worn it is appropriate to keep the jacket unbuttoned. That’s great right, because it’s easier to get to everything? Well…sorta. See what I failed to realize is that the jacket body still hangs down in front of the gun, even when carrying appendix. That means that if you don’t sweep the jacket out of the way in the same fashion as if you were carrying on the hip, you end up with this:
So I’ve started incorporating the “IDPA Flick” into my drawstroke whenever I’m wearing a jacket. While it may not be 100% necessary, it does help ensure I don’t end up with a handful of coat when I’m expecting pistol.
Thus concludes my “Dressed to Kill” series. I tried to save the best for last. I’m working on some other topics and articles, and I’m always interested in what questions other people have, especially in this particular arena. What do you want to see?
Next week, I’ll be posting my AAR from the Citizen’s Defense Research Technical Handgun: Tests & Standards that I was fortunate enough to attend last week.
*DISCLAIMER* This is not one of the suits I regularly wear. This is just a cheap, off-the-rack, polyester suit from an outlet mall that I keep exclusively for practice & training. I’m not willing to risk a Brooks Brothers or Suit Supply suit in the name of science, at least not yet.
So for the last few weeks I’ve been talking about what doesn’t work. Most of that has been from personal experience (with the exception of the shoulder holster). The good news is that, through all of that trial and error, I have found a few options that have yielded more success. Please note, everyone’s experience and context are different. These are not guaranteed to solve all your problems. This is just what has worked for me personally. My intention is not to convert you to my way of thinking, but merely to document my experiences, so you can draw the most educated conclusion possible.
With that said, the carry methods that I’ve found most successful are:
Appendix Inside the Waistband:
This is by far my preferred method of carry. I’ve been carrying appendix since 2012, with all manner of holsters and across a 70 lbs weight-span. I’m not going to get too in depth as to the benefits and considerations, there’s plenty of info out there from a whole host of sources. Now if you google appendix holsters, or really most IWB holsters for that matter, everything from the belt-attachment point up is exposed. Well that poses some challenges. My appendix carry is typically one of two configurations:
1) A Keeper’s Concealment Keeper, with a vest as my cover garment. I actually picked up this little trick from Spencer directly when I took his AIBW Skillsets class back in 2017. (grab a broom, I’ll be dropping a few names in this one). As soon as he suggested the vest, I literally face-palmed and couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before! Here’s the overview of [A]IWB carry w/ a vest:
It’s definitely the most consistent. The gun is in the same place as when I’m in more casual clothes, and even in the same holster. Not much changes
The In-Fight Weapon Access (IFWA) is about as good as it can get. You really need to take ECQC or a similar force on force class to really appreciate this.
You’re at a pretty low risk of accidental exposure (as long as you’re aware of the hemline of your vest in relation to the beltline of your trousers)
Your risk of printing is low to moderate. This will depend on your build, the type of holster and gun, and a bunch of other things. With the right combo, you can get everything to all but disappear.
You need to be attentive to the draw, since vests fit relatively close to the body and don’t stretch like shirt material, so you can get bound up if you try and pull out vs. up.
For some of you, vests just aren’t an option. They’re either just not you, or for some reason it’s not viable. For those times I still stick with AIWB, but I opt for a tuckable holster instead. Now I can already hear the critics “but you said that tuck struts/loops were too obvious!” Why yes, yes I did. That’s because most of the tuckable attachment points aren’t sufficiently discreet…Most, but not all. Enter the Discreet Carry Concepts clips, specifically their MOD5.1 Behind the Belt variant (link). These allow you to take your favorite holster, and make it all but disappear under a tucked in shirt. So let’s explore:
2. Tuckable AIWB Carry. My preferred/current is a KSG Armory Sidekick with the aforementioned DCC Clips. I’ve also modded mine with the Dark Star Gear Darkwing and Muzzle Pad. There are other wedges/claws out there, but those are some of the most effective ones I’ve found, and I’ve tried most of ‘em. The considerations for this are:
All of the same benefits of the AIWB w/ vest mentioned above
Drawstroke can actually be a touch easier, since there’s less tension on the fabric of your shirt (more room) than there generally is with a vest.
The risk of accidental exposure is virtually nonexistent
Low to moderate risk of printing, although more so than with the vest, since the fabric of the shirt is much thinner.
Can be a bit more challenging to draw one-handed, so this requires separate, dedicated practice if you generally carry w/ an untucked shirt.
Now, there are instances where these methods are still not sufficiently discreet for whatever the circumstances are. This is where we start to get into the area of deep concealment. I categorize deep concealment. For me, Deep Concealment is anything where the grip isn’t exposed (once whatever cover garments have been cleared. There’s all manner of options. Here are the ones I’ve played with thus far:
Basically, all of these work the same way. The carry system has its own belt that you put around your hips, and then simply put your pants on overtop. I personally don’t have any experience with the Runcibleworks YP, but Greg Ellifrtiz saw one come through his class and liked it, so I strongly suggest you check it out. The articulated design, and hard-shell holster definitely makes it more appealing than the setups I’m currently running, which is the DTOM Possum Pouch:
The position and accessing the firearm are very similar to belt carry, so the consistency is a huge advantage.
The risk of accidental exposure is virtually 0. Most if not all of the gun is riding below the beltline (generally)
With most of the guns suited to this method (j-frames, Glock 43, Shield, etc) the risk of printing is also very low, unless you’re wearing extremely fitted pants
IFWA is a pretty serious challenge. Both hands will likely be required. This is not something you’ll be able to get at in the midst of a grapple, so your overall situational awareness will need to be higher. To steal a quote from Chuck Pressberg (who I’m fairly certain reappropriated it from someone else that I just can’t recall right now) “there are guns for getting into trouble, and guns for getting out of trouble”. Guns carried like this are definitely the “getting out of trouble” category. Think “Escape & Evasion” not “Direct Action”.
Retention can be an issue with the fabric pouches. I have heard of people screwing hard-bodied holsters into the pouch, which isn’t a bad idea, although it adds to the bulk.
The last option is pocket carry. Now I’ve been critical of this method as well, mostly because a lot of the guns that are marketed as “pocket guns” kinda aren’t unless you’re in baggy jeans, 5.11 pants, or work wear. None of those are particularly flattering or stylish. If they are how you generally dress, other more favorable methods of carry are likely possible (IWB).
I will say that, in order for pocket carry to work, it really needs to be an LCP-sized pistol. At least for me. From the P&S Podcast on Mouse Guns (where they refer to pocket guns as “a loud knife”), and a subsequent conversation with The Tactical Professor himself (Claude Werner) over lunch at Tac Con 2019, I finally found the most workable pocket gun solution for me: The Kel-Tec P32. *immediately loses ⅓ of followers*
The reasoning is pretty simple: The ballistics of sub-9mm calibers is all less than ideal, and the recoil of the 32 is friendlier than 380 in the light package. Since shot placement is key, shooting the ability to shoot more effectively trumps bullet size. And since it’s less popular, it doesn’t sell out the way 380 does. When it comes to the thinner fabrics of dress slacks & suit pants, the bulk and volume of a j-frame or single stack 9 just isn’t viable. This is a niche gun, in instances where your threat level is exceptionally low, but you don’t’ want to go unarmed. A “Rule 1” gun, to borrow a term from Caleb Giddings (Rule 1 of a Gunfight: Have a gun).
There are certainly a couple of drawbacks to pocket carry, and I’m not going to recommend it for the new shooter. But it does offer some distinct benefits that I think are worth considering:
Arguably faster access, since there’s no cover garment to defeat. Now, you’re not going to have a “full firing grip” on the gun necessarily, because it can be difficult to withdraw a closed fist from your pocket. I’ll be testing this on the timer to see if I’m right.
Only works with very small guns. I’ve only ever been able to get it to work with sub 9mm autos (380, 32, 25, 22)
Like with the Possum Pouch, your basically not getting this out in the midst of the scuffle. The advantage here is that, unlike with most other methods, you’re able to casually and discreetly already have the gun in hand, shortcutting the draw.
Low risk of accidental exposure, as long as your pockets aren’t too shallow. With j-frames, I’ve had the grip peek out of the pocket, even with small boot-grips.
Moderate risk of printing, depending on the cut of pants & type of holster used. This is where the MDTS Pocket Shield really shines. Yes, you’ll still see that there’s something in that pocket, but it will in no way look like a gun.
I’m going to do an individual write-up on the pocket/mouse gun because I think it’s a grossly misunderstood concept. Again, this is a very narrow niche solution, and not recommended for the novice, regular carry, or responding to violence.
Above all else, these are purely my findings. I can in no way guarantee they’ll work for you. I just figured that it was worth sharing my findings after years of trial and error.
My intention is to show you that it is in fact possible to carry an “acceptable” firearm under most circumstances. In the situations where you can’t, or would benefit from something more discreet, a lot of the suggestions that are made are coming from people that have only a peripheral understanding of our “operational environment” (tactical buzzwords!)
In the next article in the series, I’ll be touching on some special considerations that you may not be aware of if you haven’t ever actually shot/fought in a suit before.
If you’re not already following Greg Ellifritz over at Active Response Training, you really should be. His “Free Books” series and Weekly Knowledge Dumps alone are worth it. Plus he’s an all around good dude.
Same goes for The Tactical Professor Claude Werner. He challenges a lot of the common thinking within the shooting ecosystem (a term I just picked up from Mickey over at Carry Trainer), and also has a great compilation of data.
Even if you’re not sold on the whole appendix carry thing, I do strongly suggest that you seek out Spencer Keepers. His 1-day Handgun Essentials class is quite the eye opener. His AIWB skillsets class is quite enlightening as well, and will really equip you to make the best decisions on your carry gear.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Shorter hem (little to no break)
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.
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.
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”
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:
Just like with OWB carry, the jacket is required.
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
In order for it to be properly secured, the tie downs must be used to keep the gun from banging around and making noise.
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.
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.
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.
“Tactical” is a popular (and very marketable) term that most would agree gets overused when it comes to all things defense oriented. There are however instances where it applies: “tactical” just means “pertaining to tactics” which is defined as “the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end”. The end we hope to accomplish is influencing the opinions of others in a favorable way. It’s true of a first date, it’s true for a job interview, basically any social interaction in which we find ourselves. And, like it or not, your defensive encounter is likely going to start off as a at least the pretense of a social engagement (barring a home-invasion type scenario).
In previous articles, I’ve shamelessly stolen Tanner Guzzy’s differentiation between dressing up and dressing well. If you are well dressed, regardless of what you’re wearing, it puts off an air of confidence and authority. It communicates that you are in control. These cues will influence the perception of people around you, sometimes to your benefit. It may get you a nicer table at the restaurant, better/faster service at the bar, an upgraded seat on the plane, etc. Provided that you’re not a dickhead. Bear in mind that all of this can be erased if you don’t also conduct yourself appropriately. An asshole in a $5,000 suit is still an asshole. But if you present yourself as someone who should be taken seriously, people will typically respond.
So how does this play into your defensive strategy? Well, Paul Sharp talks in one of his videos that “a good predator picks prey based on what they can get away with. The reason that I’m a lion and my offspring keep carrying on my genes is because we’ve successfully always picked the sick, and the infirmed, and the crippled water buffalo, not the ones that are walking around all swole and shit”. So when you bark “back the fuck up!” at someone (at the appropriate stage of MUC), the message you project is so universally and cohesively authoritative that you get left alone. The unspoken communication is “if you press this further you’re not going to like what happens”.
Another benefit of how you’re dressed can come during the 911 call after a defensive use of force. One of the elements that Massad Ayoob talks about in his MAG-40 course (which I cannot recommend enough) is communicating the appearance of the victim (you) to dispatchers. Why? Because if you don’t and officers roll up without any context Mas likes to say “the bad guy bleeding on the ground is doing a pretty convincing impression of the victim” Being able to clearly separate yourself from the crowd is important for rapid identification.
I know this from personal experience. Not in a defensive scenario, but trying to coordinate a meet-up with a friend on the streets of Manhattan. I’d just gotten off the train, and I’m on the phone with her. I relay my location at the corner of X & Y, and tell her to look for “a guy wearing…*looks down at myself*…SHIT!!!!!” I was in blue jeans and a black leather jacket. The uniform of the New Yorker. So being able to give a worthwhile description of yourself can help the process go more smoothly.
One thing Mas does mention is make sure that what you’re describing is something you’re actually wearing, not something you “always wear” but could have gotten knocked off during the fight like glasses or a hat. Using my avatar photo as an example, the description would be “white male, 6 foot, 200 lbs, blue suit, red tie, white shirt.”. NOTE: That is not the entirety of the 911 call as taught in the course. Take the class. It’s well worth it.
The last element is one that is purely theoretical, but I feel bears mentioning. Since perception is reality, and many defensive encounters occur in proximity to others, Since we live in a society where using force is generally frowned upon and viewed as something that “good people” don’t do, I would think it behooves us to look like the goodest guy possible. Again, this is completely unsubstantiated, but I figured it bore at least mentioning so that people have it on their radar. Perception is reality, as much as people don’t want to acknowledge it sometimes.
You really should look into taking MAG-40 as soon as possible. Personally I feel it is one of the trifecta of classes that every gun carrier should take. So many people focus on all the things that can go right in their defensive gun use (DGU), and they have no concept of all the things that can go wrong. The Training Trifecta based on my experience and opinion is:
The Massad Ayoob Group MAG-40. This covers all the legal considerations that the civilian gun carrier can encounter. This 40 hour course includes both classroom and shooting so that, in the event of a DGU, there is discoverable evidence that allows Massad & his team to serve as a witness on your behalf.
Shivworks Extreme Close Quarters Concepts: This gives you high level exposure of the physical realities of a violent confrontation. Craig calls it “entangled gunfighting” even though the gun is secondary to the physical and verbal skills that he teaches. It’s a good way to test your abilities and effectiveness regarding the fight from 0-5 feet. Paul Sharp is part of the Shivworks Collective, so I also strongly encourage training with him as well. The nice thing is that the group is spread across the country, so one of the members is likely accessible to you.
Aprill Risk Consulting Unthinkable: I touched on this in a previous article. It’s the psychological profile of the Violent Criminal Actor, and basically teaches you how they think, what motivates them, and shines a light in some very dark places.
You really do owe it to yourself to get this kind of breadth of exposure. If not these exact classes, at least one from each category.
Who notices people carrying guns? Other people carrying guns. I’d mentioned this in last week’s post, and feel it bears repeating. The challenge is that most of us have difficulty coming to terms with thought processes that don’t mirror our own. Case and point: it’s unfathomable to those of us that carry guns that there are people out there that genuinely believe bad things won’t happen to them. It’s also hard for some to come to terms with the idea that true human ambush predators will use as much visual information as is available to profile their victims.
Dr. William Aprill of Aprill Risk Consulting does an amazing job in his Unthinkable seminar of articulating the thought process and motivators of Violent Criminal Actors (VCAs). One example he uses is that some criminals are so in tune with their predatory side that they are able to not only select a victim, but merely identify whether someone has been previously victimized, purely by their gait (how they walk)!
If they’re able to pick up significant info off of something that subtle, you can’t really believe that they won’t notice the hip-tumor under your shirt, the flashlight clipped to your pocket, or your operator-chic polo & 5.11 pant combo?
There was a fantastic podcast from Primary & Secondary where Varg Freeborn went into detail discussing degrees of concealment, and how they relate to the individual’s context and expectations. (It’s cued up to that snippit of the conversation, but I would strongly encourage you watch/listen to the whole thing.) The major point he made was that the kinds of people that we carry guns to protect against got much more familiar with a much higher degree of concealment at a much younger age, because failing to conceal whatever it was carried much graver consequences (loss of food, loss of resource, loss of freedom, etc. Survival level priorities). It’s comforting to dismiss the criminal element as stupid, uneducated, and unskilled. Sadly, it’s categorically false.
If a criminal predator is sizing you up and planning to ambush you, cues that you are armed in some form or fashion are not going to dissuade them. Chances are this is the type of person that has had more than one gun pointed at them at some point in their life. Basically all they’re going to do is read the defense, call an audible, and re-adjust their strategy to accommodate the new information they now have.
The preferred strategy is to keep your tools and abilities hidden. That way if you do still fail and end up getting selected, you’ve been underestimated.
When it comes to profiling off of visual information, who is more likely to be carrying a gun with which they’re proficient?
This guy or That Guy?
And which one do you think your significant other would rather be seen with at a nice restaurant?
If you want to fly your “gang colors” as a gun carrier (and if we’re being honest, that’s exactly what they are: a way for members of a tribe to signal to each other that the general public doesn’t immediately catch) go for it. But don’t think that advertising yourself as such is going to help de-select you.
On top of all of that, in the event you do have to employ your firearm in public, how you dress may have an impact on the public’s perception of you and your actions (which may translate into a more (un)favorable 911 call or witness statement.
The next segment is going to touch more on the social impacts of dressing well.
I mentioned Dr. William Aprill’s work at the onset of the post, and I really cannot recommend his Unthinkable class enough. I call it a “Red Pill” class (a la “The Matrix”). Once you take that course, your eyes are opened to an entire other set of cultures and behaviors that you cannot un-know. It will absolutely make you uncomfortable, and you’ll never look at the world in quite the same way, but you’ll be much better off with the information than you would without. He also put out great regular content on his Instagram and Facebook pages, which you should also be following.
You’ll routinely hear people talk about the fact that “people are so oblivious and in their own world that they’ll never notice if I’m [printing/dressed funny/etc]”. That is, as my 5th grade English teacher Mr. Macey used to say, “a good wrong answer”. It is technically correct (the best kind of correct). That being said, the oblivious masses are a complete non issue, they’re not the reason most of us choose to carry a firearm anyway. So whether or not they take notice is completely irrelevant, at least for me.
You know who looks to see if people are carrying guns? Other people that carry guns; regardless of which side of the law they’re on. It’s the expression “game recognizes game”. And it makes sense. We as gun carriers know the “tells” of what to look for, so it’s more obvious. The mistake we make is assuming that everyone thinks like us, or has our same intentions. If you happen to clock somebody out in public that you can tell is armed, the first thought through your head is likely wondering what kind of gun they’re carrying, and the best way to engage them in conversation, since you clearly have common ground. This is because you’re presumably a (at least semi) well adjusted, productive member of society who doesn’t prey on others.
But let’s take that same scenario, and dig into the what and why. The only reason you would think to approach that stranger and engage them in conversation is that they’ve already communicated information about themselves. Based on that information, you’ve now formulated some assumptions that would allow you to approach this person in a socially acceptable manner.
Well here’s the trick: there’s no password on visual information, that signal is broadcast out into the world indiscriminately to be picked up by anyone that’s tuned in. Like ham radio. So what makes you think that the professional predator isn’t going to exploit that information to their advantage. Sure they may steer clear if they’re just some 2-bit crook, but if they’re a professional felon all you are to them is a battlefield pickup.
Doesn’t happen you say? There are plenty of instances readily available of people, both law enforcement and private citizens, being relieved of their firearms by motivated attackers. Here’s the thing, it’s not just threats that we have to worry about tipping off.
What do I mean by that. Well, we carry a gun to protect and preserve the life, health, and well-being of those that we love. Specifically we carry the firearm to repel physical attempts to deny us those things. Isn’t it safe to say that a similarly life altering event would be sudden denial of income? It’s certainly not as bad as death, but it can have a significant impact all the same.
Example 1: The subject in question attracted attention from a co-worker, simply because of the pull-the-dot soft loop on his belt. Luckily, in this instance, the co-worker was friendly, and simply informed Subject 1 that it wasn’t as subtle as they had thought, and to be more careful since that workplace was a non-permissive environment (NPE)
Example 2: A man was dropping his kids off, and was walking them from a satellite parking lot to the front entrance of the school. As he approached the front of the school, the uniformed officer noticed his carry gun under his shirt, and confronted the man. Both parties were polite, but the officer took him away from the entrance, disarmed him, and reported it to the school. The school decided to trespass the man, and he was no longer allowed on school grounds and prohibited from attending any school functions.
Example 3: The subject is working in a business professional environment, who in this case opts to size up his trousers so he could carry IWB. Walking past the office manager’s office without his jacket on, she made a comment that it looked as though he had lost weight. Subject 3 was confused, and asked what precipitated the comment. She responded that his trousers were bunched in the back, and she thought that was the reason why.
The point is that, at least for most of us, we conceal a firearm because we put some value in the element of surprise. Matt Landfair of Primary & Secondary equates it to playing poker with your cards facing out. Sure you may still win, but at that point a positive outcome has less to do with your ability and more to do with luck. Why not give yourself every advantage? Now there’s folks out there who will take the approach of “I’ll wear whatever I want”, and they are certainly well within their rights to do so. What some fail to realize is that uniforms exist and are prevalent, even outside of the conventional arenas. Every tribe, every social group, every collective has a uniform. Some are subtle, some not so much.
The fact is that, as mentioned earlier, your clothes say something about you, regardless of what those clothes are. The question is whether or not you are controlling that message. I’ll be touching on “uniforms” in more detail in a subsequent article.
Matt has done an amazing job cultivating and curating the Primary and Secondary community. It is a wealth of information on a variety of topics, defense related and otherwise. I strongly recommend checking out their Facebook page, their forum, and their YouTube channel. I’ve found them immensely helpful, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a larger collection of subject matter experts that are willing to share their expertise.
“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. We’ve all heard the expression. Well in this instance, Hell isn’t the biblical eternity of fire and brimstone, but clunky, poorly thought out suggestions that may sound good on paper, but don’t necessarily work in practice.
We talked about gear in the Part IV. There are plenty of people out there that offer and seek gear-related solutions. Why? Because they’re easy. You mean that shiny piece of plastic in my wallet can fix everything? Here you go! The challenge is that not everyone that’s selling a solution a) truly understands the problem or b) actually has your interests at heart (mind you, the good ones do)
Here’s a few things the “tactical” industry gets wrong in terms of products/solutions:
Unrealistic context: “Just put a jacket over it”. Seems easy enough. Until you try that at an outdoor summer wedding in Louisiana. Other than the preacher, you’ll be the only one in a coat. And some folks may wonder why. Drawing attention to yourself is bad and unnecessary. Plus you’ll be miserable. The idea here is that the right amount of knowledge will allow you to tailor any outfit to more suitably accommodating a firearm, not just slapping a cover garment over whatever you’re wearing like you’re headed to a shooting match.
Bad advice: “Just get the [pants/jacket] a little bigger than normal, and that way it’ll cover the gun”. I mean, sure, from a purely functional standpoint less fitted clothing will reduce your risk of printing. But one of the advantages of a suit is that it accentuates the male physique, even if you’re like me and occasionally skip your workouts on Taco Tuesday (cuz I mean, c’mon…tacos!). Because the jacket has fallen out of common usage, men don’t generally understand how to properly use it (kinda like a standard transmission). Due to this lack of familiarity, when the occasion to dress up IS called for, our hero is now wearing ill-fitting clothing that makes them look sloppy, and like his clothing a costume. We’ve all seen that guy “dressed up”, and the only place he could possibly be going is a wedding, a funeral, or a court hearing because he looks so unnatural in it.
Too inaccessible: Other than the jacket, the next most popular suggestion for going heeled while fancy is the ankle holster. Sounds like a good idea on paper, until you factor in that properly tailored trousers:
Are short enough that the ankle is exposed when seated and
Should generally taper, at least slightly, leaving less room to accommodate a gun.
Not to mention the fact that, while it’s better than not carrying a gun at all, ankle carry is arguably the hardest to access. You’ve stored the gun at literally the furthest possible point from where it will be needed. Access and deployment will be challenging even under controlled circumstances, let alone in the middle of an assault. It’s generally inadvisable to occupy both your hands when someone’s trying to cave your face in or stab you. I’m personally of the opinion that the ankle gun should be reserved to backup status only, generally when the primary gun is worn on the belt-line. YMMV
“Solutions” that “solve” the problem, but create others: In recent years, holster makers have tried to accommodate the more fashion conscious of us, and have come out with a myriad of “tuckable” holster options for us. The idea being that the shirt would go over the body of the holstered gun, hiding it from view. Well, while the firearm itself is in fact covered, you still have 1 or 2 of these big honking belt loops/clips in plain sight, that have no apparent purpose. Sure, you may go unnoticed from a casual glance, but not necessarily if someone is sizing you up for an assault.
In an upcoming post, I’ll be going in to a more comprehensive breakdown of a variety of popular carry methods, and what my experiences have been with each of them.
There’s a lot of debates that exist in the gun/tactical/defensive world: 9 vs. 45, red dot vs. irons, aiwb vs. strongside hip, tourniquet vs. spare mag, night sights vs. fiber optic, whether New Shimmer is a floor wax or a dessert topping (most of you are going to have to Google that one), etc.
There is, however, one unifying topic that everybody can get behind and discuss into the wee hours of the morning: Gear! That shiny new piece of equipment that promises to make you shoot faster, group tighter, draw cleaner, and make all your dreams come true. All you have to do is lay out some cash, take it home, and be fulfilled…until the next thing comes out.
It is with this topic that I will win over the masses, and convince people of the benefit to understanding style! Best case scenario: you’ll have the ability and understanding of how to incorporate the stuff that you’ve spent your hard earned money on into your wardrobe. Worst case scenario: you need to buy more gear! Either way everybody wins!
Ok, so seriously, here’s why this makes life so much easier. There’s lot of advice out there about how concealing a gun in dress attire is as simple as just throwing a jacket over top of your normal carry rig. There are 3 major challenges to this idea:
A properly tailored jacket would either result in horrible printing of the gun, or may not even be able to be buttoned due to the extra material on the waistline (depending on how fitted it is)
An improperly tailored jacket has the potential of you looking sloppy and/or out of place, possibly defeating the entire point of the jacket all together
For those of us that carry appendix, the jacket does virtually nothing as an open-front cover garment. It works ok as a closed front garment, but there are times where the jacket should be unbuttoned (like when you’re seated)
This presupposes the ability to wear a jacket. If you live below the 35th North Parallel, that’s not a realistic proposition for 6-8 months out of the year, especially if you spend any time outdoors.
This drives most people to explore tuckable holsters, which makes sense. You can still carry your pistol in roughly the same place, so your drawstroke can remain consistent, and all you’re doing is putting a shirt overtop of it. This can work, but again, you need to know what the outfit is supposed to look like before the gun is introduced, so that you can maintain that look after the gun is in place. Otherwise it may be covered, but it’s not necessarily concealed. So odds are, you’re going to need a different holster.
Once you’ve gotten past how to coverthe gun, we want to make sure that it blends in with your chosen attire, so that it doesn’t look like you’re hiding something under your shirt. This is best achieved with the artful use of fabric weight, patterns, and textures.
Fabric weight: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Heavier fabrics are
More likely to retain their own form and not hang up on/cling to whatever you have underneath it
Generally less sheer, so you reduce the chances of being able to flat out see the gun through the material
Patterns are your friend. Look at military field uniforms. The mixing of different colors and shapes help to obscure the shape of things. Now keep in mind, what is available to you will vary dramatically based on your required dress code. Loosely from most effective to least, we’re looking at:
Hawaiian/Aloha/Floral: Just don’t. Unless You’re a freeloading private eye with an epic mustache (or Caleb Giddings). Then all bets are off. Seriously though, this is a very bold shirt and can easily look foolish. If you intend to wear one seriously, I’d save it for when the wearer is more proficient in fashion and style.
Plaid & Madras: This offers multiple colors and stripes of varying thicknesses going in different directions. These are extremely bold and, unless you work in an artistic field, or one that doesn’t have a dress code, these are unlikely to be a viable choice for professional attire.
(Multi)Check & Gingham: Gingham is a bit more informal, but it can be pulled off in an office environment if things are suitably casual. The check & multi-check are a little more subdued. Depending on the size of the pattern, and the colors selected, you can probably use these in slightly more buttoned up environments like banking/finance.
Stripes: There’s a pretty wide variety of striped patterns, which is nice. It’s generally understood that vertical stripes are considered to be slimming, and we can play this to our advantage. Just as they can help conceal the contours of all those tacos, they can also help hide the angles and edges of your sidearm.
Solids: I’ve worked in environments where we could only wear the most conservative of shirts: The solid white dress shirt. It is arguably one of the most versatile staples in a man’s closet. It can be worn with literally everything. The catch is that, especially in solids, lighter colors tend to be less forgiving than darker ones when it comes to concealment. That’s where our next section comes in handy.
Fabric textures like herringbone, twill, and various oxfords will offer some “topography” to the shirt, some visual action so it’s just not a big flat panel of one color. Think about what a sheet of copy paper looks like fresh out of the package vs. after you crumple it up and smooth it back out. That texture can help reduce the shadowing
The other reason that a working knowledge of materials is useful is because you know what you can expect out of your clothes in terms of performance. It’s pretty easy to hang a 1911 or Beretta 92 off a big thick gun belt in a pair of Wranglers. Believe me when I tell you the can change when those jeans change to an Italian suit, and that double stitched bullhide is replaced with 1″ calf skin. Not saying it can’t be done, just that that it poses more of a challenge. Just like you wouldn’t ask your gear to do something it wasn’t intended for, like a 200m headshot with an Uzi, the same should apply to your wardrobe.
One thing that most of the gun-carrying community can agree upon is that the right to protect oneself and one’s family is universal. Regardless of who you are or what you do, you deserve the ability to level the playing field when it comes to keeping yourself safe…as long as you only do it by completely overhauling your lifestyle to accommodate this very specific list of tools. I mean, if you’re not carrying:
A full sized handgun (Glock 19 or comparable)
A spare magazine (at least 15 rounds, but if you’re serious about this you should probably have a +5 extension on that badboy)
A backup gun (because either you’ll have to arm someone else or you’ll get shot in the hand, damaging the pistol in the process…but you still need the spare mag)
A knife. Like a combat knife! Because you’re going to need something once you run out of that 43 rounds of ammo, or you’ll need to carve somebody off of you during a gun grab!
A “flashlight” which in actuality is a lightsaber, because anything with less than 1500 lumens that also doubles as a kobuton is pointless
A full trauma kit including tourniquet, chest seal, wound pack, chest decompression needle, nasopharyngeal airway, and gloves
Then why even bother? Because clearly you don’t take this seriously!
Now I’ll let you in on a little secret: I used to carry everything on that list. On my person!
Here’s a photo of my daily loadout, back when I worked in the gun shop:
Now at that point, I was living in 5.11 pants and a baggy polo. When I was at work, guns and tools were on full display. When we clocked out, we just untucked our shirts and went about our lives…still wearing the shirts that advertised we were employees of a gun store! The blasters may have been covered, but they certainly were not concealed at that point.
Fast forward to today. My daily attire can vary from jeans and a button down to a suit, depending on if I’m on a job site or meeting with prospective clients. Here’s what that same loadout looks in a suit:
For comparison, here’s what that suit looks like before I’m loaded down with everything.
A little comical isn’t it? If nothing else, the clothes look sloppy. The suit jacket is ballooning out at the bottom, and the trousers look like I’m wearing a diaper underneath when I’m loaded down with all that equipment. And that’s not even a particularly well tailored suit. Yet, to hear some people talk, if I at all value the safety of myself and my family, I’m better off sacrificing a degree of personal appearance than look more critically at my lifestyle, and do a personal threat analysis.
The other thing that doesn’t usually get mentioned (I can only assume due to a level of unfamiliarity) is that if I were to carry all that equipment like that, it would wear through that clothing in a matter of months. Dress clothes aren’t generally designed for field use, they don’t hold up well to lots of weight or abrasions.
I’ve come to a point where, as Pat Rogers said, “mission drives the gear train”. Instead of having a singular loadout that I shoehorn into every situation, I’ve developed a tiered system based on my activities that day. I’ll be addressing the what and why of my specific gear selections later in the series.
Claude Werner did a great interview with Ballistic Radio where he suggested that firearms instructors, and the gun carrying community at large “get a real job”. I highly encourage everybody listen to the whole show (it’s 45 minutes. Take the time). The abridged version is this: most people that regularly carry guns are in an environment where that is the norm, so concealment is a bit of an afterthought because the consequences of being discovered are minimal. The rules change if you’re the only person in your social circle that goes armed.
I think that topic deserves more in depth discussion, so I’ll be addressing it in a separate post.
My point here is that words mean things, and that the dogmatic repetition of “dress around the gun” is limiting. People that are new to this lifestyle will be discouraged because it is likely that just the idea of carrying a firearm is already a pretty significant life change. Suggesting that they’d have to overhaul their entire wardrobe and sense of style, which for some is part of their sense of self, may cause them to abandon the idea entirely.
Claude Werner has a wealth of knowledge that he offers completely free. You can check him out here at The Tactical Professor.
So why should some steely-eyed gunslinger, an absolute paragon of masculinity, someone whose name strikes fear in the hearts of evil men give the slightest damn about something as trivial as style? One word: Concealment.
Concealment, when done effectively, is not only hiding something from plain sight, but also making it blend in with its surrounding environment. Here’s an example of a sniper, effectively concealed by blending in with the terrain:
Here’s that same dude (not really) in the same gear(ish), in an urban setting:
Not so subtle, huh? Now yes, this is an extreme example, but not as much as you’d think. Don’t believe me?
Let’s take 2 photos from Instagram, both related to “dressy” attire:
While the difference are minor, they’re significant enough that they’re noticable if you’re trying to blend in with a group that you’re not typically a part of. It’s obvious that you’re trying to wear their “uniform”, but if not executed correctly you risk it looking like a costume.
Without going in to a full blown tangent as to the finer points of men’s fashion and style, I want to provide a high level overview for those that may not be familiar. One of the key aspects of style and flattering clothing is a sleek, clean, streamlined silhouette. This means no excess fabric, and no unnecessary seams/breaks/lines in the clothing. The “tells” on the tactical pants is the horizontal pocket below the belt, and the zippered thigh pocket that runs along the trouser seam. Is it a huge glaring thing? No, but it’s something where there should be nothing. And that can garner additional scrutiny.
The minor consequence of this is that you may look foolish, or like you “don’t belong”. A more severe consequences would be you’re identified as an “outsider” that doesn’t belong, which then brings a higher level of scrutiny, increasing your risk of being “made”.
Do you really think that someone that lives their life on the lower image wouldn’t notice the dude on top?
All too often we project our own values and ways of thinking onto another population with which we’re interacting. This interaction can be voluntary or not: Everything from getting dragged along to your wife’s work function (where getting called out could have very negative consequences for her, socially or professionally) to attracting the unwanted attention of a violent criminal actor because you’re enough of a deviation from their normal environment to catch their eye.
That being said, wouldn’t it be beneficial to have enough of a working knowledge of men’s style to be able to blend in at a cocktail party as easily as you could at your buddy’s backyard barbecue?
I’ll be going into more depth later on regarding specific clothing & gear that I’ve had success with, and why you don’t really (in my opinion) need to buy purpose-built concealment clothing.