Clothing and Holsters for Concealed Carry
By Leroy Thompson
| Whenever I consider what I’ve learned about carrying handguns concealed, I remember the older deputy who broke me in out of the police academy. His idea of carrying his revolver concealed was to strap on his duty belt and wear a jacket over it. Over the years I’ve had other friends in law enforcement who pulled out their nylon shirts over the weapon, managing to cover it but allowing its profile to be distinct enough that with sharp eyes one could certainly determine the model if not read the serial number! Unlike that older deputy, I had to be a little more concerned with concealing my weapon when I was off duty. I was attending college while working as a deputy during the 1960s when police officers were not particularly popular with college students. As a result, I worked a bit at learning how to hide my off duty revolver well.
My graduate course in concealed carry, though, occurred when I was working on VIP protection teams in Europe, Africa, and Asia during the 1970s. I learned that I needed to keep my weapons well concealed, yet readily accessible, all the while presenting an appearance that would not deter from my principal’s image.Fortunately, a former SAS officer referred me to his tailor in London who was used to dealing with men who wanted to dress well yet carry a weapon. Not all problems with carrying a weapon concealed can be solved by a tailor, no matter how good, but there are certain slight alterations which can make carrying a weapon more comfortable and more covert.
First, there are various ways to make a suit or sport jacket more “carry friendly.” A good tailor can cut the jacket slightly large at the point where one carries a pistol without noticeably affecting the appearance of the jacket. I have had jackets cut for strong-side hip carry, inside-waistband carry, standard shoulder holster carry, and cross draw carry. The only time I encountered a problem was with my English tailor when I was living in London because he wasn’t used to anyone carrying more than one gun. At the time, I normally carried one gun in a cross draw or shoulder rig and the other in a strong-side hip carry. I also had him cut a suit coat for a double shoulder rig at one point. He didn’t really have problems handling the tailoring; he just didn’t grasp the concept of a backup gun.
It may also be a good idea to have any vents at the rear of the coat sewn shut, as these have a tendency to ride up and catch on the butt of one’s pistol if carried behind the hip. I also have my tailor sew in a “gun shield,” which is an additional patch of cloth to keep the coat’s lining from wearing and tearing through contact with the gun. This will save money in the long run for lining replacement. Finally, I sometimes have an additional pocket sewn into the interior of a coat for a small flashlight or spare magazine. One friend of mine, a former British intelligence agent, always had lead shot or washers sewn into the lining of his coat to keep it from flipping open with the wind and also to help it swing clear during the draw. He also frequently had a thumb knife sheath affixed near the internal jacket pocket so if asked for his papers he could revert to silent killing mode if called for! I prefer to carry spare magazines in the coat pocket the keep the coat from flapping and because I find them uncomfortable on the belt.
A good tailor can also help prepare one’s trousers for carrying a firearm. One of the simplest alterations a tailor can make is moving the belt loop so that one can position his handgun exactly where he wants it. If one carries a pocket handgun, the tailor can also enlarge and reinforce the pocket in which the pistol or revolver will be carried. I have, in fact, had trousers which had both pockets tailored to allow me to carry my pocket gun on either side depending on whether it was being carried as secondary or primary weapon.
Trousers from Lands End, especially the ones with pleats, carry pocket guns especially well. Another alteration I’ve seen to the trousers, though I’ve never had it done is lining a pant leg with silk so that it will clear an ankle holster faster. A bodyguard with whom I used to work in the Middle East had at least one pair of trousers from a Hong Kong suit so lined and felt it made clearing his ankle gun quicker. One final comment on trousers: if one wears a gun every day, suit trousers will get worn at the point where the holster contacts them; hence, it is often worthwhile to order a second set of suit pants when purchasing the suit. Since I take a much larger coat than standard for my waist size, I usually buy suits from Joseph Banks, which allows one to mix and match coat and trousers. It is also easy to order two sets of trousers with Joseph Banks suits.
Thanks to many states having recently passed right to carry laws, there are some useful jackets and vests available today specifically for those who carry a concealed handgun. I’ve found four of these vests particularly useful. Bratwear makes an exceptionally handsome vest, the Bratari, which may be worn for semi-dress occasions. This vest is especially popular with those in law enforcement as it incorporates lots of pockets, which may be used for handcuffs, badge and creds, spare mags, etc. It is also of heavy enough material that it does not pattern a gun worn in a belt holster. For those who like to carry their weapons in the actual vest, two interior zip pockets near the front will take a lightweight handgun such as one of Taurus’ Titanium revolvers quite readily.
One may also carry a lightweight handgun easily in the external cargo pockets. I normally carry a belt gun with this vest backed up by a second pistol or revolver carried in the vest itself. The Bratwear vest closes with a zipper so if it is worn closed, one will have to use a Hackathorn snatch draw to clear a weapon worn on the belt.
Another vest designed specifically for those who carry a handgun comes from Concealed Carry Clothiers, which offers a variety of attire for those who carry weapons. A bit lighter than the Bratwear vest, the one from CCC is also designed either to cover a belt gun or to carry a handgun in one of its external pockets using a holster which may be ordered with the vest. I’ve carried my Taurus 445T .44 Special Titanium revolver in this manner quite easily. The CCC vest also incorporates two internal pockets, which hold badge, and creds or concealed carry permit, handcuffs, and spare magazine.
The vest either closes with snaps or there is a Velcro strip which allows the vest to be worn closed, but by knifing the hand through the opening in the vest one can quickly clear it for the draw. This is a good feature, one I have had added to some jackets in the past. The third vest is a lightweight cover-up designed primarily to cover the handgun. From Smith & Alexander, this vest is excellent for wear in hot weather. Although it does have two external pockets that can hold spare mags or speedloaders, I prefer at least one internal zip or button closure pocket for ID. Still, this vest is inexpensive and comfortable.
For wear when a heavier gun is to be carried within the vest or in colder weather, Coronado Leather makes a handsome and utilitarian leather vest. Available in black or brown, this vest carries one or two handguns in pockets just inside the lapels. Although the leather construction allows carrying of heavier handguns such as a Lightweight Commander with ease, I still like the Titanium Taurus 445T .44 Special for such carry. This vest is also heavy enough that it will conceal a heavier hip or shoulder holstered weapon as well.
Distraction devices may combine with clothing to aid in concealed carry of one’s weapon. For example, if one is wearing a suit or sport jacket, a lapel pin naturally draws the eye upward instead of towards the hip. Secret Service agents or others who work VIP protection teams and wear ID pins notice this tendency to look towards the lapel. When carrying a pocket pistol in Levi’s or slacks and wearing a sport shirt, I try to choose one with a logo (i.e. Hard Rock, etc.) for the same reason as the eye is drawn upwards.
Although they are not that popular these days, crotch holsters traditionally were good concealment because men were reluctant to glance towards other men’s crotches! On the other hand, don’t do things that draw the eye to the waist or hip. For example highly decorative buckles on the gun belt are not a good idea if trying to keep people from noticing a weapon. It is also a good idea to carry the wallet away from where the gun is carried so that reaching for the wallet doesn’t either expose the weapon or draw attention to the area where it is carried.
Choice of belt can, in fact, be very important in itself. I’ve mentioned not choosing a belt buckle that attracts attention. It is also highly advisable if a belt holster is used to buy one of the high quality gun belts that appear to be standard dress belts. These are available from most good custom holster makers. Such belts are designed to be stiffer than a normal belt, often through the use of thicker leather, so that the holster stays in place. There are various other tricks that help a holster stay in the position in which one wants to carry his gun. Some makers use rough out leather that abrades slightly against the cloth of the trousers, especially when worn inside-the waistband, thus keeping the holster in place.
Mitch Rosen’s ARG is designed with the belt loop offset to the rear, a useful feature since one has more leeway in positioning the holster. Other makers, such as Bulman or Milt Sparks, use the split belt loop approach which allows one to run a belt through one holster loop, then through a belt loop, then through another holster loop. This positions the holster quite securely, but one must make sure that the belt loop is located exactly right for comfort. That’s where the tailor comes in by moving the belt loop. One other point about inside-waistband holsters: sometimes Kydex ISB holsters conceal better because they are so thin. I’ve been carrying my Glock 23 in one lately and am continually impressed by how comfortable it is; yet it is very quick for presenting the pistol. It might be worth having a look at one from Blade-Tech in choosing this type of rig.
One can also coordinate physical movements to complement the type of holster being worn. For example, if a strong side belt holster is worn, instead of bending over, stooping will be less likely to expose the weapon. When reaching while wearing this type of holster use the hand opposite from the side on which the weapon is carried and drop the shoulder on the weapon side slightly. With a horizontal shoulder holster be especially careful about reaching with the arm under which the holster rides as this will pull the jacket tight against the muzzle of the handgun in a very obvious manner.
Also, when choosing a shoulder holster, pick one which uses a flat junction device at the point where the straps cross on the back so that there is no patterning in the center of the jacket. Horseshoe Leather in England makes a holster with an exceptionally flat fastener, and Mitch Rosen’s is quite good as well. I should also comment that traditionally leather jackets are best with shoulder holsters, as this thick material doesn’t allow the straps to pattern. Heavy tweed sports coats work well, as well.
If one carries a pocket holster, choice should be based on a combination of how well it positions the gun, how well it allows the gun to be drawn, and how well it hides the gun. Most of the better pocket holsters from Thad Rybka, Milt Sparks, Mitch Rosen, Aker, and Ken Null position the handgun quite well. Some have features which especially aid the draw. Thad Rybka, for example, incorporates a leather protrusion for one to press with the thumb while drawing, which quickly clears the gun from the leather, while Milt Sparks Leather’s pocket holster is designed to be molded to the thigh once its in the pocket.
This both aids in keeping the holster in place during the draw and in concealment. Aker’s pocket holsters incorporate a flat leather flap on the outside to break up the pattern of the gun and holster. I should emphasize here that if a handgun is carried in a pocket, a good pocket holster is highly desirable for safety, ease of access, and protection of the handgun. Mitch Rosen makes a pocket holster specifically designed for a vertical draw and intended for use in windbreakers or vertical coat pockets, which adds versatility to this carry as well.
If an ankle holster is chosen, some thoughts should be given to concealment as well as tactics for the draw. The best way to wear the ankle holster for most people is on the inside of the ankle opposite the shooting hand. Since I’m a right hander, therefore, I wear an ankle holster on the inside of the left ankle. Once the ankle holster is in place the sock, preferably a relatively thick one with sturdy elastic, is pulled up over the holster, both the hide it and keep it in position. When it is necessary to draw from an ankle holster, the best method is normally to go to the opposite knee, a tactic that both makes for a smaller target but also allows a draw from a stable position. Since most ankle holster guns are relatively compact, the kneeling position also gives a more stable shooting platform. I would also remind anyone using an ankle holster to be careful not to cross the leg carrying the ankle holster over the knee of the other leg when seated as this would normally expose the weapon!
There are, of course, other methods of carrying a concealed handgun. Many women carry a weapon in a purse, while the fanny pack is popular for members of both sexes, especially when running, cycling, or taking part in other activities. Horseshoe Leather offers an excellent holster system, the TJM, designed to carry a full-sized automatic pistol beneath a normal business shirt, while Mitch Rosen and others offer holsters intended to be covered by the fold of a dress shirt. Kramer offers an undershirt mesh vest that incorporates a holster under each arm to allow for versatility or two-gun carry. These and many other creative methods help one conceal his or her weapon.
The key to effectively carrying one’s weapon concealed is to give some thought to his or her own lifestyle and the type of clothing and threat likely to be faced. Once one has considered how powerful a weapon is needed, how much it has to be concealed, and what type of clothing it will be concealed beneath, then the best carrying system and attire can be purchased. The primary point is that a few hours of thinking and trying different systems in advance can save discomfort, expense, or embarrassment/danger if one’s weapon is spotted later. We are fortunate in the United States that there are numerous clothiers and holster makers who make strapping on or pocketing our handgun each morning a little easier.