Friday, March 03, 2006

Woman's Wear

Woman's Wear

Originally published  June of 2006. This article has been updated.

Just In case you are in need of some feminine advice, here is our response to a letter we received.
First the letter:

Hello ladies, I really had a question, not a comment..... My question concerns firearms. My husband and I are taking a concealed carry class this weekend, and since taking the "dressing challenge" my wardrobe has changed considerably. Where precisely do you find space to carry if you do? Your 'hidden arms' link won't exactly give me a modest way to access my carry weapon.... any advice? I'd prefer not to leave it in my purse, for obvious reasons. Just thought you might have some ideas for me.

Thank you,
Janine from Oregon

A word on concealed carry...

Hello Janine-
It's nice to meet you. Andrea and I have been carrying for several years now and have been doing so while wearing dresses. I am glad to hear that dressing in a feminine fashion is important to you also. Rest assured it's only a perceived inconvenience or difficulty to carry while maintaining our womanly appearance. It becomes second nature fairly quickly.

Also, dressing in modest, feminine, respectable attire proves the point that we are just that. We who enjoy our right to carry arms are not dangerous trouble making maniacs. When we travel across country on business and have to fly rather than drive, we prove the point that gun owners are not what the liberal media portrays them to be? Pictured below, Andrea is as sweet as she looks and she does arouse looks of curiosity when she checks in at the airline ticket counter and declares her firearms to the agent.

A lovely day at the duck pond in Wasilla, Ak.

But on to what we've done to conceal properly. I am glad you agree that a purse isn't a good option. A police officer once told me that when you enter a scene (or in our case find ourselves in a life threatening situation) you are bringing a gun into the conflict (in our case, by default). If the "bad guy" can take it from you, you're rooting for the wrong team. Purses are easy to snatch in other words.

Since most women carry a purse anyway, they might as well own a conceal carry purse. They often have a locking compartment with a holster inside.

Our experience has been with Coronado leather who has very high quality conceal carry purses. I only recommend using one when you are surrounded by your Dad, husband, brother(s) and their male friends & associates if they understand their responsibility to protect and right to carry. Do realize that you are becoming, to a slight degree, lax when you do carry in a purse. It is also a slower draw.

Tom Russell, founder of America Firearms Academy and another of my friends suggests that it is a perfectly natural scene to see a woman with her hand in her purse as she's walking along. You can even shoot through the purse if the need arises.

There are two points I want to clarify before getting into other carry options.

Consider carrying at all times, establishing good carry habits so you won't cause yourself confusion. We are creatures of habit and our habits need not conflict with each other. If you are in the habit of carrying all the time, you'll never be caught off guard. If you have a habit of carrying only when you are alone, when you do go somewhere with your son or husband, you'll be unarmed and if you have to separate temporarily, say at the grocery store or something your habit produced an unarmed scenario.

Another good habit to establish is "carry the same gun the same way every time" if possible. Make sure you're well practiced on your draw from that holster. Obviously your life or the lives of your children may depend on it.

You may try a few or many carry options before you settle on the one that works best for you. Don't get discouraged. 

Andrea and I started out by using fanny packs (in the front of course, often called waist packs now) as our choice carry. At the time it worked well in casual situations and waist packs were not uncommon. (Grocery store, walking around the neighborhood, etc.) We have graduated from tactical pistol courses in skirts and using Fanny Packs.

People often say they are a dead giveaway. In my many years of carrying with a fanny pack I've only had one person recognize it. It was a police officer and he smiled broadly like a proud father when he saw it. On that note, they aren't very fashionable now and far less common except in special situations. They are great when worn in a context when you'd be wearing one anyway. Hiking, biking, etc. If you become known as "the fanny pack woman" around town it might be a bit much. If people can't place it, if it looks out of the norm to them curiosity and/or suspicions may be raised. I think a black pack is more likely to be a dead give away. There are colored ones that seem a bit more normal.

In our course taught by Jim Crews we learned a very safe and quick 4-point draw for presenting our firearms. In 2 seconds we are able to draw from our packs and stop a threat which illustrates the efficiency of the fanny pack. What is most important is that the pack completely opens exposing the firearm so you can draw without hanging up on something.

I have not used this particular pack. The photo illustrates ease of draw due to the wrap around zippers and quick entry draw strings. The draw strings would normally be dangling outside the pack once it is zipped shut.

Fanny pack lunch break during our shooting class. Now I would say that, one dead give-away is when your pack is as big as you are. In the photo above, if I had a water bottle attached and maybe a flashlight on the other side, it would look like an outdoorsy rig. Over-sizing everything works too. But this really doesn't work any more for everyday wear. A fanny pack and a dress probably isn't going to fly these days. The "just above the ankle" skirt length pictured above was the look of the day and fanny packs weren't uncommon either. We wore denim skirts on the range to 'duplicate' what we wore mostly every day which was dresses.

Now a cargo skirt (pictured below) perhaps with leggings or some similar athletic skirt would be the norm. I would look for a more slim line pack as well and colored as mentioned earlier.

Once you've been trained you'll understand that there is a baseline for the environments you enter into. In other words, what is normal. What is normal at the grocery store. Most shoppers are quiet and we usually make minimal eye contact, mind the rules of the road down the isles, keep a comfortable amount of space as we stand in line waiting to check out. That's your baseline or what is considered normal. When something out of the ordinary happens in an environment that you're used to, we all naturally become more cautious. Being aware of your surroundings in one of the skill sets that will help you survive a self-defense scenario.

Now turn the scenario around. You can't wear a ski coat in the middle of Tx summer to conceal your firearm. It's just not normal and people will notice. If you're going to conceal and conceal well, don't set off any red flags.

As nannies we used our packs for over a decade and as I mentioned before, in casual situations. When surrounded by little ones and constantly pulling tissues out of the front zip pocket to wipe runny noses and such, you appear more or less like a mom or big sister on-the-go.We did get quite a bit of use out of them. Now I would go with something a bit more slim line and sporty looking.  

A couple things to consider when choosing a fanny pack. Some come with a detachable holster inside the pack. This allow you an option others do not. The holster is often velcroed to the back wall of the inside of the pack. Being able to rotate or angle the holster so that you comfortably grab the pistol grip is optimal.

Other packs have a band which retain the firearm perfectly horizontal, some angled. You get what you get. Being as comfortable with your draw as possible is important. If it works out great.

Then there are packs like the Galco fanny pack. I really appreaciate Galco's thigh holster but my experience with their fanny pack leaves me uncomfortable. The Glaco is slimmer and that is great but the problem I have with the their fanny pack originates from having to slide the firearm into a tight narrow slit in the neoprene  back wall for retention. The neoprene is so tight and stretchy that in order to draw quickly you have to rock the firearm grip away from your body and barrel towards yourself to get it out. You are also unable to angle the gun the way you like.

You can see a retaining strap in the photo above. Some pack make these detachable. Some do not. Personally I think it is one more thing in the way of you defending yourself. But as I understand it some states require a retaining straps be used with holsters. Be sure to check your local laws and those of the states within which you travel.

The good guys always were white hats.
Andrea (in pink) with a .45. Kelly (in green) watches from behind.

Ladies Tactical Pistol Course. Or Home School Legal Defense as we like to call it. 

When fanny packs are a little too casual or if you find them uncomfortable, or are unable to wear one, you can use an Uncle Mikes Inside-The-Pant Open Style Holster or something similar. I use this mostly and rarely use my fanny pack. I have trained with this holster and do a similar 4-point draw just as quickly as with a fanny pack if not quicker.

One obstacle that I ran into with this type of carry is that not all skirt waist bands are sturdy enough for a pistol and holster and as fashions change, some skirts have no waist bands at all. The remedy for this is a hidden belt you can wear under your skirt. The inside-the-pant holster goes beneath the belt. The holster's belt clip can now be clipped over the belt and the skirt waist band if you choose. Essentially you can convert any of your skirts with the use of the belt. I also purchase or make my skirts with a little more room in the waist area.

I wear, for the most part, skirts and loose button-front tops untucked with my hip holster. We have found in colder areas of the county it is easier to conceal a revolver in a hip carry because there was rarely a time when we wear only one layer of clothing. While I lived in Ak. I generally wore a fleece vest over my blouses. Vests often have a drawstring or edge binding that pulls the bottom in to keep it over your firearm.

The length of the top can become an issue if it is too long because you need to be able to draw without hanging up on too much fabric. If it is too short  your carry may become revealed when bending moving or with climbing toddlers.

We are often in settings that require business dress and sometimes formal attire. In times like these, and when I am wearing a full dress as opposed to a skirt and top, I use my Galco Thigh Band Holster. It is not the choice holster for taking a conceal carry class for obvious reasons, but it does allow you to be armed while in a full dress. The holster will slide down over hosiery. The solution is a pair of Shapewear shorts over the hosiery and under the holster's thigh band.  It was not long before I became very comfortable wearing this holster. It also works well when you're in the company of children.

Hairy legs not required.

Andrea offers Hiddenarms which is designed for use by men at this time. The chest band sits on top of the pectoral muscles and so a custom order of longer shoulder straps would be required for use by women. Some ladies will find, as we did, that they are too petite to wear a HiddenArms holster. But others are able to conceal in an under arm carry just fine.

HiddenArms is categorized as a deep carry rig. The holster has extra compartments for spare magazines, ID cards and cash. These holsters also have a retaining strap to secure the firearm and are made of 100% breathable washable cotton.

Hopefully that answered your questions. Please feel free to ask any questions and by the way, I grew up in Oregon and travel back now and then.

All the best,

In the Wallowa Mountains.

Picnicking after a horse ride with a .357

Fishing in Alaska. I caught a hundred dollars worth of lures and made the guide's day...
Fanny pack is hidden in shadow.

Fishing and sporting my fanny pack since bears like fish too!


Pete said...

I greatly admire you ladies for your virtue. Very Refreshing. God Bless!
P.S. Good Shooting!

Kelly F. said...

Why do you recommend the open style holster instead of the one with the retention strap? I'm new to gun-ownership (thanks to your blog!), and I'm trying to find just the right holster, but I'm wondering if the gun is likely to fall out without a retention strap. Also, how quickly can you draw with the Galco thigh holster under a dress. I love dresses and would like to wear them (verses skirts and tops) sometimes and still carry. Thanks! Love your blog!