Lee’s note: This is the first submission from Jo, owner of Empower Firearms Training. She is an NRA certified firearms instructor and the originator of the FEMPOWER training class designed for female shooters.
“Honey, does my gun butt look big in these pants?”
Concealed carry for females is a challenge and, the smaller the female, the bigger the challenge!
As an NRA Instructor who has many female students, I’m often asked about the best method of concealed carry.
As a small female who carries concealed wherever legally permitted to do so, I have learned a lot through trial and error and formed some opinions on this issue based on personal experiences.
Fortunately gun manufacturers have assisted those of us who are devoid of the Y chromosome by developing sub-compact models so we no longer have to sacrifice high caliber in favor of a smaller size weapon. However there still remain two important factors affecting concealed carry that are unique to women.
The first factor, one that we simply need to accept, is that our physical structure is different from our male counterparts. Our hip to waist ratios, especially for smaller framed ladies, exclude some carry options for us. The second one concerns the differences between male and female modes of dress – and that issue we do have more control over. That said, if you are a female who is serious about carrying concealed at all times, you will need to get used to altering your mind set when selecting your wardrobe.
Once committed to concealed carrying, you’ll find your thoughts influenced while perusing the racks in the clothing stores. They will change from “Will my butt look big in this?” to “Where will I carry in this?” I also now find that my color and fabric selection are affected as I’m first considering how these will impact my choice of holster and/or weapon instead of how the outfit will look on me.
Your priorities will also change when selecting what to wear each day. This is not a bad thing since in my opinion it’s a small price to pay for the knowledge that you are better prepared to be the victor rather than the victim.
Two of the general principles that apply to the process of holster selection for both men and women, concealment/accessibility and retention, must sometimes be compromised to accommodate certain types of female wardrobe. I’m referring here to the ability to produce being as important as concealment and also the consideration of your holster being ripped off of you by an assailant. These criteria are generally much easier to meet if you are wearing a belt around your waist. For the most part, a male’s mode of dress doesn’t alter too much and he will usually have the option to wear a belt attached to jeans, shorts or formal dress pants. A belt is in fact the option that I favor and try to utilize as often as possible. Sometimes however I’m required to wear a dress, and whether short or long, neither length allows me to carry in my favorite position.
The belt/ISP holster works very well for someone of my size (5’5” and 120 lbs) and is most comfortable in the appendix position. This utilizes the space beside my hip bone as opposed to side carry which sits directly on it. In addition to the comfort factor, the appendix carry also provides a much cleaner sight line deflecting attention away from your weapon as opposed to attracting the eye to it. I can also use this position on both sides to allow a cross draw back up gun to be carried.
When wearing a dress, the length influences the carry position. In a full length gown, I’ll usually carry in either a thigh or ankle holster depending on the cut. For a knee length dress I’ll use a thigh holster, which unfortunately will not work for an above the knee dress so I may be forced into using my least favorite option of carrying in a purse. Apart from the fact that I’m naturally a tomboy and stuff whatever I need into my pockets, there’s also a more practical reason that carrying in a purse rates at the bottom of my list. If the intention of the bad guy is to rob you, your purse is probably the first thing he will attempt to snatch.
However in the event purse carry is your mode of choice, there are a few points to consider. If you are not using a purse specifically designed for this purpose it is useful to do the following. Choose a purse that has at least two compartments. Designate one to be your carry compartment and do not put anything else in there. Should you need to access your gun in a hurry, you don’t want to be rummaging through lipsticks and hairbrushes to get to it! I also recommend securing a holster within your purse. Choose a position that will ensure that your gun is consistently and properly placed for a quick draw scenario. On that same train of thought, practice whether you find it easier to draw from a purse suspended around your dominant or non-dominant shoulder. Be sure to figure out an identifying factor (for example the zip tassel will always be facing front on the one you’ll be carrying) and get yourself into the habit of always putting your purse into that position. When seconds count and your adrenaline is already running high, familiarization with an action is a key factor. Your advance planning and habituation will eliminate wasted time in a crucial moment. Also be prepared to shoot through your purse – even if it’s an expensive designer one. Go to your local charity store and pick up a few cheap purses similar in style, then take them to the range and shoot through them.
When wearing a business suit that has no belt on the skirt and does not have enough length to support a thigh holster, I’ll use a belly band. I’ve also utilized a belly band on a dress outfit where I’ve not been able to carry a purse. True, it’s not the easiest to access my gun in this configuration but if I need to use it, that takes priority over modesty and having to hike up a dress!
Fanny packs are another alternative that I sometimes use. I find the traditional leather ones cumbersome to wear and prefer instead either pistolwear.com or ghostbelt.com products. The latter does have the disadvantage of being zippered in and also requires a little bit of practice to ensure smooth holstering. However the advantages are that it stays very close to your body when engaging in sporting activities, can accommodate up to a full size 1911 and also you can shoot right through it while wearing it if need be.
I very rarely use shoulder holsters simply because they aren’t comfortable to wear for me. However even if they were, these are limited by the climate you live in. Here in Florida, I don’t get an abundance of days during the year where I can wear the type of clothing that will conceal my shoulder rig successfully. Pistolwear.com do a nice one that is designed to be worn under a shirt but since the buttons are on different sides for ladies and men’s shirts, this method is not so good for us right handed girls.
I do occasionally wear a small of the back holster but will always unholster when driving as I have a fear of being hit from behind and having my weapon driven right into my spine.
I really like inside the pocket holsters, both for my main weapon and a BUG. I also use the sticky ones just tucked inside my waistband in the appendix position if I’m wearing tighter fitting jeans. Obviously I usually wear “untucked” tops but many clothes designers are making shorter tops with a gathered hem. Therefore with some careful “concealed carry logic” shopping, you don’t need to look like you’re wearing a garbage sack that’s four sizes too big for you!
A major disadvantage of having to adapt and wear such a variety of holsters depending on your dress is of course the different locations of your weapon. This means practice of drawing with each type but it’s time well spent if your life is in danger.
The bottom line is that we need to compromise and accept that we can’t always check off everything on our ideal holster criteria list with every outfit. But with some careful planning and willingness to put our safety before our image, we can successfully carry concealed in most situations.
I’m a martial arts practitioner who has put many much larger males on the mat. However I firmly believe that a gun is the best equalizer that I can possess. I have noticed an increase in the number of female seniors who are rightly concerned about the rising crime rate and want to be able to handle a firearm safely for personal protection. I found that many of them were scared of guns and terrified by the thought of live range fire. So I designed a gateway introduction course where they felt safe to become familiar with handling firearms knowing that there was no live ammo and where they were in similar company so there was no pressure to keep up with the class. FEMPOWER was born and I’m delighted to report that it is meeting its objectives. I offer students the choice of coming to my classroom or me going to their home. 100% of the attendees have gone on to enroll in my NRA Concealed Carry classes and have qualified to apply for their Concealed Carry Permits. From the feedback I receive, the section on holsters is something that they find particularity valuable since they are actually able to try them all on and practice drawing (dummy and/or unloaded) guns from different positions. I spend a lot of time answering their questions and demonstrating the practicalities, advantages and drawbacks of each holster. It saves them having to go through the expensive trial and error process of buying holsters that don’t really work for them since I already have done that!
I understand that what works for me and what I’ve described in this article are personal observations and may not meet your expectations or needs but hopefully I’ve given you some points to consider and think about that are helpful.