The topic of “what to wear” while carrying a concealed handgun is discussed pretty frequently, especially here in the South. Garments must be sufficient to keep your gun concealed, and hopefully still be comfortable and look decent. In colder climates, where it is possible to wear layers and jackets for most of the year without sweating too badly, this is less of a concern. However, here in Louisiana, and as of this writing, it is the middle of February but already 80 degrees outside. Few people are willing to wear anything more than they have to when it gets above 80 and stays there for 3/4 of the year. As a fan of both carrying guns and dressing well, this is a fun interdisciplinary topic to write about.
There are plenty of small, lightweight guns on the market today, which is great. It is easier to comfortably conceal and carry these small firearms, and many of them can be carried in a pocket. But not everyone wants to carry a pocket pistol. They are less powerful, hold less ammunition, and are among the most difficult guns to shoot. Many people find that comfortably carrying a larger gun often requires a sacrifice in the fashion department, often wearing over-sized T-Shirts and polos to stay cool but have enough billowing fabric to prevent their gun from printing (showing its shape through the clothing). However, in my experience with carrying pistols in the Deep South, and as someone who appreciates a snappy outfit, I’ve come up with a few wardrobe tips of my own that help things out a bit.
Tip 1: Seersucker
I can’t think of a more classic southern style than seersucker. If you’re unfamiliar with seersucker, it is a type of light fabric, usually made from cotton, that is woven in such a way to give it a puckered, crinkly texture. This texture helps hold the fabric slightly away from the body, and promote cooling by better air circulation. It also resists wrinkles. I can personally attest that it works, too. I got a seersucker suit in law school and was surprised how much cooler I was than in other suits. I started buying seersucker button-down shirts because I liked how they looked and I wanted these same benefits the suit offered in more casual settings. The coolness really helps when it comes to carrying a gun, and my usual “casual” wear in the summer is an un-tucked seersucker button-down. It looks so much more presentable than a T-shirt or another boring polo. However, I also immediately discovered that there are more benefits to seersucker when it comes to concealed handguns.
My wife used to like to watch “What Not to Wear” when it was still on TV. I must confess I watched plenty of it with her. The hosts of that show would always talk about “color, pattern, texture, and shine” as factors to consider when trying to buy clothes that don’t look boring. Well, seersucker has everything but shine (unless you get all-white, then it doesn’t have color). Many people say that patterned shirts help reduce the visibility your gun printing, and this is true. Seersucker shirts go one step further, though. In addition to the striped pattern, the crinkly texture goes even further to break up the look of any potential printing. Of all shirts I’ve ever tried, seersucker shirts help with printing most of all.
If you’re interested in investigating the cooling and anti-printing qualities of seersucker shirts yourself, you’re in luck. Seersucker clothing has had a big resurgence in popularity since about 2010, and every year I see more and more of it for less and less money. When I first started buying seersucker shirts, I could only find them online at LL Bean and at Brooks Brothers. The online LL Bean price and the outlet store Brooks Brothers price were about $40 a shirt, so a bit on the high end of what I am willing to pay. However, since then I’ve found several seersucker shirts at other stores, from Dockers and Old Navy, for much less money. Most department stores at the mall seem to carry at least a few, and it is not uncommon to find them on the sale rack, either. They seem to be considered pretty seasonal, which helps with finding sales, even though it is hot enough around here to wear them from March until November, or sometimes, like today, in February.
Tip 2: Casual Blazers
I know what you’re thinking – this isn’t much of a tip. Everyone knows that wearing a jacket helps hide a gun. The reason I’m including this is that few people seem to shop for them with their gun in mind. I constantly hear blazers being dismissed as an impractical carry-facilitating garment during hot weather. However, if you shop with carry in mind, you can find many blazers that are designed for the heat, made of breathable materials. In fact, there are tons of great seersucker blazers on the market these days, and cheap! Seersucker blazers can be had for less than many other blazers. Even in the hot Louisiana summer, a seersucker blazer can still be worn pretty comfortably, unless you plan to be outside in the heat for long periods of time, when pretty much nothing helps. But if that’s the case, you’re probably ok with a more casual look anyway. A seersucker blazer is a great cover garment for the summer months when you need to look a little dressier (keeping your shirt tucked in), without having to go through the hassle and slowed draw speed of a tuckable holster. I like tuckable holsters, until I actually have to tuck my shirt into it, or have to practice drawing from it. It is a feature that is better in theory than in practice. If I have a tucked in shirt, you can bet I’m wearing a blazer or other cover garment.
And speaking of a more casual look, I feel like casual blazers are somewhat overlooked. Many people skip the blazer as part of their carry clothing repertoire because they “don’t need to dress up” that often. Well, I can offer two bits of criticism to that idea: one, there are many casual looking blazers out there that are appropriate with jeans and even just a T-shirt. And two, you will look better with a casual blazer than just a casual outfit alone. Short of exercising or doing other physical activities, there really isn’t any situation where a casual blazer is inappropriately dressy. I wouldn’t pair one with shorts, but if I’m in shorts, I’m not tucking my shirt in, so the blazer is less necessary. Trust me, if you always dress slightly better than you need to, people seem to have a slightly better disposition toward you, and it gives you more options to conceal your gun. It is never bad to look good. The very slight extra effort of putting on a nicer outfit, even just to go run errands, is worth the improvement in how people interact with you and how you feel about yourself.
Tip 3: Sweater Vests
To break from the “dealing with heat” theme slightly, a sweater vest is a very versatile garment to have for a concealed carrier. When it is “technically fall” here in Louisiana, it is still very often too hot for an actual sweater. This is often true even into the middle of what we call “winter.” A light, cotton sweater vest, though, doesn’t really provide a lot of warmth. What it does provide is a cover garment for your gun that goes over your otherwise tucked-in shirt. This can allow you to have a neat, professional look, without even the necessity of the blazer, and still carry (and draw) your gun easily. The sweater vest is a little less useful than the blazer, and won’t provide as much coverage for bigger guns, but can be more style appropriate for our “fall” than a seersucker blazer would be, and still cooler than a heavier blazer or jacket.
Tip 4: A Shirts instead of T Shirts
When I started carrying a gun, I quickly realized that an undershirt was pretty much mandatory. The feeling of a holster against my bare skin, regardless of the material, is just not comfortable. At the time, most of my undershirts were white T-shirts. However, wearing two shirts in the summer is unnecessarily warm. I made the switch to A shirts (AKA wifebeaters), and they are much cooler, while still providing just enough of a buffer between holster and skin. Not to mention, they tend to fit the body more closely, which will make you less likely to feel “bunched up” around the holster.
Tip 5: Proper Shoes
I may have more pairs of shoes than my wife does, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This is a pretty minor tip, as I don’t think you need to wear athletic shoes or combat boots every day for maximum effectiveness in a fight. I usually wear oxfords or loafers. But one thing you should be aware of is that, whatever shoes you wear, you need to be able to move well in them. Make sure your shoes fit properly, and that you could go into a flat out run in them if you had to. I can run in my loafers, but I do have one pair of what are commonly called “boat shoes” that don’t fit well enough to properly run in, so I avoid wearing them. Being able to run might be more important to your survival than having a gun on you, anyway. So if you’re going through the effort of lugging a gun around with you, you should probably avoid going around in just flip flops, crocs or similar shoes. While they are comfortable in the heat, they are difficult to run or maneuver quickly in, and even if you managed to kick them off to run, you might not be on a surface that plays well with bare feet. This doesn’t mean you can’t wear sandals of any kind, just make sure they fit on your foot securely with some kind of back strap at least. There are many varieties of sandals that are suitable for running.
Please note, though, that I don’t think this applies to women. I wouldn’t tell female carriers to give up on all forms of high heeled shoes, even though you can’t run away in them. The important difference is that there is a style value to heels that makes them appropriate, or even required, in many social situations, whereas there really is no time that flip flops are socially expected attire, so it isn’t much of a sacrifice.
If you put a little effort in to your wardrobe, it is not difficult to find clothes that both look good and accommodate your carry needs. Dressing a little nicer than absolutely necessary on a daily basis not only provides you with more concealment options, but also can enrich your life in other ways. There are also other incidental benefits from dressing well while carrying. First, you’re less likely to be “outed” in public. If you’re wearing nice clothes, people are more likely to notice your clothes than the gun hidden under them. Wearing accessories like ties and pocket squares, especially colorful ones, naturally draws the eye to the accessories and takes attention away from your gun. And finally, if something does happen and your gun is seen, or if you have to use it, being dressed well will improve the disposition of the bystanders and police toward you. People are more likely to think you’re a “good guy,” and the police are less likely to be suspicious of your motives, if you’re well dressed. That goes for everything in life, too.
Concealed Carry Fashion Dont’s
No discussion of concealed carry fashion, or fashion generally, would be complete without the “what not to wear” list. My list is not going to be much different than the conventional wisdom, but if you’ve read this far and haven’t heard this kind of stuff discussed yet, it is worth going over.
Don’t #1: “Tactical” Clothing
The point of concealed carry is to hide the fact that you have a gun, so don’t go around like you’re cosplaying a cop. Gun stores are full of “tactical” pants and “tactical” vests, but none of this stuff is worth buying. All “tactical” pants I’ve seen are just overpriced cargo pants that advertise to everyone that you’re carrying a gun, and cargo pants stopped being cool long ago anyway. “Tactical vests”/photographer vests (basically any vest with lots of pockets) are commonly mocked in the concealed carry community as “shoot me first vests,” because they all but scream “I’m carrying a gun” if you’re wearing them around in public. All “tactical” pants and vests do is provide you with a whole bunch of pockets that you will never use, and trick you into spending money on stuff you don’t actually need. And think about it – even if you did fill all those pockets with “totally necessary” gear, that means you have to wear a vest or tactical pants literally every day.
Basically, if it isn’t something you’d wear if you weren’t carrying the gun, it isn’t something you should wear when you are. Even if you do need extra pockets, my beloved blazers have several, and I use them to carry all kinds of stuff like pens, business cards, and sunglasses.
Don’t #2: Concealed-Carry Specific Clothing
Similar to tactical clothing, these are nothing more than gimmicks to separate new carriers from their money (money which would be better spent on ammunition). There are tons of shirts on the market that have built-in “holsters,” Velcro slits in the sides that let you draw through the shirt, or a variety of other gimmicks to make you think they’re useful. They aren’t useful. First of all, these things aren’t cheap. Shirts with holsters built in are unnecessarily expensive, usually as expensive as just buying a holster, and you can use a real holster with any outfit. If you get an undershirt with built in holster, are you going to by a ton of them, or worse, wear the same undershirt every day?
And if you get these shirts that are meant to facilitate easier draws, they suffer from the same general problem. If you buy shirts that are supposed to facilitate an easier draw, you would still have to wear the same style of shirt every day. You need to carry in a consistent manner, so that if you need to draw, you don’t have to hesitate and remember where your gun is and what drawstroke is needed. If you have a holster-shirt, you will have to either wear that shirt every day or train for different kinds of draws. The same thing goes for the shirts that break away or something to help drawing – you also need to train how to draw with a normal shirt unless you plan to wear the breakaway shirts exclusively. Even if you train with both kinds of draw, in the heat of the moment, you still need to remember which draw to use. It would be a tragedy to try and reach through a Velcro pouch that isn’t there because you are wearing a different shirt. And if you practice your draw adequately with a normal shirt, you don’t really need the help from the breakaway shirt, because you can draw plenty fast. So don’t bother wasting your money on this kind of stuff. Just carry in a real holster and wear normal clothes, and practice a consistent drawstroke until it is second nature.
Don’t #3: Gun-Related or Aggressive Apparel
For a lot of the same reasons “tactical” clothing is bad, you probably don’t want to walk around sporting your Smith and Wesson or Glock T-shirt. There’s nothing wrong with having this stuff. I have tons of gun-branded T-shirts. But I used to wear them when I was working at a gun store, or when I was in college and not allowed to carry on campus anyway. Now I just wear them around the house. If you’re carrying, a gun-themed shirt tends to advertise the fact that you might be carrying. This might make people more likely to spot your concealed gun. Also, if you find yourself in a situation where your gun might be necessary, there’s a chance the bad guys might have identified you as a potential threat before you even realized something was going down, and have made a mental note to send the first bullet your way.
The same goes for any other “aggressive” type clothing. In addition to potentially making you a target, or making people think you might be a bad guy, it doesn’t make a good impression on the police if you actually have to shoot someone. If you’re going around in a shirt that says “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out,” that’s probably not the first thing you want the police to see if you’ve just shot someone in self defense. You should avoid wearing anything that makes you look like you’re out looking for trouble, or anything that might look bad if you end up shooting someone. This is the specific reason I quit wearing my Charles Bronson Death Wish T-shirt long ago. A guy wearing a Tapout shirt looks a bit less innocent to the cops than someone just wearing a plain shirt, just because of the preconceptions that most people have. If you wear a confederate flag T-shirt and shoot someone who is a minority, you’re going to have a bad time, even if it was clearly self-defense.
The basic standard for the lawful use of deadly force is the reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm. It is harder to explain to the prosecution or to a jury why you were in fear for your life if you deliberately try to look like a tough guy, or like someone who wants to be a vigilante. Is this fair? Absolutely not. It is total bullshit for things like clothing choice to be used against you, but the fact is, plenty of things influence the mindset of cops, prosecutors, judges, and jurors.
Here is an example of an aggressive inscription on a rifle being used against the shooter (a cop) in court. As far as I know, this case is still ongoing (or has ended in a non-newsworthy way), so I’m not sure if this argument held any water. Even so, there’s no point in even risking these sort of things, and graphic tees with distasteful things written on them aren’t really fashion forward anyway.
There is, of course, more to be said on this topic. I will probably write future articles in this same vein, and would like to collaborate with veteran female carriers to come up with similar tips for women, especially since women tend to have a harder time making a gun work with their wardrobe. For the time being, if any readers have any tips they would like to share, please send them to me! If I get enough good suggestions, I’ll compile them into another article.
Piece be with you,