How to arrange good-looking clothing around the decidedly non-standard bulge of a handgun is a topic worth looking at. It’s something that a whole range of men need to think about: police detectives, security guards, entrepreneurs in dangerous countries, and even your average American civilian who prefers to be armed.
“Concealed carry” exists for a number of reasons. When you’re doing it, you want to be living up to both parts of the phrase: you want to be carrying, and have access to, a firearm, and you want it to be discreetly hidden until such time as you need it.
For some men, any jacket long enough to hide a holster is sufficient. But for most men, concealed carry needs to fit other societal expectations:
- Most plainclothes peace officers will have specific dress needs – either a respectable suit or blazer to give them out-of-uniform authority, or in some cases a disguise to help them blend into their environment.
- Security guards are almost always expected to dress professionally, as much for the comfort of their employer’s clients as anything else. Banks and government buildings need high security, but prefer a discreet man in a blazer as opposed to a uniformed, paramilitary-looking trooper looming over their customers.
- An armed civilian gets less hassle if he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an armed threat. A trenchcoat and combat boots conceal a weapon, but it doesn’t really conceal the likelihood that you’ve got a gun under there. Bringing a little men’s style into the equation makes the “concealed” part of “concealed carryu201D a lot more effective. Plus, it’s the law in most states that if you’re carrying heat, you conceal it. Editor’s Note: If you’re a civilian, be sure to check with your local and state laws before you begin carrying a firearm. Most states require citizens who wish to carry a firearm to obtain a concealed carry license; there also may be restrictions on where you can carry your firearm.
There are many reasons to think about both concealed carry and style in the same picture. This article lays out the quickest and best steps to making your concealed carry experience both practical and stylish:
- Step 1: Choose Your Weapon
- Step 2: Choose Your Method of Carry
- Step 3: Choose Your Outfit
- Step 4: Talk to Your Tailor
So let’s take it step by step:
Step 1: Choose Your Weapon
Concealed carry means striking a balance between firepower, ammunition, and size. You inevitably end up making a sacrifice in one area or the other – it’s more a question of personal needs and tastes than it is a matter of which is the “best” weapon.
But for choosing a handgun, which is what most men will be carrying when they carry a firearm in public, here are a few factors worth thinking about:
Magazine Size and Shape
A single-stack magazine is always easier to conceal than a double-stack.
The most important dimension of a pistol for concealment purposes is the width – how fat the barrel and the grip are. That’s what’s going to make a bulge under your clothing, more than the length or even the weight of the gun.
As a result, it’s better to have a single-stack magazine of relatively low caliber, at least in terms of concealment purposes. If that’s just not going to meet your needs in terms of firepower or ammunition, you get a slightly thicker magazine and cope as best you can.
The disadvantage of a smaller grip/magazine (aside from limiting your shots) is that a powerful handgun with a small grip has a ton of kick. The shorter the grip, the less leverage you have, making aiming trickier (especially follow-up shots after the first). A heavier frame can help compensate for a smaller magazine, and won’t alter the concealment in most holster types (though it will create more of a sag if you’re carrying it in your pocket or by another non-holstered method).
Look for a balance that suits your needs, but from a concealment standpoint do be aware that a longer grip/magazine is harder to hide, and may end up poking you depending on your carry method.
This is one that some people have very strong feelings on. Some people will swear that you always want the maximum firepower you can carry; other people are comfortable with the idea that no bullet is a bullet anyone wants to take, and therefore even a tiny holdout pistol is plenty for self-defense.
You’ve got to make that call yourself. But the reality is, smaller caliber handguns are easier to conceal both because of the magazine size and the barrel width and length.
It’s not a universal scale – a .45 could be more concealable than a .38 depending on the shape and size of the grip and magazine – it’s just something you need to be thinking of as a firepower/concealability trade-off.
To use a very untechnical term, some guns are made with lots of “fiddly bits.”
You know what I'm talking about – everything from sighting notches to bulky safety catches to raised lettering on the barrel. Any of those is going to make the gun harder to conceal.
Weapons that are purpose-designed for concealed carry (and a number of manufacturers do have models specifically for the CC market) tend to be smooth-sided and streamlined. Look for designs with minimum “fiddly bits.” It’ll help both your concealment and your draw.
Barrel and Magazine Length
It’s a secondary consideration next to width, but the length of the pistol (in both directions) does matter. Extended magazines are hard to hide, and tend to poke you while you carry them.
Longer barrels give you range and accuracy, and longer magazines give you more shots without reloading, but the reality for most of us is that neither of those is a huge consideration. Unless you’re in an active military or paramilitary kind of situation, you – hopefully – won’t ever need more than a shot or two, even in the very worst-case scenario. Most of the time you won’t even need that.
So when possible, err on the side of a smaller weapon and magazine for the sake of concealability and comfort. It’s one of those trade-offs where you have to know your own needs, but don’t just default to the biggest magazine and longest barrel available for your handgun of choice.
Although easy to conceal, the mosquito gun is ineffective against anything larger than a squirrel.
So Which Gun is the Right One?
There's no single right answer to that question. But, most men with concealed carry experience will recommend something along the same basic lines:
- low to mid-caliber ammunition
- single-stack magazine (or very slim-profiled revolver)
- slim grip
- short barrel
- smooth exterior
- light weight
Here are a few of the more popular models that get tossed around in discussions of concealed carry – this is by no means an exhaustive list, nor should any of these be taken as strong recommendations, but they’re good examples of the relatively broad range of options you have:
- Glock Model 19
- NAA .22 Magnum Mini-Revolver
- Kahr PM9
- Smith & Wesson M&P series
- Walther PPS
- Springfield XD
There are many more beyond these. But the important step here – and this is key – is to know which one you carry (or will be carrying) before you start planning your wardrobe around it, and especially before you have any tailor-made adjustments. You get the maximum benefit when you can have clothes tailored specifically for your gun and holster of choice.
Which brings us to our next step:
Step 2: Choose Your Method of Carry
Just like handguns, holsters come in every style imaginable. You might own one, or you might own a dozen. Depends on your needs. But for purposes of deciding what to wear and how to conceal your gun, you’ll want to know where you’re going to wear it, and in what kind of holster.
Regardless of your method of carry, one key piece of equipment is a very sturdy belt. This not only helps keep the gun in place and prevents your trousers from sagging, it’s also an important safety feature. You don’t want the holster shifting and you certainly don’t want the belt buckle popping open because of the extra weight or the jerk of your draw. Invest in something broad and made of sturdy leather or ballistic nylon. Most stores that sell holsters will also sell belts designed for them.
Paddle Holster, Hip Carry – OWB (Outside the Waistband)
- Advantages: Simple, cheap, and quick to draw
- Disadvantages: Bulky and hard to conceal
This is the most typical way for peace officers and soldiers to carry their primary handgun: a “paddle” style holster (basically the outline of the gun, with a flat “paddle” backing that rests against your body) worn at the belt line, with the pistol pointed down the thigh. The magazine points toward the rear of your body, and the grip is typically angled a bit forward.
The disadvantage for concealed carry should be obvious: it’s going to be very easy to accidentally reveal a gun that’s worn up by your front pockets. A long, loose jacket will do the trick, but as soon as you unbutton/unzip the front it only takes a stiff breeze to expose your holster.
It’s also hard to conceal the bulge if you wear a buttoned suit or sports jacket, even one tailored for the holster. You can pull it off with a small holster and a small gun, but expect to look pretty heavy around the hips when you do it.
Paddle Holster, Behind the Back – OWB (Outside the Waistband)
- Advantages: Simple, cheap, and still fairly quick to draw
- Disadvantages: Still bulky; still requires at least a jacket to conceal
An obvious solution to the hip-carry problem is to keep the same simple holster but move it to the small of your back.
This removes the problem of an unbuttoned jacket brushing back to expose the pistol. The whole back of your coat/jacket would have to flip up to reveal your firearm. It makes a suit or sports jacket much more effective concealment, especially if it’s cut a bit long in the rear. A little looseness also looks more natural on the back of your jacket than it does at the sides.
Drawing a pistol from behind your back is a bit slower than off the hip, but still not too cripplingly inconvenient. There is growing concern, however, that a gun in the small of your back can cause back injuries if you fall or are struck hard where the gun rests – many police departments mandate that nothing except soft items (gloves, CPR kits, etc.) be carried directly in the center of the back for this reason.
So while the simple paddle holster worn behind the back is an effective method of concealment, and still a favorite for a lot of concealed carriers, it comes with some safety cautions. And, of course, it requires you to sit down pretty gingerly, if at all.
- Advantages: Decent concealment, faster draw than behind the back
- Disadvantages: Uncomfortable, easy to accidentally expose
The shoulder holster, which keeps the handgun tucked under your armpit and against your upper ribs, is a popular one with law enforcement (and one made famous by Hollywood and television cops). It’s a good choice for easy access, and only slightly slower to draw from than a holster on your hip.
Unfortunately, it’s also not that great for concealment. A suit jacket or blazer angles back toward the shoulder – you’ve usually only got a few inches between the butt of your pistol and the opening of your jacket. Unbuttoned, it’s very easy for the jacket to slide back far enough to reveal your weapon.
Typically, your draw with a shoulder holster also has to cross your body, with the barrel sweeping in almost a full semi-circle. They’re not allowed on many firing ranges for this reason – instructors and managers don’t want to risk other people being placed within the line of fire as you draw. It’s important to have very good trigger control and be careful with your safety when you’re drawing from a shoulder holster.
Due to the concealment drawbacks and need for trained habits, shoulder holsters tend to be best for people like plainclothes detectives and security guards who are being discreet, but don’t need to effectively disguise the fact that they’re carrying a weapon, and tend to have more firearms training than your average civilian.
Sheath Holster IWB (Inside-the-Waistband)
- Advantages: Good concealment, doesn’t require a jacket
- Disadvantages: Requires tailored trousers
IWB holsters (the most common name) carry the gun tucked into the trousers rather than worn outside them. They make special holsters for this, which are worth investing in. Whatever you may see on TV, don’t go tucking guns into your pants without a holster unless you absolutely have to. Most IWB holsters can be positioned anywhere on your back, allowing for basic behind-the-back carry or for something shifted to one hip or the other.
The advantage here is that you only have to hide the handle of the gun, rather than the whole thing. A smooth holster inside custom-widened trousers conceals most of the bulk for you. Just a loose T-shirt will do to hide an inside-the-waistband carry in a pinch.
The downside is that it’s an expensive and a fairly uncomfortable option. You need the tailored trousers, the specific holster, and the willingness to stand and sit with a gun barrel pointed down your rear end.