My friend Alex runs “The Suited Shootist,” a community dedicated to those who like to dress well while heavily armed. It’s an important topic, because I’ve noticed a certain groupthink when it comes to the firearms community and clothing. We (as guys) tend to fall into one of two camps:
- The Not-So-Rugged Outdoorsman: Cover garment is a flannel shirt if you live up north, a lightweight Columbia (or equivalent) fishing shirt if you don’t. Jeans (with pocketknife and flashlight clips peeking out) are essential, as is a pair of low-profile hiking boots or a pair of Crocs. A body which is capable of doing a 10-mile ruck march at the drop of a hat? That’s optional. VERY optional.
- The Nine-Line Spokesmodel: He’ll yes, bother, until Van Halen! Merrell shoes. Beard oil. A minimum of one American flag per square foot of clothing. Cargo pants that could conceal a sizable portion of Portugal. Tactical man purse to hold the 33 round spare mags for their backup gun. “Don’t Tread On Me” ball cap. Will talk about their score in the latest Tactical Games event until they’re blue in the face.
Both of these groups of people think they’re blending in with society, but in reality, they’re blending in with the other members of their group. This was brought home to me a few years ago at Tac-Con, where a bunch of attendees were milling about in a hotel lobby and we all looked exactly the same. Our choice of clothing made it clear that we were all part of some event and shared a common culture, the problem was, it wasn’t the same culture as our peers. We stood out like a sore thumb compared to the other patrons of that hotel.
So how do we blend in? Well, for starters, when you decide to join the concealed carry lifestyle and have a defensive gun on you whenever you can, you’re going to have to figure out how to conceal your gun. For years, the conventional wisdom on this was that a gun should be comforting, not comfortable, and that you had to “dress around the gun.”
Our Mission, Should We Choose To Accept It…
We should keep in mind, however, that the source of that advice was usually someone with a military or law enforcement background. The mission of both of those professions is radically different from the mission of the armed citizen, and that affects how they think about their guns. Fashion and cultural issues aren’t really applicable for most military servicemen, and aside from undercover work, not really an issue for law enforcement as well. For the rest of us, the idea of “dressing around the gun” is yet another roadblock on the path to the concealed carry lifestyle.
What we’re seeing now, though, is a new generation of firearms trainers whose roots are in the world of the armed citizen, not in the precinct or barracks. Trainers like Claude Werner and the crew at Citizen’s Defense Research stress training with real-world concealed carry solutions. In addition to this, the popularity of small and thin 9mm pistols like the Smith and Wesson Shield and Springfield Armory Hellcat and new methods of carry like the PHLster Enigma mean that it’s easier than ever to have a pistol on you when you need it the most, but not look like you have a pistol on you.
Printing Matters. Unless It Doesn’t.
"Ah, but Kevin," I hear you say, "Aren't you worried about 'printing,' where the shape of your gun causes a noticeable bulge under your clothing?"
Well, yes and no. As I just said, the state of the art in both holsters and guns is such these days that there's really no reason why your pistol should cause a bulge in your clothing, especially if you're following the advice we hand out (for free!) on this site.
There is a paradox if your pistol or other gear does cause a bump in your outer layers. 95 percent of the people are not going to notice that anything's amiss because they just do not look for such things on a day in, day out basis. Not only that, but if they by chance spot something out of place, they're not going to care about it. However, the 5 percent who do notice such things are going to care about it, and care quite a lot. Chances are it'll be someone like me, who tends to look for such things in my surroundings. However, it could also be a bad guy, looking around before doing something nefarious. If that's the case, one of three things is going to happen.
- The bad guy is going to target you because you have a gun.
- The bad guy is crazy enough to ignore you and go ahead with his plans anyways.
- The bad guy is going to go somewhere else.
Pretty darn good odds, if you ask me.
So You’ve Been Caught. Now What?
The biggest problem with a pistol that "prints" is the awkwardness it can cause in social situations where you must explain that yes, that is a gun, and while you're happy to be with your friends, you now have to explain at length about why you carry one. You may have been somewhere where it was 100% legal to carry, but now you’ve got to explain to any number of people why you’re carrying (at best) or may have to leave the area (at worst), even though you did nothing wrong.
Taking the extra steps to make sure your concealed carry pistol is concealed is worth it, but do so that’s fully concealed, and do it in a way so you blend in with the people around. The idea of being an armed citizen is to blend in with the citizenry, not stick out like a sore thumb.