We show a lot of handguns, holsters and associated gear here in “I Carry,” but out of necessity we need to show this gear without cover – it’s hard to illustrate how a holster rides on the belt if it’s covered by a sweatshirt. For this “I Carry” Spotlight, we’re going to discuss some basic categories of cover garments, with some of the things to consider about each particular method. We simply can’t cover every single type of garment, so we’ll consider four main classes: Jackets, secondary covers, dedicated concealed-carry shirts and T-shirts.
We’ll start off with jackets: One of the simplest ways to cover your holstered handgun is to toss a jacket over it. The general term “jacket” covers a lot of ground, pretty much anything from a knee-length parka, ski jacket, suit coat or windbreaker, just to name a few. Basically, this class is pretty much any dedicated outer garment like you’d wear out in the elements or to a formal occasion.
Advantages? There’s a couple, not the least of which is the ease. It’s pretty simple to just grab your jacket and go, without worrying about concealment or printing. The heavier weight of an outer coat will significantly reduce the likelihood of telltale bulges that might bring questions. If you’re wearing a longer jacket, even full-size handguns worn on the belt are fair game to carry. There’s no compromises with smaller, less capacious firearms when a large jacket is your cover.
Disadvantages, however, are plentiful. Most obvious is that you’re stuck with a jacket. If you’re using a suit coat in a formal-type setting, you need to leave your jacket on, and buttoned, for the duration. If you’re wearing a winter jacket, you’re sure going to look out of place sitting down to Sunday dinner or at the beach. There’s also the matter of accessing your pistol – if your warm winter jacket has a zipper and buttons to keep out the cold, you need to clear multiple parts of the garment to get to your handgun.
Next up is secondary cover: This is pretty much anything that’s not a dedicated concealment garment or jacket, like a sweater, vest, pullover, hoodie, etc. These items are not necessarily out of place indoors, and can be tailored to your activities. Going to a holiday party? A festive sweater can be your cover. Hanging out at the local diner? Grab a sweatshirt. Got a dinner party? Grab a fancy vest. This method also allows deep concealment with tuckable holsters for times when you really don’t want to advertise.
Advantages? Well, being able to tailor your outfit to your activity is significant. With a small bit of planning, you can blend into pretty much any group. Being unnoticeable when carrying concealed is a good idea—in fact it’s kind of the whole point. Here, you’ve still got plenty of concealment, especially with an inside-the-waistband holster and a compact or mid-size pistol. Even a spare magazine, light and other gear can be carried on the belt without looking too out of place.
Disadvantages of using secondary cover are less than a jacket, but not completely gone. Since most of these types of garments come to about the belt line, carrying outside the waistband is probably not going to provide optimum cover—try reaching for an item on the top shelf in the supermarket and you’ll see what I mean. Also, you may find yourself in a situation where the cover garment gets too uncomfortable, like being in a small room that gets too hot. If you start to overheat, you’re going to have somewhat limited options. And of course, these types of cover aren’t advisable in summer months, especially in hotter locations.
Dedicated cover garments, like Hawaiian shirts, guayaberas and purpose-built concealed-carry garments exist to cover these warmer scenarios. Whether you want the casual look of a bright Hawaiian shirt, a festive shirt for a party or just something more formal than a large T-shirt, look for prints and patterns that will help break up the outline of your concealed pistol. Even with longer shirt lengths designed to fall below the waistline, this type of garment is suitable even in warmer months.
Advantages: Dedicated cover garments often have access-friendly features like breakaway snaps or hook-and-loop seams designed to foster rapid access. These are the best options for warmer climates and the least likely to present overheating issues. Shirts run the gamut from understated to wild, so you can match your cover garment to whatever the occasion might be.
Disadvantages? Well, for starters, there’s needing to buy dedicated gear. Garments designed as cover tend to be pricier than standard shirts, and unless you want to wear the same shirt over and over, you’re going to want more than a couple. They’re also more noticeable to other concealed-carriers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – until you’re at a party and some loudmouth yells out, “Nice Blackhawk shirt! What are you carrying?” (Yes, I’ve had this happen). It’s unlikely, to be sure, but still possible.
Lastly, the oversize T-shirt. This is pretty self-explanatory; we’ve all got a T-shirt or two in a larger size than we really need for whatever reason (or can get one easily enough).
Advantages, basically, are low cost and ubiquity – it’s easy to blend in wearing a T-shirt. Opt for dark colors to help keep visible printing to a minimum and you should be fine for most informal settings. Obviously, T-shirts are also going to be good for warmer weather.
Disadvantages are significant, though. T-shirts are not appropriate wear for every social scenario. Many employers frown upon employees wearing T-shirts to work, for example, and it’s not likely to be the ideal garment for even a mildly nice restaurant. Also, the lighter fabric of a T-shirt is more likely to get caught on the grip of a holstered pistol, especially if that grip has an aggressive texture to it. Furthermore, it’s the most likely garment for a handgun to print through.
Since the whole point of concealed carry is to not advertise the fact that you are armed, choosing the right cover garment is essential. By choosing the correct cover garment for the environment where you will be carrying—from the weather to the socially acceptable dress code—you will ensure your carry gun remains concealed and you properly blend in to your surroundings.