Disclaimer first: I am not a fan of off-body carry (such as in a purse, pack, or bag) unless you’ve tried everything else & truly have no other reasonable options. That said, I’ll put my collection of holster purses up against anyone’s — I have reason to believe that I own more concealment purses than any other private individual in America today! — and I can tell you a little bit about ’em.
Why do I own so many holster purses, when I’m not a fan of the basic concept? It’s simple: sometimes there really is no other way to carry the gun. I’d rather have it with me, in a less-than-ideal carry method, than to leave it at home where it won’t do me any good at all. Also, I love having insurance against a holster-related wardrobe malfunction, and a good holster purse provides the peace of mind that comes with having a backup carry method ready to go all the time.
That leaves me in an odd position: I don’t think purses make a great primary carry method, but I also think every woman who carries a gun should own a holster purse anyway. Go figure.
1) Get a purse that’s designed for concealed carry. Not one that has been retrofitted or altered in some way, but one that was designed from the beginning to carry the weight of the gun in a secure & accessible manner.
2) Never ever ever ever throw a “gun sleeve” over a pistol and toss it into the main compartment of an ordinary purse. That’s worse than a good-luck talisman; we have reason to believe it just attracts bad luck of the worst kind. There’s literally no way to get to that gun when you need it.
3) Look for an ambidextrous purse (if you only get one). There’s one company that advertises “ambidextrous,” but they lie. You want a purse that has a zipper at each end of the gun compartment, so it can be set up either way. Why? Because if you sprain your right wrist tomorrow, the day after that you can be set up and ready to go with your left hand — as long as you have a holster that will do it. Since you’re going to pay at least $100 (possibly $300 or more) for a holstered purse, you might as well make it able to cover you in a crisis. Once you have a purse that fits the need, ambidextrous function doesn’t matter as much.
4) Don’t worry about reinforced straps with metal in ’em. Yes, that’s a nice feature … theoretically. Realistically? Purse snatchings are violent, and a certain number of women are dragged to their deaths by their purse straps every year. The typical way this works is in a parking lot: woman walking along, purse carried crossbody or on one shoulder. Car cruises past at slow speed. Passenger reaches out the window, grabs the bag, and driver hits the gas. End of story.
More mundane circumstances, walking down the street, criminal comes up with a knife to cut the purse strap — strap does not cut. Now we have a violent criminal with a knife at bad breath distance, and you cannot let go of the purse because it’s across your body with a reinforced strap. What happens next?
5) You don’t need a locking compartment. People forget to lock them, and tragedy happens. People forget to unlock them, and tragedy happens. If you don’t want someone to have access to that firearm, don’t leave your purse lying around. That simple. If you do get a purse with a locking compartment, hide one of the keys somewhere inside your purse, so that when you lose the other one, you can still get into the compartment … eventually.
6) Positioning a Velcro-based holster is hard. Internal compartments are typically lined with soft side of Velcro; holsters are usually covered with the hook side, or at least have several strips of the scratchy stuff. Because the Velcro surfaces keep sticking together, the holsters can be hard to get in & out of the purse, and hard to adjust. Hint: place the unloaded gun inside the holster. Wrap around the outside of the holster with a stiff piece of paper. Put the wrapped holster into the gun compartment. Adjust depth & angle as needed, then pull the paper out. Problem solved.
7) There’s a trick to setting up a thumb break inside a holster purse. The goal is to make it possible to break open the retention strap by pushing with your thumb, not by pulling it off. The strap goes over the back of the slide — not over the highest part of the grip. Those two things are key.
8) Before ordering, always call and ask the company if the purse you want will work with the gun you have. There are a lot of companies out there now making smaller purses for smaller guns, and you can’t always tell from the website what you’re looking at. Also, zipper length getting into the compartment really matters.
9) No matter how fashionable or comfortable, avoid backpack holster purses. You can’t draw from ’em worth a darn.
10) The least-slow purse set up is probably a Raven from Gun Tote’n Mamas. This purse allows a rip-it-open vertical draw very similar to a well designed fanny pack. Horizontal draws work more slowly, while standard vertical draws that require you to work the zipper separately are slowest of all. A rip-it-open vertical draw works fastest with practice.
Brands to look at include:
Gun Tote’n Mamas (affordable, well-designed, all fully ambi, many with vertical and horizontal access options, some with reinforced straps, none with locks);
Galco (classic styles, large, locks, no reinforced straps, single access entries, permanently installed elastic holster rather than velcro);
Coronado (classic styles, different sizes, single access entries, locks, no reinforced straps);
The Concealment Shop (US-made; will custom make purse to your specs, of any size you like, in any color you like; fully lined; some with velcro entries, some with zipper entries; non-ambi but you can personalize to a lefty purse if you prefer);
Designer Concealed Carry (high end fashion purses, well-designed insides as long as she selects a current model; fully ambi, locking entries; adjustable strap lengths; available in genuine croc & other exotic leathers)