The Cornered Cat

After much soul-searching and careful consideration, you’ve made the decision that your life is worth defending whatever the cost. Toward that end, you’ve purchased a firearm and have decided to carry it with you wherever you go.

Now for the million-dollar question:  How?

First off, you need a holster. You really do. Even if you have chosen a firearm small enough to tote around in your pockets, you still need a trigger-covering secure holster for safety. You do not want lint to lodge itself in the end of your gun, creating a pressure hazard if you need to fire. You really and truly do not want your keys or a wayward finger to inadvertently pull the trigger while the firearm is knocking around loose in your pocket or bag.  You’ve got to have a way to carry the firearm that covers the trigger, protects the firearm from damage, and will help to prevent most preventable mishaps — and that means using a holster.

Holster designs fall into two very broad categories: on-body options, and off-body options.  On-body holsters allow you to carry the firearm underneath your outer clothing, while off-body designs allow you to tote it in a purse, pack, or other device designed to carry the gun around.

Within those two broad categories, there are a lot of choices. Here is an overview of the options you might consider.

Off-Body Carry

On and Off: Pocket Carry

On-Body Carry

Off-Body Carry

Carrying off-body, in a purse or a pack, sounds very good at first glance. No wardrobe adjustments will be needed, and if you need to enter someplace where firearms aren’t allowed, you can discreetly lock your bag in the car.

But there are significant trade offs, and it is important to understand and consider exactly what those trade offs are before you make a commitment to carry in this manner.

No matter how careful and dedicated you are, the fact is that off-body carry is simply not as secure as carrying on the body. Purses, packs, and daytimers often get set down and occasionally walked away from. If you ever leave your bag where another person can access it, the odds are very high that you will be “made” — that is, that other people will discover that you carry a gun. This can range from embarrassing to disastrous, depending upon where you are and who found out. 1

Off-body carry can be much more socially awkward than carrying on the body. Few people make a habit of carrying a pack with them literally everywhere they go — even to walk from one end of the room to the other. When visiting a friend’s home, for example, most women will set their purses on the floor near the couch, or on a chair near the door, and do not think of it again until it is time to leave. If a firearm is hidden within the purse, leaving it casually lying around like this is simply not an option, but to continually keep your purse slung over your shoulder or balanced on your lap is likely to earn you an odd look from time to time.

Purses, bags, and packs are also frequently targeted by thieves. In some situations, the best survival tactic might be to simply hand over your belongings and be a good witness. But carrying a firearm in any of these eliminates this possible option and limits your choices.

Furthermore, at a single glance, many criminals will recognize a concealed-carry fanny pack or purse for what it is. Those who do might decide to look for easier prey, but if they instead decide to attack, the element of surprise may not be on your side.

Drawing the gun from most off-body options is usually very slow, and sometimes prone to fumbly-fingered mistakes. The sole exception to this is a properly designed fanny pack.

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Carrying a concealed handgun in a purse is probably the most common method of off-body carry for women. Certainly there are a lot of women out there who do not believe there is any other way they can carry a gun.  And this method has a lot going for it: it involves minimal changes to the way you’re already living your life. You don’t have to buy new clothes or figure out how to make your existing wardrobe work with an altered waistline. Most women already carry a purse, and putting a gun in there doesn’t usually feel like a hugely invasive change.

Furthermore, for a woman who is dressed up for church or a party, there often really-and-truly isn’t anywhere else to reasonably hide a gun except in a purse. Concealed carry and female dress clothes can be a very awkward match.

Safety Issue

If you carry in a purse, whether the purse is designed for gun carry or not, you must use a dedicated compartment which contains the gun, the gun only, and only the gun. If there’s other stuff in the same compartment, you could end up with  a lipstick tube levering the trigger back and firing an unintentional shot when you sling the purse over your shoulder.

The best purse for concealed carry is one which is specifically designed to tote the gun. Such purses have dedicated compartments, often with adjustable, built-in holsters intended to hold the gun securely in the correct orientation. They usually have wide, sturdy straps so the added weight of the gun won’t dig into your shoulder and destroy your nerves. The gun compartment often allows discreet access from the side of the purse, allowing the carrier to get her hand onto the grip of the holstered gun (while walking through a parking lot, for example) with no one the wiser. Some of them even allow the user to lock the gun compartment separately with a clever little padlock. 2

There’s a fashion problem with a lot of purses designed specifically for concealed carry, however. An unfortunate number of these purses are just plain ugly. I think many of them are designed by men who’ve never had to ask themselves the $64,000 Question. Also, for those who like to change purses frequently, it can be quite depressing to be limited to only one purse for the foreseeable future. To be strictly fair, I should note here that most gun purses look a lot better these days than they did a few short years ago.  Given the general trends toward concealed-carry legislation in formerly prohibitive states and the increasing number of women interested in lawful carry, we can probably expect gun purse styles to continue to improve for the forseeable future.

Left-handed women need to know that most gun purses are designed to be carried on the left shoulder, with the zipper or velcro closure pointed forward, which allows easy access into the gun compartment for the user’s right hand. If you are left-handed, you will need to choose a gun purse which has identical styling on both sides so that it can be carried reversed for left-hand access. Be sure to check whether the holster can be fastened to either side of the internal compartment, too.

There are several companies that make concealed carry purses. They include Coronado Leather, Galco, Gun Tote’n Mamas, The Concealment Shop, and Designer Concealed Carry (Woolstenhulme).

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Fanny Pack

Let’s get the fashion issue out of the way right up front. If you’re wearing a fanny pack, you have to wear the right clothes to go with it. Otherwise, the total effect will flunk the $64,000 Question.  Fanny packs don’t work with dress clothes. They don’t belong in most offices and they don’t look right with a lot of outfits. Fanny packs work well in vacation areas, with tourist-y clothes or exercise clothes … and that’s really about it.

But fanny pack carry has a lot going for it. It’s very comfortable. It’s considerably more secure than most other methods of off-body carry, because the fanny pack is usually fastened in place making it difficult to walk away from. It’s also less socially awkward, because it isn’t that unusual to continue wearing the fanny pack even while walking around indoors.

Furthermore, out of all off-body carry methods, a properly designed fanny pack provides the quickest access to the gun if you need it in a hurry, and is least likely to create fumbles with the gun while drawing. That’s a big plus.

Good features to look for include:

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Daytimer or Briefcase

Slow. Awkward. Very likely to be in the wrong place if you need it in a hurry. But it’s the only way some folks feel comfortable carrying a gun to the office. For lawyers or others who must continually enter and exit secured buildings, it’s not such a bad method provided there’s somewhere safe to lock it up when you must leave it behind.

As with other methods of off-body carry, look for a product with a dedicated gun compartment which has adjustable straps to carry the gun in a stable and predictable orientation.

The dedicated compartment isn’t just a safety feature to prevent your ballpoint pens from nestling in the muzzle. It also serves to prevent accidental exposure when you need to open it up and use it as an actual daytimer. When considering a purchase, make sure the product you’re looking at will do that part of the job properly, too.

Final caution: don’t set that thing down, anywhere, unless the area is truly secure from all three Cs: children, the clueless, and the criminal.

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On and Off: Pocket Carry

Properly speaking, pocket carry should be categorized as on-body carry. However, carrying in a jacket or vest pocket has more in common with off-body carry than with the other forms of on-body carry because it is so easy to set your jacket down and thus become separated from your weapon.

Pocket carry is generally very convenient. During winter in colder climates, many people find that an outer coat pocket is more quickly accessible than a belt holster underneath several layers of clothing. And during a hot summer, carrying in a shorts pocket while wearing a tank top can be much cooler than putting on the extra layer of cover garment most other forms of on-body carry require.

Safety Issue

If you carry a concealed handgun in a pocket, you must have a pocket holster which covers the trigger.

It can be difficult to find the ideal handgun for pocket carry. Except for those who habitually wear very baggy clothing, the gun usually has to be quite tiny. The chief problem with most tiny pocket guns is a triple whammy:  tiny guns usually come in marginally effective calibers, they are not often easy to shoot, and few people enjoy shooting them. Shot placement is important with any size weapon, but critically so in smaller calibers. In order to get good shot placement, you’ve got to get good at shooting your weapon. And in order to do that, you’ve got to spend time on the range. What this all adds up to is that if you want the convenience of carrying in a pocket, you will need to dedicate yourself to spending lots of time on the range getting good with a tiny gun which you may not enjoy shooting.

Because guys tend to wear looser pants than girls do, pants-pocket carry usually works considerably better for guys than it does for gals. But jacket-pocket carry works equally well for both sexes.

Does pocket carry require a holster? Absolutely. Many companies produce holsters specifically designed for pocket carry. A pocket holster disguises the outline of the gun, protects the gun from damage, holds it in a predictable and stable orientation so that drawing is easier, and most importantly, covers the trigger and trigger guard area to prevent negligent discharges.

A chilling story that was on the news a few years back: a young dad went to the movie theater on a weekend afternoon to catch a flick with his kids. He was carrying a handgun in his jacket pocket. He set the jacket on the seat next to him during the movie, and when the movie was over, he reached over to pick up his jacket. The motion of picking up the jacket inadvertently pulled the trigger of the handgun and it fired. The bullet struck him in the abdomen, severely injuring him, and barely missed the head of a six-year-old who was standing behind him.

Was this an accidental shooting? It was not. It was a negligent shooting, which happened because the young man was carrying his handgun in a dangerous manner. If you carry in a pocket, you need a holster.

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Vests or Jackets with built-in holsters

Several companies make vests and jackets which have built-in holsters. Usually these holsters are located inside the front panels so that they can be easily accessed simply by reaching in to the front of the jacket or vest, as one would reach for a wallet.

Many of these designs are quite attractive, but remember that stylish is in the eye of the beholder. As always, the $64,000 Question must be asked and answered.

Safety Issue

When drawing from a concealment vest or jacket, be extremely careful not to allow the muzzle to point at your own brachial artery.

One motorcycle rider of my acquaintance frequently carries his sidearm in a black leather concealment  vest he purchased from Coronado Leather. It works very well for him because when someone steps off a motorcycle, observers truly expect to see the black-leather “biker look.” Because it’s an expected part of the image, no one looks twice. That’s a successful answer to the $64,000 Question!

One possible issue to consider is the weight of the gun. Because the gun will be carried in the front, most of its weight will be distributed along your neck and shoulders when you wear a vest or jacket with a built-in holster. If you are already prone to neck tension, this may not be the carry option for you.

Additionally, and in common with all off-body carry methods, you must make provision for what to do with your gun-toter when you are not wearing it. If you take your jacket off, you must carefully consider where you set it down and who will have access to it.

Be aware that even a well-designed jacket or vest which is not being worn and has a gun inside it should never be handled roughly lest a mishap result.

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On-Body Carry

No matter how attractive off-body carry might seem, carrying on the body has definite and indisputable advantages.

First, no matter what happens, you know the gun will be with you when you need it. Even if you carry your purse with you nearly everywhere you go, there is still the chance that your purse, and the gun inside it, might be sitting on a chair clear across the room if you need it in a hurry.

Most on-body carry methods are more quickly accessible than most off-body carry methods. If you need to pull the gun out in a hurry, you are less likely to fumble when drawing from a belt holster than you are when rummaging through a pack or purse. Worse, if your pack or bag has a built-in lock, there’s just the off chance you locked it at your last stop and forgot to unlock it.

Carrying on-body is generally more secure than off-body carry methods. Because the gun is strapped right to your own personal body, you will surely notice and prevent anyone from accessing it without your permission. There’s very little chance of children, the clueless, or the criminal getting into it without your permission.

The chief drawback to most forms of on-body carry is that it can be very uncomfortable to wear a gun everywhere you go. While it’s tempting to recite Clint Smith’s dicta here (“A gun is supposed to be comforting, not comfortable”), the fact is that few people are willing to make the commitment to carry a gun when it is not comfortable to do so. The comfort factor can be improved by choosing the proper gun, by selecting a quality holster, and by careful choice of clothing.

Hmmm, let me repeat that last bit, a little more forcefully: if you choose the wrong gun and carry it in a poor quality holster, you will find on-body carry to be too uncomfortable to keep up for very long. 3

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Holsters designed for ankle carry usually require the gun to be placed on the inside of the non-dominant ankle. Thus, a right-hander would carry on the inside of the left ankle, while a lefty would carry on the right ankle. Ankle holsters are often padded for comfort, because there is so little natural padding on the body in that spot.

For those who simply don’t want to fiddle around with belt holsters, and who don’t want to worry about cover garments, ankle carry sounds like an attractive option. Because they generally already have a lot of gear carried on the beltline, ankle carry is frequently chosen by police officers who need to stash a back-up gun.

Because a gun carried on the ankle cannot possibly get tangled in a seat belt, people who do a lot of driving often find that ankle carry works well for them.

Possibly the chief benefit for ankle carry is that it requires only a minimal wardrobe adjustment: wider pant legs which are slightly longer than normal. Except perhaps for a spare sock, it doesn’t require any additional layers of clothing.

Cowards Take Note!

You cannot draw from an ankle holster while running away.

One important consideration when choosing a gun for ankle carry is that it must be resistant to dirt and grime. Snubby revolvers are ideal for this work. Even so, the gun must be cleaned with obsessive regularity to be certain it will not be clogged with gunk when it is needed.

When selecting a gun and holster for ankle carry, remember that the gun itself cannot weigh much, unless you want to develop a permanent tilt to one side. It should also be reasonably small, for the sake both of comfort and of concealability.

Concealability in ankle rigs can be more of a factor than most folks realize. The pant legs should be slightly longer than normal, so that they do not ride up when you sit down. Even with longer pants, it may still be necessary to avoid crossing your legs at the knee, because that will often reveal the holstered gun.

Because of the concealability issue, many folks who carry in ankle holsters get in the habit of wearing three socks: one on the non-holster side, and two on the holster side. The undersock provides padding, while the oversock is pulled up to cover most of the holster leaving only the gun’s grip exposed.

For quick access, you don’t need bell bottoms, but slightly wider pant legs are a definite plus. Wide pant legs also help concealability, because it is very hard to explain bulgy, bulky ankles.

Drawing from an ankle holster can be very difficult. The easiest draw is accomplished while sitting down, an important point for those stuck behind a desk for the majority of the day.

From standing, the usual technique (assuming you’re right-handed) is to stick your left leg out in front of you. Crouch down just far enough to grab your pant hem with your left hand and pull it up out of the way. Your right hand then reaches over and attains a firing grip on the gun. You can fire from the crouch, or quickly stand. Kneeling is not recommended unless you are behind cover. If you aren’t behind cover, you may need to run in a hurry and getting out of a kneel can be fatally slow.

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Belly Band

I have to say this right up front:: I love belly bands. One excellent belly band is a PT-One band from Pistol Wear, or an UnderWrap, from Galco Gunleather.

What’s a belly band, you ask? A belly band is a wide, stretchy piece of elastic with a built-in holster and often an extra pocket for a spare magazine. It usually features velcro closures, and is designed to be worn around the waist or lower torso.

Belly bands allow you to wear your gun on your body even when your pants don’t have wide belt loops to hold a gun belt. They’re a very flexible option, allowing you to place the gun anywhere on your torso that works with your clothing and figure type. For those already accustomed to carrying a gun on the hip, carrying in a belly band can be a very comfortable change of pace.

Safety Issue

When drawing your handgun from a belly band, take excruciating care that nothing (including your trigger finger) gets inside the trigger guard, because the gun will very likely be pointed at important body parts during the drawing process.

A belly band can provide a remarkable degree of wardrobe flexibility. It can be worn underneath dressy officewear, something difficult to do with a traditional belt holster.

For women especially, having a belly band in the closet brings back a lot of options that would otherwise be lost to on-body carry. Want to wear tight, hip-hugging jeans? Or dressy polyester office slacks? You can wear your belly band wrapped around your mid-torso under a short-cropped but loose tee or sweater.

Want to wear a skirt that doesn’t have belt loops? Wear your belly band and position it exactly where your belt holster would have put the gun.

Want to wear a dress with your belly band? That gets a little more problematic. Yes, it can be done. I’ve done it many times. The problem is, belly bands provide so much flexibility in where you place the gun that it is easy to get carried away and place the gun somewhere you wouldn’t be able to draw from. You can carry under a dress … but can you draw from there? Perhaps, depending upon the dress style. Or perhaps not.

Possibly the most important factor in belly-band concealability is the size and shape of the handgun. Small, flat handguns are more easily concealed than larger ones. Revolvers tend to lend themselves more to this form of carry than all but the slimmest semi-autos. Something about the revolver’s irregular shape mimics the natural fall of clothing over the human body.

Comfort can be a factor when wearing a belly band. Those velcro closures can be itchy. An undershirt definitely helps. In hot weather, I sometimes wear a plain tube top underneath mine. This avoids putting any extra layers of clothing anywhere else, but still gives a nice cushion from the itchies.

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Belt Carry

Carrying the gun on a sturdy belt around the waist has long been the preferred method for professional gun-toters. There are two basic methods of belt carry: outside the waistband, commonly abbreviated OWB, and inside the waistband, or IWB.

There are three things you really need in order to gracefully manage belt carry. First, you need a good holster. Second, you need a really sturdy belt. And finally, you need a piece of clothing that covers the holstered gun and doesn’t look too weird.

It’s important to remember to budget for a quality holster, because a good holster can make all the difference between successful and unsuccessful attempts at carrying a firearm. While you can find a cheap, collapsible holster for as little as $15, it is really, really worthwhile to look for something with at least some semblance of quality.

What makes a quality holster? Well, the most important thing a holster does is hold the gun securely. If the holster doesn’t do that, it’s not a quality holster no matter how much they’re charging for it. To check how securely the holster holds the gun, unload the firearm. Then lock the action open and run your finger into the chamber and magazine well to make sure they are both empty, or in the case of a revolver, count the holes in the cylinder to be sure they’re all there.

Comfort Tip

Any time a formerly comfortable belt holster starts acting weirdly uncomfortable, it’s probably time to replace your belt.

Gun empty? Good.

Check it again.

Next step: place the gun in the holster. Don’t put the holster on your body yet. What you’re going to do is find a soft horizontal surface — a bed or a couch — and gently turn the holstered gun upside down over it to see if you can make the gun drop out. Don’t hold it miles above the bed, just a few inches will do. Hold the holster, turn it over, and shake gently. If the gun falls out, the holster isn’t snug enough.

Some holsters have soft, collapsible mouths. These holsters are dangerous because it is literally impossible to put the gun into a collapsible holster without holding the mouth of the holster open with your non-gun hand. This means that while putting the gun into the holster, your off hand must remain directly in front of the muzzle of the gun — in violation of the Four Rules. The floppy mouth is also risky for another reason. There’s the chance that it will fold down and be caught inside the trigger guard while holstering. If you purchase one of these types of holsters, be extremely cautious to the point of paranoia any time you must place the gun into the holster.

Now about the belt. I’m not sure of this, but I rather suspect that the belt itself is the biggest wardrobe change women have to make in order to carry on the waist. You really-and-truly cannot comfortably or securely tote a belt holster without a good belt to put it upon. A good belt means one that is both wide and stiff. The belt must have some rigidity in order to provide a stable place for the gun to ride.

When carried on a narrow belt, holsters tend to flop around, twist your clothing into weird shapes, and just generally drive you right up the wall.  Remember this: any time a formerly comfortable holster starts acting weird, it’s probably time to replace your belt.

The final sine qua non of successful belt carry is a good cover garment. That’s such a large topic that there’s no room to discuss it in this article. For now, just remember that OWB requires a longer cover garment than IWB, that prints cover better than solids and darks cover better than lights, and that every piece of clothing you wear has to give a good answer to The $64,000 Question.

One final comment about your cover garment: please remember you don’t have to wear ugly clothes in order to hide a gun. Pretty clothes work just as well.

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Belt — OWB (Outside Waist Band)

Generally speaking, carrying outside the waistband is usually more comfortable than carrying inside it.  No part of the gun will ever touch delicate flesh, and you don’t have to find pants an inch or two bigger in the waist to make room for the gun.

OWB is also generally easier to draw from, because the grip is more accessible to the hand. The gun often comes free more easily, because the only tension holding the gun in the holster is the tension which the holstermaker designed it to have. In contrast, unless the IWB holster is very stiff, it can be partially collapsed by pressure from the belt and pants waistband.

Concealment is the chief concern with OWB carry. Because the gun and holster are entirely outside the clothing, the cover garment must be significantly longer than it needs to be when the gun is carried IWB. Furthermore, if the cover garment flops open, there’s no hope that you can nonchalantly pass off a partially-glimpsed grip as something else; when you are carrying OWB, whatever anyone sees will very likely look like a gun.

Although many knowledgeable instructors advise against it, if you live in a state where openly carrying a firearm is legal, you might occasionally want to wear your gun without a cover garment. In the case of open carry, it is really essential that the holster be equipped with a thumb break or other device designed to prevent other people from grabbing your gun out of its holster.

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Belt — IWB (Inside Waist Band)

My personal favorite holster is one that I’ve worn nearly every day since I began carrying a concealed weapon back in the summer of 2000. It’s a kydex IWB from Blade-Tech, and the biggest reason I love it is because it has a tuckable feature.

What’s a tuckable feature, you ask?

“Tuckable” means that the gun rides on your belt, inside your waistband, like any other IWB holster. But because of the manner in which the holster loops are shaped, it is possible to tuck your shirt tail in between the outer side of the gun and the inner part of your waistband. The effect is that the gun is completely hidden by your regular clothing, with only the holster’s loop visible on the belt.

As you can imagine, this opens up a world of clothing options that would otherwise be closed off by the choice to belt carry.

Probably the biggest issue in purchasing a gun for carry IWB is how thick the gun is. Put very simply, the thicker the gun is, the thicker your waist will look unless you dress carefully around it. You’ll need to shop carefully in order to avoid that problem.

Around the holiday season, I have occasionally found myself looking sadly at my summer jeans and then at my handgun. “There’s not room enough in these jeans for the both of us!” the gun seems to remark. Too, too true. If you’re going to carry IWB, you have to buy jeans which are an inch or two bigger in the waist than you normally would.

The problem with this is that ladies’ jeans are designed to fit a certain waist/hip ratio. If you purchase jeans larger in the waist, it is quite possible they’ll be baggy in the rear. How gauche.

The solution is simply to slip over to the men’s department, and purchase guy jeans for yourself. Guy jeans are proportionately bigger in the waist and narrower in the rear end than gal jeans are, and that’s just what you need in order to fashionably conceal an IWB pistol while avoiding the dreaded baggy-butt problem.

Another possible solution, assuming the men’s department jeans give you too much room in the waist or not enough in the rear, is to purchase ladies’ jeans with stretchy fibers in them. That little bit of extra “give” can make all the difference in the comfort world.

Another uncomfortable possibility with IWB is that the gun can be driven into delicate skin. Simplest solution: get in the habit of wearing a lightweight undershirt to provide a mild cushion between yourself and the gun. More complex solution, assuming you’re handy: add a layer of soft padding to the backside of your own holster. There’s at least one company out there, Kramer Handgun Leather, producing holsters which have a layer of back padding already built in.

For a more in-depth look at belt holsters for women, and finding holsters that work with a woman’s curves, see the Straight Talk article.

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Bra Holsters

There are several bra-based holsters on the market these days.

One product I can currently recommend is the Flashbang Women’s Holster. This is a clamshell-type Kydex holster designed to hang your handgun horizontally from the center of your bra, tucking one end of the holster under your underwire for best concealment. Obviously intended for very small firearms (such as a lightweight j-frame revolver or a KelTec P3AT), when I first tried it, I didn’t find it very comfortable. Fortunately, a little experimentation allowed me to find “the spot” that worked well for me with this holster.

Let me put it another way: after working with it, I’ve really warmed up to the Flashbang. It holds the gun quite securely, with the trigger well-protected, and it allows a fast, simple draw just as a good belt holster does. It won’t work for everyone, but (let me be indiscreet here a little bit), it does work for A cups just as well as it does for D cups. The catch is, it really requires a bra with an underwire. If you don’t use an underwire or aren’t used to wearing them, this holster probably won’t work for you. Also, be aware that the draw is designed to come from below the holster, so you won’t be able to draw from the neckline with this carry option. It works well with shirts and blouses, but don’t expect it to work well under a dress.

Another bra-based holster from the same company is called “the Marilyn.” This one is designed to tuck securely under your bra strap, just below your armpit or a little forward of there. There’s a video on YouTube that shows this holster being placed in a spot I could never make work for me (inside the cup itself). But placing it just below the armpit works really, really well. Like the Flashbang, Marilyn holds the gun securely and covers the trigger safely. Unlike the Flashbang, this holster allows you to draw from a lowered neckline rather than requiring you to reach up from underneath. This means it works well in dresses, as long as the dress does not have a high collar.

More typical products include the Discreet Carry line of holsters, which are little more than fabric pouches designed to hang off the side or front of your bra, with the muzzle pointed down.

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Shoulder Holsters

I have heard, from more than one source I consider reliable, that shoulder holsters are very  comfortable. You couldn’t prove it by me; I’ve found every one I’ve tried on to be quite uncomfortable in different ways. Every body shape is different, remember. The lesson? It’s a bad idea to set your heart on any carry style or holster design that you haven’t tried on, no matter who recommends it.

Safety Issue

When drawing from a shoulder holster, take excruciating care that you do not point the weapon at your own brachial artery. The simplest way to avoid this is to habitually place your non-dominant hand on your dominant side shoulder while drawing, and lift your elbow slightly. This gets your arm and its vulnerable artery well out of the way.

Despite my own lack of success with shoulder holsters, I do know several women who have them and love them. These women all cite comfort as a number-one reason to love shoulder holsters, with concealability under dressy business clothing a close second.

The simplest way to conceal a shoulder holster is underneath a boxy blazer. That makes it an ideal choice for business clothing, but with one caveat: you must be certain that the straps will never be visible as you move around. This requires some time in front of a full-length mirror as you bend and twist to be certain those straps will stay hidden with the outfit you’ve chosen. There are several shoulder holster variants that help ease the strap problem, but many of these (especially the elastic-based ones) are prone to sag.

The other concealability issue you may encounter with a shoulder holster is that if the gun is held horizontally rather than vertically, and you are fairly thin, you may find that the gun tends to poke out in front or in back. If this is the case, you may be better off searching for a vertical holster design.

Incidentally, one of the nice things about shoulder holsters is that they practically require you to carry extra ammunition, simply to balance out the weight on both sides. That a reload can be carried so easily and concealed so naturally is a pleasant bonus.

An excellent write-up on shoulder holsters from another woman can be found on Limatunes’ Range Diary. Go, read.

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Thigh Holsters 4

I’ve met exactly three women who have worn one of these for any length of time. All three were very thin, and all three reported that the carry method was radically uncomfortable. If you have had some success with a thigh-worn holster, please contact me so we can compare notes.

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Thunderwear / Smartcarry

A SmartCarry-style holster is basically an elastic waist strap, with a two-pocket pouch in the front. It comes in several variants from different companies and under different brand names, but all of the variants are designed to be carried low on the hips, so the gun will ride in the area between waist band and crotch.

This works well enough for those guys who are able to get past the psychological difficulty of carrying a gun that’s pointed at their winkies. Guys’ pants tend to be a lot more baggy in that area than women’s pants are, and any strangers who might notice a bulge in a guy’s pants are generally too polite — or too icked out — to comment on it.

Because women’s pants tend to be snug in the spot the gun will ride, this type of carry doesn’t work really well with pants for most women. 5   But here’s a secret: these holsters work pretty well with skirts. And the nice thing is that because the entire holster and gun are below the waistband, you really won’t need a special cover garment to carry this off.

The main item to consider is accessibility and draw speed. If you wear one of these underneath a tight waistband, it may be difficult or impossible to draw the gun if you need it in a hurry. Check it at home with an empty gun before venturing out in public.

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  1. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound, and it doesn’t have to be malicious. For example, if you leave your daytimer in the conference room and a co-worker wonders whose it is, she is very likely to poke through it so she knows which person wants it back.
  2. Like many other concealed-carry products, there are trade offs to consider for this one. It’s a good idea to fasten that clever little padlock if you set your purse down while you’re inside your sister’s home playing with her children. But it could be a safety issue of a different sort if you forget to unlock it when you leave, and then need the gun in a hurry to save your life.
  3. Think of it like buying a pair of shoes. Wearing shoes is generally more uncomfortable than going barefoot. But wearing poor-quality shoes that don’t fit you is far more uncomfortable than wearing good-quality shoes that do fit properly.
  4. Note, I’m not talking here about the soldiers’ method of carrying openly in a drop holster secured around the thigh. I’m talking about those silly little garter things designed for concealment under a short skirt.
  5. Exception: the manufacturers intend Smartcarry/Thunderwear holsters to be worn below the waistband. If instead worn on the waistband, these types of holsters can work pretty well for many female figure types.