This shouldn’t come as a total shock to anyone, but you know what? Men’s and women’s bodies are shaped differently. My husband is shaped like a piece of celery. Straight up and down. His best friend has an apple-shaped torso. Plenty of guts, but no hips. Lucky men. A man can hide a gun nearly anywhere on his body and it’ll disappear. Me, I’m shaped like an hourglass. One of my best friends is shaped like a pear, another is more like ‘ well, curvy celery. Thin everywhere, but like every other woman I know, her figure still has a certain flair to it.
As many women have discovered, the curvier you are, the more painful it can be to hold an unyielding chunk of metal firmly against your waistline. Faced with this simple biological fact, a lot of women simply give up on the idea of carrying a concealed handgun on the belt.
Up until recent years, few holster makers were producing designs specifically intended to work with a female figure. But we live in a golden age. Today, if the holster hunt is difficult, it isn’t because there are no good choices. It is because there are so many choices that picking between them can be overwhelming.
There are good reasons to carry on the beltline, though. Security and ease of access are the two biggies. For me, it just didn’t seem a good idea to put a deadly weapon into the purse I kept losing. The draw from a holster is considerably smoother and more predictable than one from a purse, and there’s also the comparative hassle of carrying a big, heavy purse instead of a small, lightweight one. Finally, if you want to attend a class or shoot in competition, you will probably need a belt holster, no matter how you ordinarily carry your firearm.
Let’s define the problem first. The problem is that women have curves, and guns do not. The more pronounced a woman’s curves are, and the longer the gun is, the more difficult it becomes to find a holster that is both comfortable and concealable. Both ends of a straight piece of metal held securely against a curved waist will be driven into delicate flesh.
Approaches to solving this problem are divided into two broad categories: those which move the gun away from the waist, and those which move it away from the hip. Commonly, a workable design will involve one choice from each category.
Getting the gun off the waist
A high-ride design raises the holstered gun so that more of it rides above the belt, and thus
avoids pulling the gun into the waist curve. It is comfortable, stable, and easy to conceal, but with so much of the gun above the waist, drawing can be very difficult for the short-waisted or those with shoulder flexibility issues. A high-ride holster often works well for a woman with a long torso.
Lowering the holster also gets the bulk of the gun off the waist. Comfortable when worn, a dropped holster design makes the gun very easy to draw. But the lower the gun rides, the more difficult it becomes to find a cover garment long enough to cover the muzzle end. A dropped holster design often works well for a high-waisted woman, or for one with a short torso.
High-ride and dropped holsters have one thing in common: how well they work depends somewhat upon where your pants put your beltline. It would be counterproductive to wear a high-ride holster with hip-hugging jeans, for example.
Dropped holsters often include a feature called offset, which pushes the top half of the holstered gun out away from the body so that the grips are no longer driven into the ribcage by leverage from the muzzle end. The benefit of this is that it smoothes out the curve, but it also adds bulk to the waistline and can make you look fat or lumpy when concealed. Designs which combine drop with offset work very well for open carry. If you are looking for a range holster these are two features well worth considering.
Holster makers use the terms “rake” or “cant” to describe the angle at which the gun will be rotated on the belt. Designs which do not have any rake are called “straight drop,” which means the muzzle will be pointed straight at the ground when you are standing. A holster with an extreme rake is one which holds the gun at a sharp angle, usually with the muzzle toward the rear. The chief benefit here is that the muzzle end is up and rotated away from the curviest part of the waist, so the grip end is no longer being driven into the ribs by leverage.
Moving the gun away from the hip
Because a woman’s curves are usually most pronounced at the hip, the other primary set of
carry solutions each involve moving the gun around the belt and away from the hip. There are four main methods of doing this: cross-draw, appendix, behind the hip, and small of back.
Cross-draw and appendix carry both move the holster to the front of the body, to the area between belly button and hip. The difference is that a cross-draw holster is carried on the non-dominant side with the gun’s grip pointed forward, while appendix carry is on the dominant side with the grip toward the rear. Both are best used with short-barreled firearms, and either may be combined with a tuckable holster for better concealment. Of the two, appendix carry is slightly more concealable because your clothing is less likely to catch on the butt of the gun as you move around. Couple appendix carry with a tuckable holster, and you’ve got a fairly concealable combination that is also quite comfortable for many women.
Cross-draw carry is often recommended for people who need to drive a lot, because of all belt carry methods it is least likely to get tangled in your seat belt. Cross-draw is also a good choice for anyone with shoulder mobility issues. But while appendix carry is often acceptable for classes or competitions, cross-draw rarely is.
There’s a lot of territory behind the hip, but when holster makers refer to carrying behind the hip, they usually mean immediately behind the hip, snugged into the back of the iliac
crest. Combined with a moderate to severe rake, the flat spot just behind your hip can be an ideal place to conceal your holster.
Moving the holstered gun even further to the rear, so that any part of it is held over the spinal column, creates two safety issues. The first is that if you ever fall on top of your holstered gun, there is some chance of spinal damage. How significant the risk is will depend upon a lot of factors, but it bears mentioning. The other safety issue is that it is nearly impossible to draw from a small of back holster without sweeping a wide area behind and around you. For this reason, small of back carry is rarely allowed in CCW classes or on crowded ranges.
Nearly all of the above approaches may be combined with at least one other to give a workable design for different body types. For example, a woman with a long torso and an athletic figure might prefer a holster which has a high rise and a moderate rake, and carry it behind the hip. Another woman, petite and with an hourglass figure, might find that she can carry forward of the hip in a dropped holster with a slight muzzle-forward rake.
The important thing to remember is that if one design doesn’t work for you, there is almost certainly another one out there which will, if you are just stubborn enough to keep looking for it. Here’s to success!
C. Rusty Sherrick makes several iterations of the basic high ride holster, and will also create custom designs on request.
Ted Blocker Holsters offers several good holster designs. Ask for a contour-cut belt and a tuckable holster in their Velcro-attached “LFI Rig.” A contour-cut belt conforms to feminine curves, while a tuckable holster with a Velcro tabs attaches “invisibly” to the belt and can be adjusted to a nearly infinite variety of depths and angles. The added flexibility for depth and angle adjustment makes it possible to wear the same holster with several different pant designs, rather than being stuck with just one pair of jeans that place the holster in the sweet spot.
Blade-Tech makes a good Kydex dropped and offset holster designed for range use.
Several makers produce designs intended specifically for cross draw or appendix carry. In the case of appendix carry, however, a dedicated design is probably not necessary unless you desire a muzzle-forward cant. One sneaky way to obtain a muzzle-forward cant for appendix carry is to order a cross-draw holster design.
If you wish to carry forward of the hip, a tuckable holster can improve the concealability question considerably. Blade-Tech, Comp-Tac, and Mitch Rosen all produce holsters designed to allow a shirt tail to be tucked over the gun, leaving only a small loop or other belt attachment to be seen.
These are by no means the only holster makers who produce designs suited for the armed woman, but these products are the ones I have personally handled and know to be of good quality.