Concealed Carry Guide: Dress to Conceal

Five ways the right clothing can help you carry confidently, comfortably, and covertly.

Dress to Conceal
Nylon polo shirts like this one can be comfortable, but tend to drape around the outline of a concealed gun. Here, I’m carrying a Sig Sauer P229 in a Blackpoint outside the waistband holster.Tom McHale

I’ve always wanted to do some type of outrageous experiment to prove how unobservant the general public really is. Think about it: Ever since the advent of smartphones, hardly anyone notices anything anymore except Facebook notifications, Instagram pictures, and incoming texts. Now that Pokémon Go is all the rage, I’m betting I could walk through downtown Sheboygan, Wisconsin carrying a medieval trebuchet concealed with nothing but a feather boa and no one would notice. But seriously, if you’re carrying a concealed gun somewhere around your middle parts area, it would be a very rare thing indeed for someone to notice your carry gun, provided it was at least minimally covered.

However, as a law-abiding concealed carrier, it’s your responsibility to keep your gun concealed, meaning hidden from view. Different states have different laws regarding the consequences of having a concealed gun show, so it’s in your best interest to make a concerted effort to keep your handgun hidden while you go about your daily activities.

Here are few wardrobe tips that can help you attain maximum concealment:

1. Think patterns, not solids

You might think that getting all worked up about printed patterns and colors on fabrics is something that only TV's Project Runway guest judges care about. I've got news for you. As a concealed carrier, you need to start thinking about colors and patterns on your carry clothing too, even if you'll never grace the pages of Esquire Magazine as a result of your wardrobe choices.

Dress to Conceal
In this picture, I’m carrying the same Sig Sauer P229 in the same Blackpoint OWB holster. However, this Blackhawk! 1700 shirt has two things going for it. The pattern helps conceal the bulge of the gun, and the structure of the fabric prevents it from wrapping around the gun’s profile.Tom McHale

Why? Patterns fool the human eye. Even a deeply concealed handgun carried in an-inside-the-waistband holster creates bulk, and possibly an outline that can print against your clothing. If you wear a light, solid color shirt to cover your handgun, the outline is more likely to show because there’s not enough “busyness” to distract the eye. If you choose the exact same shirt but with a plaid pattern, the protrusions of your gun will get lost in the pattern of the fabric.

Think about it. When you see the pattern of a handgun under fabric, you’re really seeing lines. If you create lines in the fabric, the printed lines won’t be nearly so visible.

2. Wear clothes that allow speedy access.

Let’s switch gears for a minute from pure concealment to clothing decisions that can impact your ability to access your gun under stress. The last thing you need is to attempt to draw your gun in a life or death moment, only to get caught up in your clothing.

Dress to Conceal
If you choose to carry using a bellyband or undershirt holster, be sure to use a shirt like this Blackhawk that has snaps instead of buttons. This feature allows you to access your gun reliably, even using just one hand.Tom McHale

Here’s just one example. Lots of folks who need to use deep concealment methods use bellyband holsters or compression undershirts with holster pockets sewn in under the arm. If you work in an environment that frowns upon concealed carry, these might be good options for you because concealment is excellent. If you ever have to draw the gun, though, do you think you can just rip through the buttons on your shirt to access your gun? That’s how it works in the movies, but in real life, things like buttons don’t just fly off – you’re far more likely to find sewn-on buttons very stubborn. You need to plan for fast access in advance.

That’s why companies like Blackhawk make shirts specifically designed for this use. Fake buttons, complete with fake buttonholes sewn into the shirt, are actually snaps. This design feature allows you to insert your hand between the “buttons,” opening the snaps and allowing you to access your gun in a belly band or undershirt holster using just one hand, if necessary.

3. Choose clothes with some heft

While adding a little weight may not be all that desirable for most of our bodies, it’s a great strategy for concealed carry clothing. Light fabrics tend to drape around not just body curves, but hardware too. A light polyester polo shirt can do a marvelous job of profiling your Glock grip in exceptional detail. A garment made of heavier fabric, like cotton or linen, doesn’t bend as easily and won’t show the contour of objects underneath.

Dress to Conceal
It looks like a normal button and buttonhole, but it’s not.Tom McHale

On a similar note, ironed or starchy fabrics can work to your benefit too. Even if your more casual friends think you dress like an uptight banker, you’ll be confident in your concealment expertise. As with heavier fabrics, fabrics made rigid by ironing or starch don’t form around the shape of a concealed gun.

4. Wear a different hobby

Tactical clothing is really handy for concealed carry. You know what I’m talking about—those pants with all the extra pockets, sewn in kneepads, and interior channels for communications gear. Clothing like that is really handy when you want to carry stuff like a gun, flashlight, knife, and extra magazines, but it’s also really obvious. If you want to be the first person noticed as a likely concealed carrier, dress tactically.

On the other hand, you can benefit greatly by stealing from some other interest group’s standard look. For example, these days, fishing-specific clothing is quite common. In warmer climes, think about how many people you see wearing those billowy long- and short-sleeve fishing shirts. Who, except maybe a hungry speckled trout, would be the least bit nervous about someone wearing a fishing shirt? No one, that’s who.

Dress to Conceal
Many people wear fishing shirts, such as the Columbia in the foreground, and they work well for concealed carry.Tom McHale

Fishing shirts for men or women make excellent concealed carry garments. They’re comfortable, loose fitting, and it’s perfectly normal to wear them untucked. They’re usually plenty long enough to easily conceal either an outside-the-waistband or inside-the-waistband holster. I use them all the time, and no one has any reason to suspect that I’m packing.

5. Keep your waistline snug

The easiest way to spot a concealed carrier is to look for people that are constantly fidgeting with their clothing. In reality, they are really checking to ensure that their gun is still hidden and positioned where it’s supposed to be. That’s because their belt, pants, or skirt are not snug enough to keep their concealed gun secure.

If you carry on your belt, either inside or outside the waistband, invest in a proper gun belt that’s designed to stay tight and rigid. A good gun belt is wide for a reason—it’s designed not to flex.

Any flex will allow the heavy gun and holster combination to flop around your waist. Don’t rely on a department store belt for carry; hose just won’t hold up to the weight of a gun over time. Instead, use a purpose-built belt that will maintain its rigidity, like the Galco SB-2 and SB-3 models or the Looper/Blade Tech Concealment belt. The latter has a layer of Kydex sewn in between two straps of leather, so it won’t fold at all. For concealment, you can choose loose and flexible clothing.

When you make a decision to carry a gun concealed, you’ll likely need to make wardrobe changes. For example, if you habitually wear skinny jeans and form-fitting shirts, you’ll need to do some shopping. However, using a few techniques to trick the eye, you can still be fashionable, and more importantly safe.