Onstage, the music was pulsing, but backstage, the clothes where flying on and off.
Women were trading lip-gloss. There was a nervous excitement. An audience was outside and all the models backstage had to look just right before they walked onto the catwalk where the cameras were flashing.
Sounds like a typical fashion show, right? It was, but what the models were parading weren’t the latest dresses and blouses, but the carry options available for women.
As I helped models get ready, I overheard bits of conversation you wouldn’t hear at typical fashion show:
“Is this gun belt tight enough?”
“Where’s the Glock…no, I mean the revolver?”
“Quick, get that bellyband snug on her waist…under that shirt…no, that shirt.”
The Need for Concealed-Carry Accessories
All this was going on as I played the role of a dresser at a women’s firearms fashion show in southwest Missouri. It was a fundraiser for The Well Armed Woman‘s local chapter.
The growth of women’s interest in guns for personal defense has created a need for accessories. Holsters, purses made for concealed carry, compression shirts, corsets complete with holsters, and other female-specific gear has flooded the marketplace. It has also caused some confusion within our womanly ranks. After all, typical gun magazines are not telling us about corset or bra holsters. We’ve had to find or create our own venues to learn about this gear.
The trend is clear. According to “Women Gun Owners: Purchasing, Perceptions and Participation,” a National Shooting Sports Foundation report published earlier this year, women are the fastest-growing segment of the shooting sports. More than half of the women surveyed—between the ages of 18 and 65—said they plan to buy a new gun in the next year.
The report also listed several facts about women gun owners:
• 73 percent train to shoot
• 42 percent have a concealed-carry permit
• The majority of women won’t buy a gun on impulse, but will consider a purchase for months before actually pulling the trigger on a gun buy
• 56 percent have purchased a semiautomatic handgun
• Safety is their most important reason for a gun purchase
With all these factors in mind, an ideal way to teach women about methods of carry and the apparel/gear for concealed carry is a firearms fashion show.
A Business Opportunity Lucretia Free is one of the few women in the country who puts on firearms fashion shows. Free publishes The American Woman Shooter, a bimonthly magazine that celebrates diverse views and life experiences of women who love shooting. Shortly after learning about the shooting sports and starting the publication, she hatched the idea of putting on firearms fashion shows, which she calls “Gunpowder and Diva Power.”
“First, I wanted to do what I could to support the small businesses in the industry,” Free says. “There are so many women who are making purses, T-shirts with slogans, corsets, and other clothing specifically made for women shooters. In general, larger businesses in the industry have been slow to make products that are comfortable for women; as a result, this has left a wonderful opportunity for small, home-based businesses to carve out a niche for themselves.”
Next, she wanted to reach out to women who might not go to a range to learn about guns—what she calls the “in-betweeners.”
“Many of the women who attend the shows are thinking fashion first and guns second. This is an easy way for them to meet other women who shoot, and also have a fun day out,” said Free.
Finally, she wanted “to educate women in a non-threatening environment about all of the possibilities that exist.”
She started with a fashion show in her hometown of Tucson, hiring professional models of many shapes and sizes to wear clothing for the gun range and for hunting, everyday wear, and lingerie.
“The models walked out as country and pop music played that most in attendance recognized. The models moved throughout the crowd to the music so the detail of their jewelry and holsters could be easily seen. A program outlined the details of each option, so if customers wanted to order the products, they could,” said Free.
Before, during, and after the show, Free spoke to the attendees and explained not only how to wear the items, but also why women would choose these types of carry methods or concealment.
“I want women to remember who they are,” said Free. “Many of us have had experiences where we’ve given our power away to an abusive boyfriend or husband, co-worker, friend, or family member. These shows are all about supporting women. The women that come to the shows come from different economic backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, and educational backgrounds, but we are all united around wanting to learn about shooting.”
According to Free’s exit survey, women like the show concept because it introduces them to new ideas in a “very relaxed, non-preachy way.”
Free wants to host a fashion show at the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas next January. That’s when she will announce the 2016 schedule, which will include large and small venues across the nation.
Carrying a Gun Isn’t Sexy
People often incorrectly assume that the term “fashion show” connotes something that’s sexy, says Carrie Lightfoot, the founder of The Well Armed Woman and an NRA-certified instructor. “Carrying a firearm isn’t supposed to be sexy. If you want sexy, go to Victoria’s Secret or Frederick’s of Hollywood where there are plenty of objects and clothing items you can carry to be sexy,” said Lightfoot, who balks at the propensity to over-sexualize images of women and guns in magazine ads.
“Women love to see and touch and try first. There are so many variables. You can’t just say, ‘Suzie wears that holster, so I’m going to get it,’” said Lightfoot.
She believes women who want to know how to carry will research several options before deciding on what works for their lifestyles. She has participated in two fashion shows featuring firearms so far. “The fashion shows have done well, especially if they’re about education. The premise is education, safety, and training. If women are wearing holsters and guns in so many different locations, they have to train. You can be the best shot, and you can have the best, coolest gun, but if you can’t draw it and get it on target, it’s useless,” said Lightfoot.
Lightfoot explained that both shows had vendor/product fairs that ran in conjunction with the actual event. “It let’s people check things out before the show, and then go back once they’ve narrowed it down or had questions answered.”
Lightfoot believes a firearm fashion show must be a package deal, with vendors on hand so that women can try before they buy. There should also be instructors available for conversations, and explanations of the laws of the state in which the show is being held should be worked into the runway script. She also invites the press. She wants maximum coverage and outreach to those who didn’t come to the show.
She compared firearms fashion shows to weddings, places where women might be in the bathroom doing their makeup, and wherever there is a lot of feminine pulchritude. “Let’s just say,” said Lightfoot, “that it’s an estrogen high.”