*This is the final article in a five-part series about dressing for concealed carry. Click below to get the FREE full-color, printable PDF!
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You can find the fourth in the series, “Concealed Carry Gloves,” here.
Holiday Heat: Concealed Carry and Clothing for the Holiday Season
Written by Scott W. Wagner
I feel fortunate to live in a part of the United States that experiences all four seasons of weather. No, really, I do. In fact, if I could, I would live well north of Ohio for the cooler year-round weather if my wife wouldn’t be on the phone with a divorce attorney before I could get the family moving plan operational. I enjoy the cool weather of autumn and the wintry weather that begins in November. Christmas wouldn’t be the same for me in someplace warm like Florida.
But it isn’t just the winter weather that I enjoy and find to be advantageous. Winter brings an array of additional options for my off-duty concealed firearms carry. Cold-weather gear, sweaters (including traditionally gaudy “Christmas sweaters”), jackets and layering garments all give additional cover not only to “spare tires” and the like but also to firearms. However, not all cold-weather garments are created equal when it comes to concealed carry, and in 35 years of carrying concealed, I have an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Ideally, I would like to carry my Beretta 92 duty pistol off-duty all year round. During the winter, I can carry that gun, along with a spare magazine or two on my belt, and it will be covered by my outer garments. However, my manner of warm-weather dress precludes carrying that gun in something other than a sling or fanny pack. And in most of my daily situations, staying very low-profile is a must. I can, however, stay low-profile during the winter while carrying a full-sized pistol, depending on the cold-weather gear I select.
A sweater is great for concealing a large or small handgun in an outside-the-waistband (OWB) style of holster. Belt holsters designed for concealed carry, such as those available from El Paso Saddlery or Gould & Goodrich, work very well here. They stay close in to the body and are hidden, as long as the sweater does not fit too tightly. An easy off-and-on paddle holster is another option. Of course, any inside-the-waistband (IWB) style will work as well. Models that have the “tuckable” feature — where a shirt can be tucked over the gun and only the belt clips are visible — can be worn with the shirt tucked in behind the gun, rather than over it, making access to the gun even quicker. If you use an IWB holster, the sweater can be shorter since it only needs to cover your handgun’s grip and not the entire gun. However, I prefer the comfort of the OWB when I am wearing a sweater … even a gaudy Christmas one.
The right shoulder holster can also be worn under a sweater. Here there is potential for wearing the 1942 Tanker Shoulder Holster from El Paso Saddlery totally concealed — as long as the sweater is a pullover type and is not too tightly fitted. The Tanker rig is very comfortable and holds the gun in front on your chest rather than under the arm. Other shoulder rigs — other than the upside-down type — will work as well, as long as you have enough looseness in the sweater so that you can quickly pull the sweater up enough to get access to your handgun.
One important point before you actually go out in public with a sweater concealing your handgun is to check yourself out carefully in the mirror while twisting, turning and bending to make sure you are not printing your gun or forming an outline against the sweater or other clothing. If there are a few movements that cause printing, just make note and try to avoid those movements in public — or at least while people might be looking.
A hooded sweatshirt, such as the great BLACKHAWK! CCW Tech Hoodie, when worn in more casual situations or in the early fall, offers an additional advantage not available in a traditional sweater. Access to your handgun is available through a special slot within the front hand-warmer pocket. If you carry a short-barreled handgun in the appendix or front position in an IWB holster, you can keep your hand on your gun, ready to draw, while merely appearing to keep warm. Here, a snub-nosed revolver with a concealed hammer would be ideal for a situation requiring an emergency draw. This type of snubby prevents any sort of potential malfunction involving entanglement of the clothing with the firearm’s operating mechanism. I wish this hoodie would have been available when I worked undercover narcotics 34 years ago. It would have come in handy.
A zippered front pocket on a standard hoodie can also work very well for carrying a lightweight handgun such as the Ruger LCP. As with all pocket carry, use an inside-the-pocket holster, such as one of those from Remora.
Lightweight jackets can also conceal larger handguns. One thing to remember, however: Most people expect you to take off an outer jacket after you have been inside for any period of time. Depending on the weight of the jacket, you will be getting hot pretty soon. So while you can wear your concealed firearm on the outside of a potentially covering clothing item under your jacket, you have to take care if you wish to take your jacket off. This calls for strategy.
If I carry a handgun in an OWB or IWB holster directly under a coat or jacket and am entering a restaurant, I prefer a restaurant with booth seating. To take the coat off without alarming anyone, I sit down in the booth first, then take the coat off of my shoulders and let it settle around my waist. I don’t get up again until it is time to leave, and make sure no one other than those in my party are standing near me before getting up. This technique also works when I’m seated in an open-back chair, although more attention is needed to keep the jacket covering the firearm. I have used this technique as a cop here in Ohio for 25 years before civilian concealed carry permits became available, and no one ever noticed I was armed. This was particularly important for me since every agency I have worked for has rules and regulations requiring officers to keep their off-duty guns concealed so as not to alarm the public.
You can also wear a shoulder holster under a jacket, of course, but that pretty well rules out taking the jacket off in public. The right interior jacket pockets also work well. I got many years of winter service out of a military surplus flight jacket. It had heavy-duty interior snap pockets that were great for carrying an aluminum-frame Colt Agent .38 Special revolver off-duty. The snap was ideal, as it held the pocket closed against the weight of the gun, and I carried the gun on the weak-side pocket, reaching across in cross-draw fashion to draw the firearm.
Speaking of cross-draw holsters, while not as popular as they once were, they also work very well under jackets and sweaters. The seating system I described in public is still the same: Sit first, then remove the jacket, thus keeping the firearm covered. Cross-draw holsters are also great while you’re driving a car. Bond Arms has an excellent holster designed specifically for holding one of its fine derringers in an ideal position when seated behind the wheel. It is great for discouraging carjacking attempts.
Wearing a cross-draw holster when driving works well for right-handed folks, as it positions the gun away from the entangling confluence of the lap and shoulder portion of the driver-side seatbelt harness. It doesn’t work as well when you are right-handed and occupy the front passenger seat. Lefties are better off with a left-hand standard draw design if they are driving.
Suits and Sport Jackets
I try to avoid wearing suits and sport jackets like the plague, except perhaps when I’m going to church or particularly special occasions. However, suits and sport jackets do offer a wider variety of concealed carry options than you might normally have. Rarely does one remove a suit or sport jacket when indoors, so leaving it on draws no attention. Underneath this jacket type, you can wear a shoulder holster, such as the excellent upside-down model from Nevada Gunleather. What makes this design so great is that even if the sport jacket is lifted above the belt line (not likely, but possible), the holster remains invisible since there are no straps required to hold it to your trouser belt.
Most OWB belt holsters are out for this level of dress since men’s dress slacks won’t accommodate a thick enough belt to fully stabilize the holster and keep it from flopping over, particularly when carrying a full-sized handgun. For waistband carry, one will likely need to rely on an IWB model or a paddle holster. When you’re wearing a sport jacket — or sweater for that matter — the belt clips of tuckable rigs won’t be visible either. The Remora IWB holsters will also be very comfortable for this manner of dress.
Winter coats are awesome not only for carrying handguns in holsters but also for coat pocket carry, and this is again where a concealed-hammer revolver shines. It is the ONLY type of handgun from which you can rapidly launch its entire supply of ammo with the gun still in your pocket without the gun jamming. You can appear to be keeping your hands warm while, in fact, you have your hand on your gun and pointed in the direction of a potential threat. Smith & Wesson still has the two best styles of this type of handgun in the basic form of the concealed yet accessible hammer-style Model 638 .38 Special Bodyguard and the totally enclosed hammer Model 642 Centennial. I have carried both types extensively and currently carry the 642 exclusively.
A number of years ago, while working daylight patrol at the sheriff’s office, I received a report of a couple of deer hunters who were spotted on private property and reported by a neighbor. It was very cold that day, so I was wearing my winter coat in the car. Not knowing if these individuals were poachers or trespassers or there legitimately, I felt a bit outclassed since they would likely be holding shotguns loaded with rifled slugs when I approached them. I did not, however, have probable cause to walk up on them with my duty pistol drawn. Before I got out of my cruiser, I drew my 638 from its pants pocket holster and transferred it to my right-side coat pocket. I was able to approach the two hunters who, as it turned out, were legitimate hunters who had permission to hunt the property. I talked with them with my hand in my pocket and the 638 pointed in their direction ready to fire if needed, right through the pocket. I did all of this without causing unnecessary alarm to them and without garnering a complaint on myself for an unnecessary display of force.
Weather These Winter Warnings
One or two words of caution about carrying in a winter coat pocket. First, make sure it is deep enough to truly contain the handgun, especially if you slip to the ground on ice or snow. Second, use a pocket holster to protect your gun from pocket lint, avoid negligent discharges and help keep it in place.
Of course, the other standard concealed carry methods that work during warm weather still work in cold weather as well. Ankle carry is still a great option, unless you bundle up so heavily that it becomes difficult to bend over and obtain your gun. That is another thing you might want to test before you go out.
Remember that the holiday season always means an uptick in crime, particularly crimes of robbery and theft. Many times, those crimes occur in shopping center parking lots, so be extra vigilant when you are out, and carry your firearm where it is accessible. While heavy winter clothing can be an advantage for concealing a legally carried firearm, it can also be a disadvantage if you do not give enough thought to quick access.