Casting a Critical Eye on Weapons Technology and Training
with Tom Marx
Holsters for the female cop: A few important side notes
In the last two installments we looked first at strong side carry options as a way of “building on what you know” and then we started our review of cross-body holsters by looking at waist-mounted “Crossdraws” that in some cases required a belt and in others utilized either a paddle or a clip to fasten them to the waistband.
Before we move off the waist to other locations in our cross-body holster study, I would like to touch on a few additional topics that relate directly to all of the holsters we have talked about so far.
In the past, I have made several remarks about the differences in the clothes that women must wear to conceal body-borne holsters. First, there is cut — they are often more tailored, or at least more form fitting, shaping, or defining than the same garments worn by most men. Now, I’m not talking about sweatshirts or bulky sweaters but things like suit coats and sport jackets, and in some cases, overcoats or outerwear in general. Some of these things might not allow (even with custom tailoring) the use of some of the belt holsters we have discussed or the shoulder rigs that we will look at next. That is why I am constantly asking you to take an all-encompassing view of this subject.
Materials also play a role — weight, the way they drape, and their opacity all figure in. If a jacket or vest, a shirt or a blouse, or even a pant leg “prints” or transfers the image of the holstered firearm to those nearby — we’ll look at body bands and ankle rigs in the next group — either the clothes or the holster, or maybe even the gun itself needs to be readdressed.
Another issue with materials is how they wear. All of you already know that the various surfaces, projections and gripping textures on a handgun can wreak havoc with the linings of everything we wear to cover over and conceal our body-carried firearms from view. Again, with women’s clothes, this problem can often be worse than it is with men’s. Lighter weight (or simply more delicate) linings can wear through more quickly. Not only is this annoying and something of an inconvenience, but just as for men, these worn (thru) and often frayed surfaces can be problematic in that they just sit there waiting to snag the firearm that’s being drawn and endanger the officer at the time they need the gun the most.
The additional problem is that a patched — and not just a replaced — lining or a preemptive switchout to a heavier-weight one to prolong the garment’s lifespan is often not possible due to the overall lighter-weight of complete garment. Suddenly, the patch or the mismatched density of an aftermarket lining can affect the way the covering piece of clothing fits, drapes, or moves. And in so doing, it can be the reason that someone notices you and notices that something about you is “different,” even before they notice that you are carrying a gun. Once again, you’ve got to think ahead and think these things out.
Delicate fabric, non-covering garments can be a problem too for while conventional shirting materials worn under the holstered firearm in the form of a regular blouse shouldn’t wear any worse than they do in men’ shirts — as long as the weights are similar — silk and certain satin or silk-like synthetics (as well as some knit jerseys) because of their lighter nature and physical makeup, can pill up and/or wear thru much more quickly.
In addition, color can be problematic. The dark colors perhaps (not always) more common to menswear can sometimes do a better job of “hiding” or at least breaking up the lines and ridges that can sometimes occur when covering up a firearm. And more than just “printing” (or transferring the outline and high spots of a concealed weapon) thru the garment, lighter colors (and lighter weights) can, in some cases, actually allow the carried weapon to be seen thru some of the things that must be worn every day. Therefore, you must look — no pun intended — at issues like this as well.
Holster colors and surface finishes also need to be considered. For my uses, darker holsters (generally black holsters) make more sense when contrasted against the clothes that I wear: usually made from darker materials both inside and out. And it must be recognized that the interiors of a covering garment can be just as important as the exteriors we’ve already discussed, for if the holster and or firearm (usually the holster because of its larger exposed surface area) contrast too greatly against the lining of an open-fronted jacket or coat, it could draw attention to things that otherwise might go unnoticed. The problem is that many women’s clothes are lighter in color and even those with darker (perhaps more traditional business-like) exteriors often have lighter or contrasting interiors. If that is primarily the case with your clothes then perhaps lighter brown holsters or even tan-toned ones might make more sense for you if their designs otherwise fit into your wardrobe and lifestyle.
Another clothing-related issue that women face to an even greater degree than men is that the belts they would normally employ for dress wear, simply will not work when carrying a gun. While the same is often true for men, it is almost always true for women. Most of their dress belts are both too small (top to bottom) to properly engage the slots on most concealment holsters. Or they are too insubstantial to properly support the weight of the gun, let alone any related items, without stretching and/or rolling over, or just tearing apart under attack because of the materials involved in their construction.
The problem is that even if you buy a quality belt from a high-end department store or a specialty firm like Coach to solve the strength problem, the lightweight issue and the sizing mismatch can still be a dilemma. And trying to move to a conventional men’s gun belt in a shorter length might not solve things either for many of those belts are too tall for the loops on women’s pants (if those loops exist at all — many pants and skirts are simply not designed to accommodate a belt: a separate issue and another reason why I address paddle holsters in several parts of this series). So I would tell you to look specifically for a belt designed for this purpose and with women in mind. Many of the larger and/or more astute holster manufacturers not only make belts but more and more today, they are beginning to realize the importance of making them for women.
Sometime back, as a result of an earlier installment in this series, I was asked online to offer my recommendations regarding the availability of uniform duty belts for women. This is an important subject in its own right but it also serves as a good introduction to what needs to be looked at regarding concealment belts.
Here is part of what I emailed to the female sergeant from Pennsylvania who originally asked the question and with whom I was discussing the availability and design of precurved “Sally” Browne type belts:
“… I think that the reason that you have had trouble finding this type of thing is that while they obviously have the potential to be more comfortable (their ‘radial cut’ or cut-on-a-radius configuration basically allows the belt to ‘start out’ in the shape that many ultimately assume or ‘wear into’ through use), I don’t think that they work to degree that everyone thinks (or at least originally thought that) they do.
Yes, they ‘lay against’ rather than ‘sit upon’ the hip structure but as a result, I don’t think they support or position the holstered firearm and or other carried gear as they should. Years ago, when holsters were often nothing more than a receptacle (sometimes acting like a bucket) serving to merely catch and hold the firearm until it was simply withdrawn when needed, such belts were probably fine. But today, when holsters are not just ‘carrying’ but ‘retaining’ devices and need to be solidly anchored and properly positioned to both resist attack and facilitate the draw, I don’t think that such precurved belts can always do the job effectively.
When I worked at Uncle Mike’s, the refinement of their Ultra Duty Belt … was a real focus for me for not only had I seen the difficulties the women I worked with had with the belts they had used back home but I have a ‘dead’ spot in my own leg, that was caused by the duty belt I had worn at work for it had rested upon, and basically ‘cut off’, part of the nerve packet that runs up and over the hip structure in the vicinity of the carried firearm.
And … (such comfort and performance are) not … uncommon issue(s) for when I was at Uncle Mike’s, we ultimately outfitted the entire California Highway Patrol with these belts for they were … (experiencing various matters) … in their agency. They actually turned to the Medical School at UC Davis and a broad-based study led them to us. Then, in their own field tests, they liked the performance of the belt for they found that it was not only comfortable (due to its soft edge construction) but it supported the gear regardless of the officer’s activity and it positioned everything (the gun and the support gear) properly along the hip structure regardless of how the officer was built and regardless of whether or not they were a man or a woman (I believe because of its ability to flex along its longitudinal centerline while remaining vertical and rigid from top to bottom).
As I said, I am obviously biased toward the concept (rigid top-to-bottom; flexible along its center; soft edged for its full length) because its design meets the need of both the officer’s body type and their carried equipment and its performance is not negatively affected by the officer’s activities.
As a sidenote in regard to activities, not only do I believe that the ‘Sally’ Browne belts aggravate the angling of the carried gun and gear (often making it harder to draw and produce such things) but in severe cases, when the gear is way ‘off vertical’, I think that it can actually cause the gear to all but flop up and down during a pursuit for it is almost approaching a parallel-to-the-ground positioning in the first place.
I know that you will find a well constructed Sally Browne belt comfortable but I think that you will be better served by something like the Uncle Mike’s or BLACKHAWK! designs for I believe they will better orient and support your gear.”
Please note that there are some excellent manufacturers of the Sally Browne Duty Belt concept out there in the marketplace. Safariland, and G&G both readily come to mind and Safariland also offers a complementary line of similarly, well made curved pants belts that are usable for a variety of applications. My argument is not with their construction or quality (for both companies do a great job and none of their work can be faulted). It is with concept. If you are having both support and comfort issues with your current belt designs for either uniform or concealment applications, I would suggest that you look at both approaches and make up your own mind in regard to which concept works for you.
Next time we’ll get back to our exploration of cross-body designs, moving off the waist and looking to shoulder holsters.