I’m the guy who said long ago, “Friends don’t let friends carry mouse-guns,” and got tagged with that as a “signature phrase” as surely as my old friend and colleague Clint Smith got tagged with his famous statement, “You use your handgun to fight your way back to the rifle you never should have left behind.”

That said, sometimes a small gun is all you can carry.

Those of us who advise carrying a full-size combat handgun all the time tend to be fortunate enough to have jobs, working contracts, and dress codes that allow us to “dress around the gun.” Yes, I generally do have a full-size pistol under my un-tucked shirt (one size larger than I’d wear without the gun), or under my “Yuppie vest,” or under a sport coat. The latter is about as formal as my dress code gets, when I’m on my own time.

However, there are times when that’s not true. On Court Days, I might wear a full-size pistol under a blazer with tie, or one of my suits that was tailored to cover a full-size 1911 pistol. But if I’m wearing a fitted suit that wasn’t cut with big pistols in mind, don’t be surprised if the gun I put in the lock-box before I head for the courtroom is a compact pistol like my Nighthawk T3 or Colt CCO .45s with shortened butts, or a “baby” Glock. I’ll even confess to the occasional day where that gun was a snub-nosed .38, such as the Colt Detective Special or a J-frame Smith & Wesson.

I take comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one to practice this. Long before, circa 1960, Col. Jeff Cooper wrote that his repertoire of carry pistols included a full-size, all-steel Colt Government Model .45 auto for duty carry, a lightweight Colt Commander with barrel and slide three-quarters of an inch shorter and an aluminum that took three-quarters of a pound off the weight, but kept a full-length grip frame and full magazine capacity when concealment was important in casual clothing, and a 2-inch barrel J-frame Smith & Wesson .38 for wear with a business suit.

Why the change in guns? Let’s examine the rationale.

Dress Around the Gun

Veteran Detroit homicide investigator and gunfight survivor Evan Marshall may have been the first to use the phrase “dress around the gun” to describe picking a gun you would want to have in your hand if you were actually involved in a shootout, and then making the commitment to buy clothing that allowed you to comfortably and discreetly conceal that handgun and its spare ammunition in a wardrobe that worked for you “24/7.” That means a size 42 suit coat if you normally wear a size 40 if you are going to carry a full-size gun on your hip in an outside-the-waistband holster (or a shoulder rig). It means pants that are size 38 in the waist dimension instead of your usual size 36 if you’re going to carry inside the waistband. It may mean wearing an outer garment to cover the gun when you just want to wear pants and a tucked-in shirt.

Some people don’t want to make that sacrifice. I live in a world where cops have died because they didn’t want to wear concealed body armor under their tailored uniform shirt, fearing it would make them look fat or break up that buffed “V” body shape they had worked so hard to achieve in the gym. Some people don’t want to spend the money to buy a new wardrobe of clothes when they start carrying a concealed handgun.

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