Best Way to Conceal Carry for Women: Holsters, Purses, & More

Women in the gun community get a lot of advice.

It’s always well-meaning, but some of it is better than the rest.

With the huge numbers of women who are dipping their toes into the concealed carry world, it seems that even more people want to tell the ladies how to do it.

Purse Carry, Ruger
Purse Carry, Ruger

I’m at just about the ten-year mark of carrying a gun, and I’ve explored many of the methods that are commonly recommended to women.

I’ve discovered that they’re not always great solutions for me, especially for full-time carry, and that by focusing only on “girl solutions,” I was missing out on a lot of what works well for all bodies, male or female.

Read on, so you can learn what I learned before spending your hard-earned cash on carry gear that might not be right for you.  I’ll cover the pros/cons of:

  • Purse Carry
  • Belly & Corset Carry
  • Ankle Carry
  • Thigh Carry
  • Bra Carry

Curves & Wardrobe

Women clearly have a few challenges hiding a gun that most men don’t.

As a group, we tend to have smaller, less consistently-shaped bodies, often with lots of curves.

Girl Power
Girl Power

Fashion and expectation often dictate lighter weight and more form-fitting clothes for women than men…clothing that may come with fewer practical features like belt loops or usable pockets.

For some background, I’m a slim-but-curvy, average height woman and have regularly carried in outfits ranging from “college student weekend casual” to business casual and formal wear.

Here I am with a subcompact gun, 24 rounds, knife, and light…all hopefully concealed well.

I don’t love dresses, but have needed to carry in them.

In almost all areas of my life, I’ve needed to be careful to keep my gun fully concealed for various reasons.

To that end, I’ve carried guns ranging in size from the Kahr P380 to what I carry today, the Sig Sauer P320 subcompact.

Sig Sauer P320 Subcompact
Sig Sauer P320 Subcompact

My current everyday carry (EDC) also includes a spare magazine, flashlight, and knife.

How Do I Do It?

With my gun in a Kydex holster tucked inside my pants and attached to a belt.

Boy Carry with Kydex Holster
Boy Carry with Kydex Holster

I keep my spare mag in a carrier also inside my pants and attached to my belt, and either clip my light and knife to my waistband or pop them in a pocket.

After years of experimentation and thinking about what works and doesn’t, I just keep on going back to this more classic kind of “boy” carry.

Why?  Read on!

Purse Carry

Just about every woman in the gun carrying world has heard this suggestion: “Just stick it in your purse!”

Purses
Purses

Well, that assumes I normally carry a purse in the first place.

I don’t.

Even if I decided to change my habits to make it easier to carry a gun, I’ve noticed that most of my friends who do like purses often struggle to keep it with them all the time.

With purse carry, it’s important to never let the purse out of your control.

That means no hanging it off the back of a chair at a restaurant, no leaving it on your seat when you run to the ladies room, and no dropping it in a corner when hanging out at a friend’s house.

Can You Watch My Purse
Can You Watch My Purse?

It’s also important to keep that purse in a secure and consistent position at all times to prevent it from being snatched and to give me the best possible chance of actually getting the gun out if I need it.

Being nearby or on the opposite shoulder as usual isn’t good enough.

There are fanny packs and similar sorts of bags that attach to the body that can make this easier, but the usual solution is some sort of bag with a cross-body strap.

Fanny Pack Gun
Fanny Pack Gun

Carrying a gun is often talked about in terms of compromises – learning to “dress around” the gun or otherwise put up with some discomfort or inconvenience in return for the ability to have an effective self-defense option available.

With that in mind, I did consider changing my lifestyle to add a purse, until I learned a few additional downsides.

Purse carry ideally requires a specialized bag, one with a specific compartment that holds just the gun, preferably in a holster that protects the trigger guard and keeps the gun in a predictable orientation within the bag.

These sorts of bags don’t come cheap and while you can use a separate pocket in a regular purse, making the necessary modifications to support a holster or adding an insert add to the cost.

Concealed Carry Purse
Concealed Carry Purse

It’s certainly not a matter of “just toss your gun in a bag.”

A purse also wouldn’t necessarily let me carry a larger gun.

Many of the concealed carry bags available are relatively small or have small openings to access the gun compartment.  For an effective draw, the shooter must be able to get a firm firing grip on the gun and pull the gun out of the opening.

That limits the size of gun that can be carried, often to a size that can be comfortably and easily concealed with an on-body solution.

The common response to the concern that a gun carried in a purse may be slow or impossible to draw is that you can just shoot through the purse.

Shooting Through Purses, Lucky Gunner
Shooting Through Purses, Lucky Gunner

I don’t know about you, but given the cost of a good concealed carry purse, that’s not really what I want to rely on…and that’s on the assumption that the strategy even works.

Hint: it doesn’t.

In addition to potential malfunctions, actually hitting the intended target is extremely difficult when shooting a gun from inside a bag.

There are times when no other solution will work, and keeping a purse with me all evening is a definite possibility, but purse carry is hard to justify as other than an alternative carry solution for those of us who don’t regularly carry a purse…and that includes a lot of women.

Belly Bands, Corset Holsters, and Other Soft Holsters

Corset holsters like the Dene Adams or Can Can Concealment products are updates to the venerable belly band, a wide elastic band that sits around the torso and has pockets that can hold a gun and other items.

Corset Holster
Corset Holster

Concealment shorts, leggings, and other clothing items that have special pockets for guns can be lumped in with these as well.

Concealment Shorts
Concealment Shorts

Belly bands and corset holsters can be a very flexible option, because the band can be moved up to sit just below the chest or down to the hips, and rotated to move the position of the gun around the waist.

I love mine for when I have absolutely no other option, such as when I have to wear a dress, but they haven’t proved to be a good everyday solution.

For one, as uncomfortable as a belt and holster combination can be (though that can be alleviated with a contour-cut belt), strapping on what’s essentially a piece of shapewear isn’t really any better.

Another Corset Holster
Another Corset Holster

And even with the grippy silicone applied on some products, corset holsters and belly bands can have the unsettling tendency to shift around, especially when being active.

These styles of holster can also roll up or down at the edges, depending on how fit you are that day.  We’ll not talk at all about the muffin-top that appears after the holidays.

Issues

I’m also wary of three issues inherent in all soft holsters: protection of the trigger guard, ease of holstering, and accessibility of the gun.

Some belly bands and corset holsters have now added a stiffening layer over where the gun sits, to make it harder or impossible to pull the trigger when the gun is holstered.  That helps, but I personally prefer not just a hard layer over my trigger guard, but active retention to make sure that the trigger stays firmly behind that protection.

It’s also not unusual for a gun to shift within or even out of the pocket of a belly band or corset holster as you move around during the day, and straps/magnets don’t always help.

Still with me?

It’s also difficult to place a gun into a soft holster without muzzling part of the wearer’s body.

In some cases, this problem can be solved by tucking the gun into the holster, then putting the holster on, but that’s not always an option whether because of how the holster is designed to be worn or because re-holstering is necessary after an incident.

Can Can Concealment also adds a tab to its pockets so that you can pull the outer edge out to slide the gun in, as long as you’re careful not to muzzle the hand holding the tab. It’s something that I’d rather avoid on an everyday basis.

Can Can Holster Tab
Can Can Holster Tab, Melody Lauer

And here’s the biggest one for me…

While a belly band or corset holster may conceal my gun well (and not all of them do!), may be comfortable (as much as a 6-8” wide rubber band around my waist can be), and may have addressed my safety concerns, many of them fail to present the gun in a way that makes it easy and fast for me to get a full firing grip on my gun when I need to draw it.

Drawing Difficulty
Drawing Difficulty

Carrying a concealed firearm isn’t just about being able to hide it, it’s also about being able to get to it.

One other item that’s not always brought up with all of these soft holsters…the elastic in them is not always strong enough to hold the gun tight enough to the body for true concealment.

Bumpiness, Etc.

One of the keys to hiding a gun on the body is making a hard, lumpy object blend with the lines of a soft, lumpy body (let’s admit it, we’re all a little lumpy somewhere).

To do so, holding the hard, lumpy object in close to the body is an important first step to being able to drape a bit of lump-hiding clothing over the gun.  If the holster system does not work effectively, then you’ve actually created more bumpiness than necessary, and that’s what can make concealment so hard.

Lethal Lace ($40) lets you conceal more than just guns but still runs into the problems I listed prior.

Band Type Holster
Lethal Lace Band Type Holster

Belly bands, corset holsters, and other soft holsters that place the gun in approximately the same part of the body, are my go-to solution for special occasions.  I can keep my gun in a similar position to where it normally sits…but there are too many downsides for it to be more than alternative carry for me.

Besides, when I do find the perfect belly band or corset holster, I’ll be wanting to limit how often I use it to make sure it lasts longer!

Ankle Holsters

The allure of the ankle holster is its location off the waist and the idea that it’s easy to hide under a pair of wide-legged pants…as long as they’re the right length, and you never allow them to ride up.

Ankle Holster from Uncle Mike
Ankle Holster from Uncle Mike

It’s not as foolproof of a location as it may seem, especially if you have skinny ankles like mine.

Even with bell bottoms, there’s a limit to how much extra hardware I can have sticking out from my leg unless I starch my pants because as with many items of ladies’ clothing, the fabric of most of my pants tends to drape and cling.

Extremely bulky holsters, padded for comfort, add to the difficulty of concealing on the ankle.

Galco Ankle Holster
Galco Ankle Holster

I have found at least one very low profile ankle holster that minimizes how much besides the gun itself I’d need to hide on my ankle, but it comes with all of the problems I describe above about soft holsters plus the added difficulties in drawing from a non-traditional position.

Femme Fatale Holster
Femme Fatale Holster

From standing, the easiest way to draw from an ankle holster is to take a giant step backwards with the non-gunned-up foot and into a lunge while using the hands to pull up the pant leg over the gun.  By bending slightly over, you can then get a firing grip on the gun and draw it out of the holster.

From a seated position, it’s somewhat easier in that you only need to bend over or lift the leg while getting the pant leg out of the way and accessing the gun.  Obviously, this works best if there’s nothing in your way like a steering wheel.

Either way, it can be a little awkward and nearly impossible when doing something that might be common in a self-defense situation like trying to run away or fight.

Between the fact that my current go-to carry gun is too large to conceal on my ankle and the compromises that go with accessing a gun on the ankle, not to mention the discomfort of having a large weight strapped to one ankle all day, this type of carry just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in my life.

I can see it working with a larger ankle, smaller gun, or different fashion choices, but it’s definitely not the easy solution some people assume.

Thigh or Garter Holsters

Thigh or garter holsters are a common recommendation to women who wear skirts or dresses, the alternatives being some sort of belly band or corset holster, or a form of off-body carry such as a purse.

Thigh Holster, Can Can Concealment
Thigh Holster, Can Can Concealment

The upside is that they don’t require the wearer to bare quite as much skin when drawing in a dress, and they potentially don’t interfere with the line of a form-fitting outfit.

For myself, my modesty is the least of my concerns if I have to get my gun out in response to an attack.  By the time I have to show that much of my thigh, the rest of it seems kind of academic, especially since I don’t exactly have the kind of build that makes it easy to place a gun in a thigh holster in the correct position, with the gun between the legs.

Downsides

The downside is, well, you have to attach a wide elastic band around your upper thigh without letting it slip down.

If you’ve ever worn thigh-high socks or stockings, you have an idea of how challenging that can be, although a garter can help.

Thigh Holster with Garter
Thigh Holster with Garter

Smaller, lighter guns also help to keep the holster and gun in place, as well as with the comfort of having a block of metal in prime chafing location.

The other downside is what I’ve already mentioned about soft holsters in general, with the added fun of potentially pointing my gun directly into my femoral artery while holstering.

I can avoid this danger with a good technique in a properly designed appendix inside-the-waistband holster, which is the most commonly cited holster with a risk of negligent discharge into the femoral, but it’s more difficult to do so with a soft holster attached essentially right next to and along the artery.

Appendix Inside the Waistband Holster (AIWB)
Appendix Inside the Waistband Holster (AIWB), Ballistic Radio

It doesn’t really matter for me in any case, since I don’t often wear skirts or dresses.

Dressing around the gun is a common theme in concealed carry, but changing one’s entire wardrobe is both expensive and can be an undeniable “tell” to people wondering why you’re suddenly dressing so differently.

Carrying in a more conventional way can require clothing changes, but a size up or a different cut is not as drastic as going from wearing pants all the time to wearing skirts all the time.

Looking around me on a regular basis, I suspect most women are in my boat here.

Bra Carry

Using the bra to attach a holster to the body between or below the breasts is a method uniquely available to women, and therefore gets a lot of recommendations.

After all, we’re already wearing an elastic band around our ribcages, so why not use that band for more than one purpose?

Bra Carry
Bra Carry

It’s not a bad idea in principle, so long as you stick with the original Flashbang holster from Looper Leather. Imitators generally don’t use the Kydex clamshell design that is necessary for secure retention of the gun and protection of the trigger guard, with potentially deadly consequences.

Flashbang Holster
Flashbang Holster

Even with the original design, the carrier must pay extra attention to the re-holstering process and making sure that the non-dominant arm is completely up and out of the way during the draw.

A really rock-solid, well-fitting, sturdy bra is important too.

Personally, I find the kind of bra necessary for effective and comfortable Flashbang carry more uncomfortable than a good carry belt…your mileage may vary. However, while I can’t always wear a belt, I’m pretty much always going to be able to wear a quality bra.

I was surprised at how much gun I could conceal with a Flashbang and keep one around for my ultra-deep concealment needs.

However, it has to remain an alternative carry method in my life because even though it conceals more than I thought it would be able to, I’m still stuck with a smaller gun than I prefer.

I’m also concerned that it can be difficult to access in an entangled fight, as well as when needing to pull up longer cover garments.

And – personal moment – I both tend to be a little sweaty under my breasts and am short-waisted enough that the grip of a gun in a Flashbang digs into my little stomach pooch when I sit.  I suspect I’m not the only one who can’t cure those issues, even with the moleskin trick and the “high carry” position.

What Works for Me

There are pros and cons to every carry method.

In the end, I’ve decided for myself that the pros of the many alternative carry methods often recommended to women have more cons than simply making some minor tweaks to what already works well for men.

Boy Carry with Kydex Holster
Boy Carry with Kydex Holster

I wear a hard-sided Kydex appendix inside-the-waistband (AIWB) holster on a slim version of the Volund Gearworks Atlas Cobra belt, with an IWB single magazine carrier also carried in an appendix position.  

My holster and magazine carrier are custom gear made for me by my long-time holster maker and sponsor, PHLster, and are similar to the Skeleton and IWB magazine carrier currently available from them.

For other options, check out our Holsters for Any Way You Carry article.

Importantly, the holster is specifically made for the AIWB position rather than trying to be universal for different positions around my waist.  When I want to carry behind the hip, I have a different holster.

To suit my build, my gun sits vertically in my holster but across the midline so that the grip doesn’t stick out of my side.  It’s not quite a cross-draw because the gun isn’t angled, though some people might call it that.

My spare magazine sits on my strong side.  

That’s it.  

Not very different from how many men carry.

Other Things to Consider

It’s an evolution from when I carried behind my strong-side hip, also AIWB, and it’s allowed me to move from carrying a micro, single-stack gun to a true subcompact double-stack pistol.

In making this adjustment, I was reminded how even small changes can make drastic changes in how well a gun conceals.

These changes can include:

  • Ride height, which is how much of the gun sits over the waistband of the pants
  • Rise height, which is where the waistband sits in relation to the natural waist or hips
  • Cant, which is the angle of the muzzle from vertical, and
  • Construction of the holster itself

The belt I use also makes a big difference in ensuring that my holster sits correctly against my body.

Instead of relying on clips that can slide off, I mate my holster to my belt with soft loops that can be easily unsnapped with one-way snaps that stay secure until I’m ready to take my holster off.

Soft Belt Loops, Bravo Concealment
Soft Belt Loops, Bravo Concealment

It’s overall a very stable solution that helps pull the gun in for concealment without making it uncomfortable. The stiffness of the belt also helps distribute the weight evenly instead of concentrating it at the point where my gun is.

I don’t generally like or recommend holsters that don’t securely attach to a belt because they lose that advantage of distributing weight.  In addition, most clips or other similar methods, like “sticky” fabrics, often easily move around or become unattached.

In order to “dress around” my gun, I just need to ensure that I wear pants with belt loops and a little room in the waist.

While belt loops that can accommodate a 1.5” belt can be challenging, I’ve been able to find them in everything from dress slacks to jeans with about as much effort as it takes to find pants that are cut a tad larger in the waist.

1.5 Womens Belt
1.5 Womens Belt

Since I already struggle with clothing fit, like many women, it’s not much different from looking for a different cut than I would if I weren’t carrying.

I also need to choose tops or outer layers that are a little longer and not skin-tight.

Body-skimming tops are fine with a good holster and belt system so long as the fabric isn’t too lightweight. I like to think of it like hiding all of the other bumps and lumps on my body – some of them are bits of extra fluffiness, and some of them are bits of …less fluffiness.

As you can see, there are many options and tricks to “man” carry methods that can make them work for women before rushing to the alternative methods that are so often recommended.

And by making them work, a woman opens up the ability to use a wide variety of already existing, high quality gear, including in training contexts that can be restrictive about alternative holsters.

It’s also no small thing to be able to take advantage of well-tested techniques for close-quarters fighting and gun retention that aren’t always available with other carry methods.

Conclusion

Once someone has made the decision to carry a gun, choosing how to carry it can be just as personal of a decision.  

Still thinking of carrying…check out our 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Concealed Carry.

And if you’re really serious about CCW…you might want to take a look at CCW insurance.  It’s a thing and the largest provider is USCCA.  It’s one of those things that you’ll wish you had if something were to actually happen.

Next time you hear or are tempted to give some of the standard popular advice about “girl carry methods,” hopefully you’ll also think about some of the downsides along with some of the ways more conventional carry methods might work for women.

13 Comments

  1. Good, “most excellent,” stuph. I teach a lotta girls/women — a number of ’em sent by the courts ’cause they are in peril (ex-boyfriends, stalkers, ex-husbands, etc) — to shoot (www.ShootBane.Com). How-to-carry is the second biggest subject (after how and what to shoot). I passed this on to a bunch folks; to the guys for the important females in their lives, and to the women/girls, who now know how to shoot, and own the correct-for-them gun, but who are in search-mode about how to carry. Thanks for your input.

    1. Thanks for passing this along, Bane! I think it’s really important that people realize that alternative carry methods are just that – alternative. Lots of downsides, some of which can be mitigated, and the upsides probably aren’t enough to outweigh the upsides of “boy” methods of carry. No reason to dismiss a carry method out of hand just because it hasn’t been marketed in lace yet!

  2. I am curious about your belt. It is not buckled in the front. I have heard of women buckling a belt on the side, but never figured out how they would use the bathroom that way. It looks like you would have to remove your holster and basically take the belt off. Is that correct?

    1. Hi Rebecca! I just slide the belt through coming from around the back, so that the tail end continues going clockwise around my body and there’s a lot of slack in the front across where the pants button/zip up. It can help to take the mag carrier off, but I leave the holster on. When I’m done with my business, I just pull the belt back through to tighten everything back up.

  3. Thanks for the article. I find it difficult to work out carrying concealed while looking like a girl. It’s not easy when you’re built certain ways!

    I’ve recently switched to your cross draw style in order to hide the butt of my firearm better. I carry weight in my stomach and so it pushes the firearm away from my body. Cross draw keeps the printing to a minimum and allows me to wear less layers to hide it.

    I do use a Ted Bocker curved belt with tapered ends so it looks far more feminine and fits far better than my husband’s belts. These belts last 10 years of daily use before you’ll look to use them only at home for their remaining 10 plus year lifespan.

    I appreciate you mentioning the cons of purse carry. I’ve heard repeatedly that that should be my feminine go to. My counter has always been that my firearm is not under my direct control unless the purse is attached to my body at all times. Concealed carry is meant to be on your person which a purse is not.

  4. Thank you for your article Arnette!
    My husband and I will be getting our concealed and carry permit soon.
    Your article clearly helped me explore the different ways to hide my weapon. I never wear belts, so I was leaning for a belt band. I feel a purse is not “carrying”, since it can be pulled, snatched or cut from my grasp. Love the info, stay safe!

  5. Excellent advice. Thank you for exploring all options and for being real about our body issues. I am small built and curvy, and my wardrobe is basically close fitting. I have been struggling with how to carry and actually conceal without having to change my style of dress. I have a small Karr (due to trying to conceal it) but have decided that in order to obtain small I am giving up accuracy. Bottom line – heaven forbid I ever have to shot someone, but if I do, I certainly want to be able to hit them, I like my husband’s larger handgun better and now I feel like I can actually go with that option.

  6. This was hands down the best article I have read about concealed carry for women. You really helped make up my mind for how I will carry.
    Thanks so much!!

  7. OMG!!! Absolutely the best all around articles I have ever read. Between you and Annette I am becoming smarter and more confident each and every day.

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