ATLANTA — Does this gun make me look fat?
For decades, women have had few choices when it comes to the clothing they can wear to hide that they’re carrying a firearm. They could wear baggy T-shirts or coats, or put it in a purse and hope it didn’t get swiped or that they didn’t have trouble getting it out in an emergency.
Enter holsters, corsets, camisoles and other clothing designed to be flattering, feminine — and functional — for the pistol-packin’ mama crowd.
“I don’t want to dress in tactical gear and camo all the time. I love tactical clothing for the range. It’s comfortable. I don’t want to ruin my everyday clothing,” said Marilyn Smolenski, who in 2012 created Nickel and Lace, a company that caters to women who want to carry a firearm concealed but don’t want to trade in their femininity. “But I don’t want to wear it to the grocery store.”
Smolenski started her company right around the time when Chicago city laws changed and she could again legally carry a firearm. When that happened, she struggled to find something that didn’t make her look frumpy and didn’t broadcast that she was packing heat. Most of the clothing was geared to men — coats with hidden pockets, or holsters that tuck neatly inside a waistband. But until the last few years, those weren’t always great options for women who don’t wear belts as frequently and are more likely than men to wear form-fitting clothing, making it difficult to hide the fact they’re carrying a firearm.
For Smolenski, that goal has led to the creation of the annual Firearms and Fashion Show which includes seminars on personal safety. Her company actually got its start with a line of jewellery — from necklaces that can be pulled away easily and then used as a weapon to “chopsticks” that can both be used to hold up hair and then be wielded against an attacker.
For Anna Taylor, the founder and CEO of Dene Adams LLC — named after her grandfather, who first taught her to respect firearms and handle them safely — the road to creating a line of concealed carry clothing began at around the time she became a single mom and the safety of the family rested on her shoulders. When she got her first concealed carry permit in 2013, she went through seven different holsters.
Her first design involved a mouse pad and a post-partum corset to create a soft holster. She was able to carry the kids around, nurse, give the kids baths — even jump on the trampoline — “and I could forget that it was there.” With her last $200, she found a manufacturer willing to do a small run. Flash forward three years and she now has products on shelves at nearly 100 dealers around the country. She has expanded into safety and training and is now an NRA pistol and rifle instructor. She even has a few men who buy her products — including, she said, air marshals, who gravitate to the snug, comfortable designs.
“We have options that don’t have lace. We have solid black,” she said.