The hooded mini, in a grey and black distorted rose print with a silver zipper up the front, is the kind of attire you'd expect to find in the women's department of a high-end retail store. But this
"This is a dress you could wear anywhere, anytime. You can use high heels to dress it up or boots to dress it down," said
Now that it is legal to carry concealed handguns in
Women are looking for more than a pink gun holster or a smaller version of the khaki tactical jacket designed for men. They want to carry their guns in a way that is not only practical but adheres to their sense of style.
Women made up 23 percent of gun owners nationwide in 2011, up from 13 percent in 2005, according to a Gallup poll. In
The surge in female gun holders has forced retailers to rethink how they market to women. And fashion designers like Church are finding that gun-toting gear for women can be lucrative.
Chicagoans Marilyn Smolenski and
"This is about getting women to think about self-protection," said Bartuch, a former
Bartuch also owns a
Although holster bras, belly bands and tank tops are hot sellers online, Smolenski, owner of Nickel and Lace, a
Her under-bust camisole "holster" with detachable garters has pockets on each side to hold a handgun. The camisole, made of memory stretch fabric, fits nicely underneath Church's front-zipper dresses, which allow easy access to the gun.
"Until recently, there were few options for concealed carry holsters for women," Smolenski said. "For a long time, companies were taking unisex products and just making them smaller. Our hips are different. Our waists are different.
"We want to show women that you can dress how you want and have all kinds of options and still feel confident in your ability to protect yourself."
For years, she said, media images have consisted of bikini-clad women wielding a machine gun. That's something female gun owners are working to change.
"The industry has been so male-driven," said Lightfoot, of
Although the sexual images of women and guns have not disappeared, Lightfoot said women are charged up and getting very vocal, and the industry is scrambling to provide more depth.
"It would be silly to think that would ever go away, but we want to represent the typical American gun owner as a regular, everyday woman," Lightfoot said. "Hopefully, we will see the respect level rise and the industry will understand that we are a huge demographic, not a trend. Those that receive us with respect are the ones that will do very well."
Last year, The Well Armed Woman's online store had more than
Men, he said, tend to like covert shirts and outerwear that have hidden pockets or other concealment features that allow them to draw quickly. In addition, there is a wide range of leather holsters made for men that can be worn on the waist, clipped to a belt or worn on the ankle.
It's not hard to design and create products for women, Hagler said. The challenge is finding retailers to sell the products.
"Right now, there is not a clear channel of distribution for them. None of the larger retailers, such as
It's not difficult to find concealed carry handbags in a variety of styles and colors. But some women don't like the idea of carrying a gun in their purse because it could be difficult to access or prone to theft.
"The purse should be the second choice," Lightfoot said. "Carrying the gun on the body is always the safest and best choice. If the gun is on your body, it is very difficult for someone else to have access to it, be it a child or an attacker."
This year she also brought in
"Fashion shows with guns have a lot of red flags. People tend to think it's just silly women wearing zebra holsters," said Cutler, who lives in upstate
"I have a gold back strap on my gun. There's nothing wrong with a little bling. But it should be serious first and fun later."
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