Ralph Lauren and I share a first name, but not the same fashion sense. It’s been said that Mr. Lauren has essentially made a career of copying the clothing of the Duke of Winsdor (How do I know this? Think of the reading material in doctor’s offices.), but that’s hardly a bad thing – that sort of classic English clothing makes any man look good. Unfortunately I don’t get much chance to dress that way as I have neither a large estate, horse stables, or many yacht club functions to attend. For me gym clothes, Ts and jeans are more what my daily life requires. I also don’t worry too much about being either over-dressed or under-dressed as I move about my little county. What I do worry about is being dressed in too tactical a manner, so that any BGs in the area can ID me as armed.
When I was on duty with my county drug task force, and during those times that I didn’t mind people knowing I was a PO, I often wore “tactical” pants and a “tactical” concealed-carry vest – after all, they are extremely practical clothes for stowing all the gear that I needed to carry. But for off duty (which I am all the time now that I’m no longer in police service) and for those times when I didn’t want to be made, they were simply too obvious. I often went with an untucked denim shirt or a sweatshirt instead of the 5.11 vest.
No while I don’t have Ralph Lauren’s sense of style, I’m not completely oblivious to it either; I do notice things. Like when I recently had lunch with a couple friends who are still on the job. They showed up wearing tactical CC vests over a polo jersey…and they stood out a whole lot less than I might have thought they would. Getting in touch with my inner fashionista, I deduced that the reason for their wardrobe not screaming “I’m armed” was that they were wearing dark vests over dark jerseys. That was a clue. While the vests (and what you could guess was underneath them) were kind of obvious if you noticed them, you didn’t notice them as much as you would if they were tan or kahki-colored.
So that night I searched the web for a vest that was non-tactical looking, a dark color, but still with enough pockets, enough structure, and long enough to be an effective but truly non-obvious concealed carry vest. Pockets you need because when you’re armed you have to also carry your badge (active-duty or LEOSA), OC, light, any other tactical gear you carry, and they are very handy for all the non-tactical stuff you can carry in them, especially since vests are mostly worn in warm weather when we aren’t wearing jackets with all of their pockets. A CC vest needs structure so that it drapes effectively over the gun without printing, and so that it actually moves out of the way during the draw stroke (a flimsy garment doesn’t do this reliably). And obviously it needs to be long enough to cover the gun (many vests aren’t).
I found bunches of flimsy vests, lots of ones that were too short, many without enough pockets, and also a lot that were too tactical looking (photographer’s vests, travel vests, and so on). I also found one that seemed to truly meet my requirements: the RedHead Ripstop Utility Vest for Men from Bass Pro Shops.
This vest comes in both gray and khaki, but for the reasons above I prefer the gray. It’s made of lightweight ripstop nylon, and by itself it just has enough body to it to move reliably out of the way as you clear it during a drawstroke. It’s the minimum weight to accomplish that vital function, which is perfect because light is good (think of how uncomfortably heavy so many tactical CC vests are). When you add the trick of carrying almost any object that weighs even a little in the strong-side front pocket of this vest, then it really moves out of the way with conviction as you clear it. The vest is also as light as possible while still having enough drape to fully conceal a holstered handgun on the hip. With its light weight but full clearing ability and concealing structure, the Ripstop Utility Vest can be worn even in very hot and humid weather. The pocket set-up is really nice, too. The front cargo pockets are roomy and close with a snap (which is preferable to Velcro), and have zippered hand-warmer pockets behind them. The snap-closing right breast pocket is likewise roomy enough to be truly useful, and the left breast zippered pocket is also very roomy. A right breast interior pocket is Velcro tab-closed (which is fine for an interior pocket). Finally, there’s a map pocket that runs across the entire lower back with access through a right-side zipper.