Now that Illinois has become the 50th state to legally allow some degree of concealed weapons, several Chicago designers are ready to cash in on the change, coming up with creative and stylish ways for interested parties to hide their firearms.
According to a Gallup poll released last year, 23 percent of gun owners are women - up 13 percent from 2005. A quick Web search turns up a large variety of handbags designed to conceal weapons, but the new trend adds fashionable apparel to the mix.
No matter where you stand on state gun laws, there does appear to be a market for women looking to tote their guns around. Karen Bartuch, a former Chicago police officer and president of the Women's Tactical Association in Illinois translated her love of guns into her own company, AlphaGirls, which sells jewelry and hair accessories that double as self-defense weapons and also offers gun-training classes. "We are girly girls who like fashion, but we like guns too," Bartuch told the Chicago Tribune.
Bartuch spoke with Yahoo Shine about her involvement in the recent Firearms & Fashion Show in Chicago's Edison Park neighborhood. "Myself and my business partner [Marilyn Smolenski, who owns Chicago-based online retailer Nickel and Lace] joined forces to educate and empower women about self protection in general - not just guns, although we prefer those," she tells Yahoo Shine. "And what better way to do that than through fashion - something most women are attune to and something they share with their girlfriends. It was also great timing because concealed carry was on the brink of passing at the time last year when we held our first show. We knew more women and men would be looking for options for concealed carry."
Bartuch says her own experience in law enforcement has helped her understand consumer needs. "I ... have always had a tough time concealing my weapon when off duty, going to court, or undercover, so I knew this was a problem for women," she explains. "Aesthetics and concealability are important, but more important is function - an improper placement can lead to severe discomfort or inability to get to your firearm when you need to. Women tend to throw it in their purse, which is better than nothing but not ideal."
Another designer, Sarah Church, presented an entire collection of gun-hiding garments at the Firearms & Fashion Show. One hooded dress with a zipper down the front (pictured above) allows for quick and easy access to a gun holster beneath the garment. "This is a dress you could wear anywhere, anytime. You can use high heels to dress it up or boots to dress it down," Church said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. "And when you're carrying a gun underneath, no one will know it." The dress retails online for $165.
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Nickel and Lace camisole holster. Photo via Nickel and LaceMeanwhile, Smolenski's business, Nickel and Lace, has found success with camisole holsters ($79.95), described on the retail website as designed for "functional sexiness," since it sits under the bust, comes with detachable garters, and has pockets designed to hold guns on either side. The e-shop also sells holster bras, tank tops, and belly bands for guns. "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," Smolenski said in the Tribune story.
Fashion isn't the only way the gun industry is targeting women. The NRA is now airing original programming on its website, including "Love at First Shot," a show for the beginner female shooter. The organization also hosted a Youth Day where kids were offered free memberships.
Not everyone, of course, is thrilled about the gun industry's focus on females. Carol Marin, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times had nothing but criticism for the local fashion show. "In a city that can't shake its shooting reputation, here we have a firearms/fashion show billed as a way to 'empower women.' And it comes just days after a 14-year-old girl was shot and killed by another 14-year-old girl who will never grow up to be a woman."
Others took to Twitter to voice their concerns about the fashion show.
While concealed-weapon fashions may be growing in popularity in Chicago, clearly there are mixed emotions regarding the trend. Yahoo Shine reached out to Church and Smolenski for comment as well, but neither has yet responded.