Firearms Fashion Brings Women Together
By Dagney Pruner
ROUND ROCK – Over the uproar of women laughing in the kitchen, the sharp clicks of a gun being unloaded can be heard from the dining room. The handgun’s magazine makes a clunk as it falls onto the table next to cups of sangria.
Tina Maldonado is hosting a “Holster Happy Hour” at her home in Round Rock, where women can buy female-friendly holsters, tactical pens that can be used to stab assailants and pepper spray. As they shop, the women discuss everything from the headaches of menopause to their husband’s work schedules.
“You need to really pull hard to get the gun out of your holster in time,” Maldonado, 55, tells a guest. She has been the facilitator of Austin’s A Girl and A Gun chapter for over four years.
The happy hour is just one of the weekly gatherings for the group. Although shopping for holsters and self-defense tools is the reason for the happy hour, the sangria and socializing are just as important to the culture of the female gun club – as is firearms fashion.
Female gun clubs have been growing in the Austin area over the past few years, and the market for firearm and self-defense accessories has grown along with them, retailers say. The clubs provide a way to learn shooting techniques and self-defense strategies, but they are also a community for the women.
There are little data on gun ownership in the U.S. But a study by National Survey on Firearms Ownership and the Russell Sage Foundation Journal, involving a survey of nearly 4,000 adults, found that female gun ownership increased from 9 percent of respondents in 1994 to 12 percent in 2015.
“A lot more women are becoming aware that they can carry since the carry laws have been expanded,” said Jason Armstrong, a gunsmith and owner of Hammer Down Sports in Belton. His wife started carrying a gun for protection not in her purse, but in a holster. “It’s better for them to have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” he says.
Beyond the community women find in gun clubs and firearms accessories, the core of many gun clubs is the interest in self-defense. The majority of gun owners in the US own a firearm for protection, and almost half of handgun owners are female. Around 20 percent of participants in the Sage Foundation survey said they had carried a loaded handgun in the past month.
“So much of it has to do with the state of the world today,” said Darlene Cary, president of holster-maker Can Can Concealment based outside Tampa, Florida. “Going to the movies or going to the mall aren’t exactly safe zones anymore. Women are taking it into their own hands and being agents of their own safety.”
“I do think to a greater extent more people are recognizing that they can’t rely on somebody else,” said Athena Means, the founder and president of online retailer Gun Goddess, based in Las Vegas. “Law enforcement can’t be there to protect them all the time.”
Female firearm fashion is not a traditional American industry. It wasn’t until five years ago that female gun clubs were created in the Austin area, and female-friendly holster retailers emerged only about three years ago.
Darlene Cary remembers trying to find a holster that fit her body type in 2013. Men’s holsters gave her bruises. “I wanted a holster that was feminine, tactical, practical and still pretty,” Cary said. “A holster that worked with my wardrobe, not my husband’s.”
Cary, a former sewing expert on the Home Shopping Network, decided to create holsters for women’s bodies, using an elastic material that fits seamlessly beneath their clothes. She started selling them on Etsy and couldn’t keep up with demand, so she enlisted help. “I started to call my church girlfriends and said, ‘Will you help me sew these?’ ”
After selling her first holster in July 2013, she now sells to hundreds of shops. Whether they are corset holsters, which she notes are great for business women who wear corporate attire, or thigh-strap extenders for women who are pregnant, her products also have pockets for pepper spray, lipstick and cellphones.
She said husbands often buy her products as gifts for their wives. “We always tell them to buy a smaller size for their wives if they’re between sizes,” she says.
“Year after year the growth has been there, as more women are becoming gun owners,” said Means of Gun Goddess. “I think we women like to naturally customize and personalize our stuff. We like to bring a little of our personality into it, and that is what happening with the gun accessories and the holsters.”
Buying accessories is just part of the firearm fashion trend. Many women decide to decorate their guns, and that’s not cheap.
Although some women have their guns custom-made, many women choose customize guns they buy off the rack. The guns can have everything from changeable grips to glitter and rhinestone embellishments.
“Tiffany blue is real popular,” says Armstrong of his female clients. He coats guns in customizable colors for both men and women, which can cost hundreds of dollars. “Pink – not so much. Not a lot of ladies like pink because they think it’s too girly for a firearm.”
Maldonado, who paints her nails Tiffany blue to go with her purple pistol, has put off buying new shoes for a year because customizing her firearms has become a more important budget item.
“It’s funny because all the Sure Shots, we drool over guns as equally as we drool over handbags or shoes,” says Niki Jones, the founder of Austin’s female gun club of that name.
There were no clubs for women within a 200-mile radius when she founded the group in 2010. The group now has over 8,000 members in its Facebook group and meets weekly at indoor ranges for practice and self-defense classes.
The women don’t just discuss the newest self-defense methods during target practice; the newest fashion trends are also a common topic.
“We’ll see a gun and say: ‘These are the Guccis of the gun world! We have to have this!” Jones said.
Firearm fashion accessories also are popular. There are concealed-carry purses, monogrammed gun cases and rhinestone-encrusted eye and ear protection products.
Before the presidential election, Darlene Cary and Jason Armstrong said their customers were reporting stagnating sales, as customers waited to see who would win. It’s too early to tell what effect a Trump presidency will have, but Cary said she’s eager to see whether potential new laws on concealed and open carry would affect holster sales.
She’s not worried about business ever slowing down. “Fashion comes and goes, but safety is eternal,” she said.
Members of female gun clubs in Austin don’t affiliate with a particular political party. Instead, their conversation often sounds like that at a PTA meeting or girl’s night out.
As the happy hour winds down and the women collect their purchases, they make plans to go skeet shooting next week.
“It’s not just about the firearms, it’s about a community for these women,” Maldonado says, as she offers to top off her guests’ sangria.
“Be careful, it’s deadly,” she says.