The Grey Man Concept and Clothing Choice

“One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable” – Lao Tzu

There is a concept known as “grey man” that is discussed extensively within self-defense and tactical circles and it generally suggests that blending in with your surroundings and not standing out is beneficial: be the “grey man.” We don’t want to stand out as an outsider or as an individual that is seeking to attract attention. The grey man blends into the crowd in appearance and behavior and this makes the individual less likely to be noticed by bad actors, and it also preserves the individual’s element of surprise should something bad actually happen. The skills and weaponry which one possesses should be masked by commonness.

The majority of folks who arm themselves and seek out and take at least some training are people who are not into a “self-defense lifestyle.” They are just normal people going about their normal daily routine, yet they are more prepared than most. This mundane appearance is a good thing and is indeed in line with the grey man philosophy. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have individuals within the self-defense community who like to wear their lifestyle. Literally. This is, in my opinion, not a good thing at all.

We have all seen it. The guy who pulls into the parking lot with the Sig Sauer or Glock sticker on the bumper (or perhaps fifty such stickers), with the mandatory Don’t Tread on Me flag in the window of the vehicle. When the said gentleman immerges from the vehicle he is, of course, wearing tactical pants (a concept I still can’t fathom, although I am told by some that they are quite comfortable and are reinforced in the crotch, probably a good thing around the holidays) and a tactical jacket, and of course a shirt or hat with a gun company slogan. Or perhaps another Don’t Tread on Me emblem or patch somewhere about the person. I personally prefer when such an individual has a scruffy beard, sleeve tattoos, and is at least a bit in shape. The guys who are ridiculously out of shape and dress this way are more humorous, however.

Anyway, this look probably does not describe you. After all, I don’t think many of these folks read Concealed Nation. They probably read Soldier of fortune and Recoil magazine instead. So, here is the problem I have with these guys: by advertising yourself as what you are, or in the majority of cases perhaps what you wish to be, you are giving away your absolute most critical advantage that you possess: the element of surprise. Surprise is the citizen’s greatest weapon and it effectively disrupts a lot of criminal activity. When you dress like a mall ninja, even when not in the mall, you completely abandon the “grey man” concept. As citizens who go armed and prepared for human predators we should strive to blend into the environment, not stand out like a beacon. We should mask our capability in a shroud of normalcy.

Guess what? You can fight in a pair of jeans just as effectively as in tactical pants (granted, the crotch might rip more easily). A regular jacket will conceal your gun just as well as a tactical jacket. A Green Bay Packers cap will cover your head just as well as a Don’t Tread on Me cap. However, what these mundane clothing items will NOT do is tell a criminal actor that you are armed and perhaps dangerous, and you certainly need to be eliminated first, by surprise, before the rest of the plan can play out. Common sense perhaps?

I get it. When we are part of a niche community we like to look the part. But when a warrior looks the part that tells the enemy exactly who he is. If you are active military and deploy to a theater of combat, certainly, look the part. But if you are Joe Citizen going to Starbucks looking the part simply puts a target on your back. Your mindset and skillset are not enhanced by wearing identifying “warrior” clothing. This clothing does little to enhance the concealability of your weaponry (yes, I know the tactical pants have a great pocket for a flashlight, but still).

So, while this discussion of tactical clothing is probably quite humorous for most of you reading this (except the mall ninjas, they are not laughing) let’s further consider the grey man concept. First of all, even beyond avoiding tactical clothing, I am a firm believer that one should avoid any sort of clothing that makes you stand out to begin with. Yes, I know that dampens your freedom of expression. After all, in our teen years we all learn to express ourselves by dressing exactly the same. But seriously, avoid wearing the I Don’t Give a F@#K shirt or other blatant attempts to draw attention to yourself. Just blend in.

On the opposite side of our discussion but still within the grey man concept is to not wear clothing that specifically marks you as an easy score. I saw a guy recently in the mall wearing a tight hipster suite and, I kid you not, bright orange shoes. He was expressing himself I suppose. The first thing he expressed to me was that he is clearly helpless and has not clue how to defend himself and he is certainly not carrying any defensive tools in those skin tight pants and buttoned jacket. Sure, I notice such things, but who else do you suppose may notice this? I am also dreadfully opposed to the now in-vogue sweat pants that so many men wear. They are sweat pants that taper down to a tight cuff on the ankle. To me sweat pants are what is worn while I work out in my basement, not what I walk the streets with. Sweatpants that do not accommodate a belt are a pretty clear indication that you are not armed. While I stress not dressing like a “warrior” I also suggest not dressing like an easy victim. That may draw bad attention just as readily. Of course, for you guys with back conditions who don’t wear belts, you get a pass because we know you are wearing shoulder holsters or carrying pocket guns!

At the time of this writing most casual clothing that is in fashion is perfectly functional. Women have a harder time concealing weaponry than men due to clothing style, but there are alternatives women can leverage. However, for men especially, the relatively loose clothing styles work well for serious handguns and supporting equipment. Clothing style that works well to conceal weapons and does not stand out from the crowd is what you should be interested in if you are an armed citizen. I have no problems carrying a compact handgun, spare magazine, knife, trauma kit, light, pepper spray, keys, wallet, and phone, all in cargo shorts and a t-shirt in the summer, or in jeans and a sweater in the winter. Go for a completely mundane look that screams neither “warrior” nor “victim,” and carry your weaponry so that nobody ever knows the toolset, skillset, and mindset that you possess.

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