If you’ve ever taken the time to really look around you wherever you happen to be out in the world, you will probably be surprised at how much info you can gather about the people nearby, just based on the way they dress, the way they present themselves to the world, and on their attitude.
As it turns out, much of the time you really can judge a book by its cover. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as our public identities are closely intertwined with our sense of self. We want to say to the people around us “This is who I am, and this is what I am about.”
But enabling others to make informed decisions about us can cut both ways. It might identify us to potential allies, or put other people at ease if they can make a quick determination that we are very much “like them”.
However, it can also hurt us when the predatory element of society can size you up as a potential victim or even target you because you have skylined yourself through one or more social and behavioral cues.
Since we are living in increasingly sectarian times where people are unpersoned or slated to be deprived of life and property based on things like political allegiance or stands on certain hot-button issues affecting a nation, it is in your best interest to hide the fact that you are prepared, in any sense of the word. This concept is also known as being a gray man.
In this article I will provide you with the correct frame of reference as well as procedures for doing exactly that.
Table of Contents
What Does Your “Brand” Say About You?
Everybody has a personal brand, more or less, that they put on display to the world. This outward, public face is comprised of several elements:
- What you wear.
- What you drive.
- What brands and markings are visible on your clothing and equipment.
- Your attitude.
- How you carry yourself.
- How you talk to people.
- What you talk about.
- And more…
All of these elements, taken together either partially or in total, inform the value judgments that the people around you will make about you.
It will help them form an opinion about you, correctly or not, that you are peaceable or potentially dangerous, white collar or blue collar, conservative or liberal, what you do for a living, what you do for fun and so on and so forth.
We are entering into an era where these things can see someone else deliberately target you for violence.
If you were to spot someone wearing an immaculately tailored three-piece suit, gleaming black wing-tip shoes, expensive-looking watch and carrying a briefcase after climbing out of a high-end German sports sedan, what snap decisions would you make about that person?
You’d probably think they are:
- Business/Agency executive.
- Financially well-to-do.
- Commanding personality.
- Detail driven.
And most of the time you would be correct. How about a slightly harder one: you notice a youngish male in his early to mid-20s, with closely cropped hair that is nearly buzzed on top.
He is wearing an athletic cut T-shirt, blue jeans and sand-colored combat boots. He drives a new, entry-level sports car and noticeably walks with poise and carries his hands in tidy fists. If you made the instant assumption that the young man was:
- A member of the military.
- Trained in..?
- New/Inexperienced (No separation between “job” and off the clock.)
And once again you’d be correct, typically. In either example you need not interview or interrogate the person to learn these things. You don’t need to review their social media. You don’t need to hire a PI.
They informed you of what they were about by the way they dressed, carried themselves and interacted with their environment. Now, entirely without tipping them off, you have already learned quite a bit about them that you can expand on.
If you are reading this and you are a good guy or good gal prepper, the above examples probably wouldn’t even get you to lift an eyebrow; unless they were doing something obviously out of line or threatening, you would just say those are two men going about their business, wherever they are.
That is all fine and good, but it is time to switch gears and start thinking about what this means in the context of other people observing you- what conclusions are they drawing about you, and what will they decide to do with that info.
The simple fact is that many preppers just don’t care how they appear socially, having been lulled into a false sense of security by the overwhelming safety inherent in most parts of the U.S. and other developed countries.
But still more actively want to appear “ready” or “tactical”; they want to look, at least to themselves, dangerous. They want their outward appearance to match their inner desire and thoughts.
And just as importantly to some they want others like them to see they are part of their tribe. This is done by wearing of uniforms and brands, though not in the way you are thinking.
The Consequences of Identifying Your “Tribe”.
The implications of allowing others to “get a read on you” are serious, both in everyday life and post-SHTF.
When the bad guys are on the prowl, or the good guys are looking for people who might potentially cause trouble, what you choose to reveal to them or what they can discern from your outward identity might directly lead to a dangerous encounter and potentially a bad outcome.
It is time to audit your appearance.
Even you, reader are telling the people around you what to think about you, without ever opening your mouth or allowing them to read what you post on social media. Don’t think that you do?
Think again: I will bet on it that you do even if it is completely inadvertent, even if you actively try not to. People spot more than you think, even if they do it subconsciously. On the other hand, most people (including a significant fraction of the readership) are not trying to hide anything.
America is one country where we wear our allegiances- our likes, dislikes and interests- on our sleeves, our bodies and even our vehicles. It is a uniform: Uniforms mean things.
Consider that the 5-11 pants you wear, the American flag-badged ball cap you have on, the patriotic or conservative-themed tattoos peeking out from under your sleeves and the advanced hiking or combat boots you wear habitually in lieu of plainer civilian dress varieties will broadcast who you are and what you are about to everyone in the room with you.
But hey! You don’t care! You are a red-blooded type who ain’t skeered of no one and nobody. It’s a free country and anybody who has a problem with it can shove off or step up if they got the nads, right? Sure, tough guy…
To the other switched-on prepper guy packing a pistol in the corner of the chicken restaurant you stopped in for dinner, it says that you are probably like him, though what if anything he will do for you when the shit gets real remains anyone’s guess.
To Lefty Liberal Lisa, the busybody mom who is eager to stick it to anyone on the opposite side of the political spectrum from her, it is visual shorthand that you are a conservative, and perhaps now discerning the obvious outline of the pistol beneath that t-shirt (in the eagle-eyed way of all women) is enough for her to decide to call the cops on you.
The small pack of young punks looking to start trouble with those who cannot effectively fight back in order to gain esteem from their peers might avoid you if they think you are a “serious” type.
To the real hardened cons and killers, those who have made violence truly their way of life, you have only identified yourself as a source of weapons that they can make use of…
And if you are the sort who simply cannot resist advertising your favorite brands on your lifted pickup right alongside your provocative bumper stickers the fun won’t stop with people that can see you.
People who can see your vehicle will make assessments also, like what might be residing beneath the seat, in a console or in a glove box.
I’ll bet anybody reading this knows somebody who has a vehicle that matches exactly that description who just so happens to leave a handgun inside 24/7, or, as is increasingly and idiotically popular, even a long gun. Sound like anyone you know?
If I were to tell you that simply advertising what you like and the way you think meant a 10%, 15% or even 20% increase on the chances of initiating a negative encounter, would you still dress, act and behave the way you do? I’d hope not.
Below I’ll give you a run down on what these social cues are and how best to mitigate them, if you can.
Tells, Brands and Bias
The following sections all contain elements of your outward appearance or “brand” that can inform the opinions of the people around you able to observe them. These are not necessarily good or bad, and will mean different things to different people.
Attitude is a big one, and for some people, one of the hardest to moderate. We are commonly told in the self-defense world to project an air of confidence, of toughness, of being someone that other people don’t want to mess with.
We are told this because, according to some teachers, criminals are inherently cowardly and are only looking for weak, defenseless prey.
Like most good but wrong answers, there is a grain of truth to this. It is true that a majority of criminals will look for weak victims like any good predator.
A predator does not want to bring down the biggest, strongest and most capable member of a herd because the chance of retaliation, maiming and perhaps fatal injury is disproportionately great.
But humans are complicated critters, and that means we are complicated predators. If you are putting on an air of toughness, of supremacy, of someone that even tough guys don’t want to mess with it can come across as intimidating to people who mean you no harm, potentially marking you as one of the bad guys that we are all looking out for.
More importantly, it can come across as exactly what it is to guys who are the real predators: clownish, the behavior of someone who needs an example made of them.
You must always keep in mind that there are going to be plenty of guys out here who are genuinely, sincerely well-acquainted with violence as a way of life. They are all about it. Chances are you are not.
On the other hand, you definitely don’t want to act meek, submissive and timid, as these are certain and time-tested victim selection cues for bad guys, seen time and time again.
The best answer, as with most things, is to appear somewhere in the middle. You’re untroubled, but not un-alert. Relaxed, but not disconnected. Confident, but not challenging.
Instead of acting with swaggering bravado or obsequious meekness, try to blend with the base emotion and attitude of the place you are in. Don’t stand out in either direction.
Behavior is another big social tell. How you walk, how you stand and what you do when idle can easily tip off people who are observant to what you do for a living and what you are generally all about.
Are you like most people, constantly zoned-out by being sucked into your phone every waking moment? When you’re waiting around in line do you stare off into the middle distance or watch dust motes float on sunbeams?
Or somewhere on the other end of the spectrum is your head constantly moving, your eyes darting to and fro assessing potential threats that could emerge at any moment? Do you react too quickly and too briskly to incidental events that startle you?
If the former describes you, you are indeed like most people you will encounter out in public, but this lack of situational awareness will mean you pass the first phase of the victim interview performed by predators. The food that isn’t paying attention is easy to get.
On the other hand, if you appear too hyped up, too alert and too edgy you will make people nervous. You will look like the person that people like us are on the lookout for because they are up to no good.
You might also mark yourself as a “tactical” type, always performing a threat scan in that overblown, theatrical way that is entirely too common to rookie cops, newly minted soldiers and new initiates to the Church of Tactical.
You don’t want to be either. Your radar should always be running, but it should not be obvious to the people around you that it is running.
Scanning must be more or less constant, but once you have assessed people that are in your sphere of influence with a “pass”, you don’t need to reassess them constantly unless your intuition tells you so or new information is presented.
Don’t completely zone out at any time, and don’t act like a groundhog poking out of its burrow, looking jerkily all around. Maintain a relaxed but discreet awareness. Heightened alert states are noticeable, and attract attention.
Sometimes you won’t get much choice in your mode of dress. If you have to wear a uniform or specific clothing in your line of work it will mark you as what you are to pretty much everybody.
But whenever you are off duty or otherwise have any choice in the matter, your clothing should not tip your hand as to what you believe in, what your interests are and what you care about any more than necessary.
More than many other elements on this list, clothing has inherent and built in biases about what it signals in a given culture.
You can wear something entirely devoid of any brands, slogans or any other obvious tells let can subtly indicate what you care about, and your mode of dress will still disproportionately inform someone’s opinion about you.
Consider the slouchy critter we always see running into a big box store or a gas station wearing house shoes, pajama pants and an ill-fitting, stained t-shirt or wife beater. Whatever their other qualities, what does that say about them? It certainly indicates they’re probably not ready and likely not equipped to fight.
A guy wearing a polo, deck shorts and boat shoes is liable to be seen as a bit posh in a “barely cares” sort of way, and probably better off than the average Joe. Perhaps a good target for a mugging?
On the other hand, how many people do you know in your circle, including perhaps even yourself, that walk around wearing “business tactical” in the form of camouflage apparel, button down shirt, tactical cargo pants or shorts, combat boots or technical hiking boots of the type preferred by military and law enforcement professionals, manufacturers logos adorning said clothing, paracord bracelets and so forth?
All of these things scream “gun guy”, cop, mil dude, or prepper to anyone with a brain.
Contrary to what you might have been led to believe it is more likely to get you into trouble then to stave off trouble. It does not scare off the people that you really need to be scared of. Instead it only highlights you to everyone around as a person who is probably armed and equipped in other ways.
You may only ever get a “partial vote” in how you have to dress depending on where career and life dictate you go, but you should always dress in such a way that your mobility is unhindered and you do not appear too put together or too slobbish. Both are favored attributes for criminals of all kinds.
This is one that almost every prepper I know is guilty of. How many of us carry a flashlight and a pocket knife? I sincerely hope every single hand went up in the readership.
Now how many carry that flashlight and that pocket knife as the manufacturer typically intends, meaning clipped inside the front pocket of our jeans or slacks?
Again, probably every hand has gone up, but this time I am not glad to hear it. It might seem completely innocuous, and so common as to be beneath mention, but carrying any equipment with an obvious tell or indicator is a bad idea.
Once again, why would you want the people around you to know you are going about armed, or even well-equipped for trouble? Those little clips, straps, hooks and snaps, no matter how common they are, mean “knife” or “gun” and typically a larger one.
Most people who see a clip on a flashlight or pepper spray will probably just assume it is a knife anyway. You might live in a conservative, rural area where absolutely no one bats an eye at the practice, and I would still advise you to truly conceal that thing.
The same thing goes for your firearms and other weapons carried elsewhere on your body. Don’t pull a t-shirt over that giant metal tumor and tell yourself it is concealed.
I know dozens of people who had the police called on them because a passerby made the presence of the weapon and decided to report it. If they can spot it, you’d better believe the bad guys can, and they might just decide to relieve you of it.
You also need to be cautious of any equipment carried completely concealed inside the pocket. If the outline of the item can be made, a slick adversary can easily make an informed decision about what kind of person you are and act accordingly.
That is what we are trying to prevent: the less information anyone has about us and what we are carrying, the better off we are, all the time.
It is imperative you start practicing real concealment now: employ better holsters and hiding places, use pocket shields to screen items in front or back pockets and have a skilled partner double-check you for printing in a variety of conditions.
For an awful lot of folks, not just preppers, their vehicle is sort of an extension of their personality. If they see themselves as a sort of knight errant preparing to take on the perils of the wasted world, their vehicle is akin to their trusty steed that can ferry them here and there.
For this reason, people tend to personalize their vehicles in a way that extends their personality onto their ride, instead of equipping and outfitting the vehicle for a specific job alone. But even doing the latter can inform people about what kind of person you are.
Let us start with the easy stuff. I can say this frankly, and simply: If you’re the kind of person who puts bumper stickers, decals and window films on your vehicle that advertise anything that is remotely political, religious, shows affiliation to a group or agency, belonging to a fandom for a certain manufacturer or anything else, take that stuff off.
Take off any pithy statements or challenges, things meant to inflame and deride things like “p**s on so and so” or “no lives matter” or a cutesy sticker that shows a stick figure family (your family) or shows a stick figure family getting run over or blown up or turned into zombies (someone else’s). Just take that stuff off!
You might think it is harmless fun, but once again all of that allows the people around you to just start making decisions based on the type of driver that likely owns and operates that car, truck or SUV.
I know way too many people who have had guns stolen out of vehicles that they foolishly left inside 24/7 while emblazoned with a “Protected by Smith & Wesson” decal or some such nonsense.
Don’t cut yourself with that edge, cowboy! I know more than a few people who’ve had their cars vandalized, even destroyed, because they had a bumper sticker on it showing allegiance to a certain political party or candidate.
I guess that made them feel really good; it is just too bad none of their brothers and sisters in the group rode to the rescue and stopped their insurance premium from skyrocketing!
Even the equipment you have on your vehicle can tip people off, although this can be much harder to hide if you truly have a purpose-driven ride.
A large, lifted truck or SUV riding on oversized, knobby tires and decked out with additional lights, cargo rack and obnoxious exhaust pretty much says conservative or redneck in every language, even if the driver is an avowed opponent.
If you drive a Prius or some other tiny, compact socially and environmentally conscientious car, that choice will similarly inform people’s opinion of you in other directions.
Any vehicle that is modern and in good repair can also be considered a symbol of wealth, elevating you on someone’s list of possible targets if they’re looking to profit.
Lastly, and it should go without saying, make sure the interior of your vehicle is likewise sanitized; free of any packaging that could tip off a snoop as to your interests, the vehicle’s contents, or any other personal information.
Don’t give in to the fads of the day; your vehicle needn’t be a billboard and should not be. Keep all extraneous decoration and branding off your vehicle, and be mindful of what the type of vehicle you drive says about you.
If performance upgrades are a must, try to maintain a “sleeper” aesthetic; avoid any but the most crucial that start to move your vehicle’s appearance away from factory baseline, and keep your vehicle’s interior clear of any telling cargo.
The external appearance and image we project to the people around us is the first part of communication, and begins to inform the assessment and subsequent decision making process of those people immediately.
This can work both for and against us, but most prepper’s tendency toward wanting to look like a prepper or tacticool guy or gal undermines their ability to avoid being singled out by the less desirable elements of society.
You can increase your chances of avoiding negative interactions of all kinds if you take the time to curate and moderate your external “brand” depending on your objectives and the environment.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.