“WHAT are you wearing?!?”
I was asked this the other day by a friend who dropped by to find me clothed in some terrible mixture of camisole and cargo short paired with heavy boots. I wasn’t winning fashion awards, but such is my summertime garden wardrobe and I told her so – explaining why sandals don’t cut it, why pockets are so important, and hashing out other matters of garden wardrobe that kept us talking over a mid-day glass of wine.
This of course got me thinking about clothing oneself for garden work and the shift in my wardrobe that will begin over the next month as temperatures drop and projects shift into high gear.
I absolutely reject the notion of needing to be fashionably clothed in the garden. (Which is often the difference between looking like you spend a life outdoors – and actually spending your life outdoors.) However, I’ve worked these trenches long enough to know that being clothed sensibly pays off. And after years of mixing thrift-store threads and real-store heavyweights, I’ve definitely settled on some go-tos that make life a lot easier out there. So, a few recommendations if you’ll indulge me…
First, footwear. I’ve got two kinds: Welly boots and Dublin River Boots. Wellington boots by Hunter are ridiculously trendy these days, however trendiness doesn’t cut it with me. My experience with their durability over the years has been poor, and my experience with their customer service has been poorer.
I prefer to buy a basic pair of well-fitting no-name Wellies from my local feed store for the really heavy-duty mucking and wallowing, and put my money instead into a pair of waterproof and completely wonderful Dublin River Boots.
This is serious footwear – boots that can handle everything from wet chicken runs to copperhead-infested woodpiles and still be cleaned up a bit for going out to the grocery store and splashing through parking lot puddles. They’re that comfortable. Plus I can slip my soil knife between trouser leg and boot shaft (though not at the grocery store of course).
Second, jackets. Now that Brexit is a reality and the pound is hovering in a range that will plague that island with bargain hunting tourists for some time, I may finally sell one of the children and splurge on the waxed Barbour jacket I have coveted for the last twenty years.
However, if my heart fails me before the final ‘click,’ I know I am still beautifully covered by the quintessential American company LL Bean. Their heavy-duty barn coats have kept me free of wind, rain, mud and muck for many years now – and done so with a beautiful look and fit that rivals the threads of our British cousins.
Which brings me to another favorite company that has been clothing the American worker since the 1920’s – Dickies. At a thrift store a few years ago I came across a pair of their relaxed fit cargo pants and I immediately got online and bought another. So many pockets! Such heavy yet flexible fabric! They weather-wrap your legs and give you a tool-belt at the same time – fantastic.
Re: Accessories. Outside the garden I love my scarves, belts, and jewelry, but out on the battlefield I have never been one for gimmicky accessories. That changed this year when I was sent a fantastic gardening apron from a newish company called The Roo.
In addition to tool pockets, This heavy-duty apron has a large front pocket that holds the harvest, whether you’re cutting vegetables, collecting eggs, or – what I constantly use it for – weeding. The pocket then unclips to drop your ‘harvest’ into a bucket, on a compost heap, or into the mouths of hungry chickens, and you can start filling it up again. Plus, it protects good clothing from harm – so when I spy some garden infraction but am dressed in something I know is going to suffer, I can grab The Roo and go. A terrific invention.
Another valuable accessory – this time for the feet – are my Yaktraxs. They slip under boots and provide chain-like traction on the ice fields we always seem to be navigating each winter. If you’ve got animals to take care of – these are priceless.
And I’d certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention some sort of gnat hat in the Mid-Atlantic. I make a homemade one as well, but if value for money, construction and comfort are all considered, The Bug Baffler head net is a terrific product – terrific enough in fact to be used by my husband who cannot otherwise stand anything on his head.
I like to think of these pieces as tools in my shed – some are cheap, some expensive – but all contribute to a better quality of work life for me. Add an old sweater or two, a good leather belt and a once nice, now working, pair of leather gloves and I am ready for an autumn’s worth of mud, rain, manure and anything else the garden decides to throw at me. And boy, will it ever.