How to Dress for Gardening
Monty Don, an English TV presenter and writer on horticulture (perhaps best known for presenting the BBC television series Gardener’s World) once wrote something for The Guardian on "dirty dressing." That is, how to dress when one needs to get some gardening done. Lots of rules are laid out here, including the things one must wear (high waisted trousers and leather boots) and sartorial no-nos (shorts and baseball caps … though, we disagree with his sentiments on the second). For me, as a guy who doesn’t garden, the best part is reading the opinion of a man who feels strongly about clothes. A long excerpt:
Over the past 30-odd years I have evolved certain rules about my wardrobe. Never wear jeans. They are absurd items of clothing - cold in winter, hot in summer, slow to dry once wet and chafe in places where chafing is not required. I have not possessed a pair for at least 20 years.
Never wear tight trousers. Always buy trousers at least one waist size too big, make sure that the pockets are big enough to comfortably hold penknife, hanky, string, phone, pencil, labels and perhaps a mint or two. The pocket thing is a matter of fine tuning. Too deep and you are rummaging around up to your elbow in them. But I have big hands and if they are too small you cannot find the knife/hanky/label and extract it without causing uncomfortable restrictions or having to let go of the object in order to extract your hand.
Lots of professional gardeners wear shorts all summer, but they always strike me as hopelessly impractical. If I am honest I also feel that, having been bought up in an age when small boys were forced to wear shorts, long trousers are a privilege that I still cling to and shorts are for sports.
Belts are needed to attach your secateurs’ holster to, to support your back when digging and to stop the size-too-large trousers ending up around your ankles when reaching up to prune the apples. Regard your belt as a piece of gardening kit and buy a really good quality, thick leather belt made by a British leather worker. It should mean business. Braces are much more comfy - especially with high-rise trousers - and I wear them most of the time.
If you are not familiar with their joys, highrise trousers are fantastically comfortable and keep your lower back warm. My children still squirm with embarrassment every time they see me in them (which is most days) but that is probably some kind of seal of approval. If you are uncertain about the required cut, check out photographs of agricultural labourers in summer (ie jacketless) circa 1880-1914. The only two fabrics I use for trousers are corduroy and cotton drill. I have two weights of the latter in identical cuts, very heavy and light. Twice as many heavy as light. You have to accept that gardening trousers get wet, muddy and stained, so need washing a lot. If they are ‘good’ they will be much loved and probably expensive, so must last the wear and tear outdoors and in the washing machine. Anyway, good trousers only start to feel right after a year or so.
Wear thick socks summer and winter, if possible of pure cotton or wool. Gardening in light shoes is a joy, but a rare one. I have a pair of handmade leather boots that I use for all digging and heavy work. These cost as much as a holiday for two in the Bahamas but were worth every penny and much preferable to a holiday. I can dig all day in them without any discomfort and they are wholly waterproof. Get a good pair of wear one as a vest in winter. Shirts are the thing. I like pull-on ones that button down to the chest. Get them big with lots of room under the armpit and long enough to cover your bum. Check that the cuffs are wide enough to easily roll up above the elbow. Cotton drill is best. A chest pocket is useful, too. It goes without saying that no gardening shirt (and no other item of clothing of mine) ever sees an iron.
A tweed jacket is really good and I have a number of old ripped ones I often wear at home. They are thornproof, warm, showerproof and have pockets. They won’t let me wear them on telly because they say it looks too patrician. I have yet to work out if that is patronising or right, but I meekly demur. I like waistcoats either waterproof or leather. The latter is by far the best thing for keeping a cold wind at bay and for protecting you from thorns. A waterproof waistcoat with pockets is ideal if it is merely damp. If it is too wet for that to be sufficient protection it is probably too wet to garden sensibly outside. Fleeces are ubiquitous and inevitable, but I wear them surprisingly little nowadays. They are best as an underlayer when it is wet. On the whole I prefer a good jersey. Cashmere is the ideal inner layer when it is really cold and you can pick them up amazingly cheaply nowadays. A thicker roll-neck jersey makes a good outer layer.
I don’t like hats very much. I have no desire to shelter from the British sun and it is rarely cold enough to need headgear. But I especially loathe baseball caps. Not only are they useless but a symbol of a kind of Disneyfied decadence. A wide-brimmed hat is much more effective and keeps the sun and rain off better. Tweed flat caps are good, but distinctly agricultural. I have a Soviet military hat that I bought off a soldier in Berlin. It is great for pruning the more viciously thorned roses.
You can read the whole thing here.