Q And Answer: Clothing For The Field

April 19, 2010

Q and Answer: Clothing for the Field

Michael asks: I’m a biology student and as my classes become more advanced, more field work becomes involved. This means trekking through woods, wading in streams, getting on all fours to collect mushrooms, or turning over rocks to look for insects. Is there something I can wear for all of this that is fashionable and practical? I’ve no problem dressing myself well out of the field, but I’d like to look a cut above the traditional jeans, sneakers, and t-shirt that are prevalent in the field.

Right now, Michael, thousands of cool kids are sitting in pools of their own drool, wishing they had an opportunity like this.  At this moment, nothing is cooler than classic field clothing, and you have the chance to wear it for reasons beyond simple fashion.  Enjoy yourself.

The best outdoor clothing has a hundred-year-plus history.  The clothing that British ramblers and American sportsmen wore in the 1920s, ‘30s and ’40s remains just as functional and beautiful now as it was then.

Spend some time with brands like Filson, Barbour and Orvis.  Look for vintage pieces from companies like L.L. Bean and Abercrombie & Fitch which made fine quality outdoor clothing for many years before turning mallward. (Even now, the real outdoor and hunter’s clothing at Bean is some of the best they make.)

My advice is to focus on a simple kit.  Buy some great khaki pants, some solid shirts, a wool shirt or two, a great knit, a Barbour or Filson coat, a pair of amazing field boots and a pair of boots for wet work.  The outerwear in particular should last a lifetime with proper care.  Take care with fit – contemporary style suggests a closer fit than most legacy brands offer – this can be corrected with careful sizing or a bit of tailoring.  There’s no need to go overboard in this direction, though, if you plan to keep your gear for decades.  And remember: all the most durable items in your kit are probably available used.