Gardening Clothes

Ever since Eve, gardens and clothing have had a problematic relationship – particularly for women. Before I even made my passionate avowal of regular gardening, I had made a frustrating discovery in this regard. As suitable as my long-skirted dresses are for many a pursuit, gardening is not one of them.

Ladies' Home Journal Vol.10 No.11 (October, 1893)
Elegant train – doubles as weed mat!
What clued me in? Standing on my hem with muddy gumboots when bending over my work. Frustratingly unavoidable.

And yet, women (and even ladies) have gardened lo these many centuries. The problem, I deem, is the combination of ladylike attire with unladylike gardening. A full sweeping skirt is all very well for a little light flower-gathering on a dry summer’s day with a Sussex trug over one arm, but squatting down in the muddy grass uttering dire threats against a dock root is in an altogether different class of gardening.

As most people these days – myself included – are not equipped with the minions necessary to sustain ladylike gardening of Edwardian uprightness, another solution must be found.

Historically, those at the less ladylike end of the female gardening scale probably just hitched up their dresses and let their petticoat/shift/underdress take the brunt of the mud and muck, such as Miss June on the right in the Duc du Berry’s book of hours. (“I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.”)

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry juin
Despite my superior modern access to laundering facilities, this approach does not appeal, as well as it may have worked for generations of peasants.
Nor am I at all inclined to take inspiration from the original lady gardener. One word: thorns. (More words: hypothermia and privacy.)

I have been making do with a pair of old kung-fu trousers (have never tried kung-fu, but the gusset allows for greater ease of movement than normal trousers), and a shirt pinched from the Caped Gooseberry (shirt on him, smock on me). The outfit is finished off with a pair of slightly-too-large gumboots, gardening gloves, a closely tied bandanna and – if sunny – a hat.

This stop-gap outfit has its shortcomings, however. For one, the kung-fu trousers are white and therefore display any mud and marks with a fidelity to detail that would be praiseworthy in, say, forensic evidence. They still have paint marks on them from my window-frame-painting escapades about a decade ago.

But more crucially lacking, dear readers, are pockets. I am not inclined to forgo pockets at any time, still less when I have useful things I need to carry about with me, such as a pair of secateurs, a trowel, a spoon (think of it as an extra-small in trowels) or a timer to tell me when I need to go in.

War gardeners 1918 (edited)
These young ladies from just over a century ago model two practical approaches: overalls and breeches. Possible, but hard to find, and – unless one is of a warlike slimness – not necessarily flattering. Indeed, I fear that overalls that fit widthwise would create of me such an object of cuteness that I would be forced to Run Amok with a Mattock in order to redress the balance of things.

Jeans are much more widely available, and certainly useful from the durability point of view, providing they’re not modishly munted. But I have not heard much that is positive about the capacity of their pockets.

What would be ideal, really, is something like a Bloomer suit or a shalwar kameez, but made of durable fabric and with pockets built into the kameez. (Lots of pocketses…) But I don’t have a pattern, nor the skills necessary to create such an ensemble without one. (Yet!)

The simplest solution – at least for now – dropped into my lap this week courtesy of the Dreamstress. I should have thought of it before: the kind of pockets that Lily wears in Restoration Day, adapted for outer wear. Not that there’s much adapting required: you just tie them on over your other clothes instead of under.

EighteenthCenturyPocketsSwaledaleMuseumReethEngland
These, I am certain, are not outside my abilities to produce, though I doubt I will get quite so carried away with the embroidery as so many historical handworkers seem to have done. (Ironic, when you think about it, since mine will be visible and theirs were not.) I can tie them over my kung-fu trousers, or a pair of jeans if the white trousers become hors de jardin.

I suppose they could be considered as a more ladylike – if slightly less practical – version of the gardener’s tool belt. Perhaps that’s also a potential solution to consider.

What do you wear in the garden? Does it differ at all from what you wear the rest of the time? How do you handle issues like mud and sun and spiky things? And what have you got in your pocketses?

4 Replies to “Gardening Clothes”

  1. My answer to the need for pockets is two buckets – one for the hand tools, bags of seeds, gloves, etc., while the other is for things to be disposed of – weeds, trimmings, etc. As for the personal armoury – a wide-brimmed hat secured with a string under the chin to prevent it being whisked away in the wind, an old pair of trousers, long-sleeved and washable top(s), to guard against biting things, scratchy things and sun, and lastly some shoes solid enough to drive the spade into the dirt. The other handy thing to help with my creaky back that needs to have me kneeling, rather than bending, most of the time is a folded sheet of bubble-wrap, which works really well as a knee pad. The dirt shakes off it easily, and I can rinse it off if it gets very muddy.

    1. Buckets and a bubble-wrap kneeler – clever! We must have at least five or six buckets in this house, but they always seem to be in use.

  2. Gardening clothes are, by requirement, older, tougher, more comfortable, and usually darker, than what I would normally wear. After solid shoes or gumboots, the next essential is to protect myself (spikes, mud, gunge etc) and as nobody has invented full body gardening gloves, I make do from the scruffier end of my clothing collection.

    I recommend overalls/dungarees. In your own garden, armed with sharp objects and muddy extremities, Nobody Can Dare Call You Cute! The next best option is to browse the suitable clothing in a charity shop.

    1. Full body gardening-gloves… I think I’ve heard of neoprene gloves, so I suppose one could always garden in a wetsuit. Seems a little unwieldy, mind you.
      I shall have to make a tour of inspection of the second-hand shops locally, to see if I can locate such a thing as a pair of overalls. With pockets, naturally.

What do you think?