Work Clothes: Work Hard, Feel Great

Choosing the right work clothes keeps you comfortable and safe around the farm.


| September/October 2009



Insulated overalls

Insulated overalls make winter's outdoor work more comfortable.

courtesy Duluth Trading Co.

Farm fashion isn’t so much about style as it is about comfort and safety. Sure, those windproof shirts and finely stitched cowboy boots look sharp enough to wear into town, but there’s plenty of function built into their form. And no matter the popularity of overalls in suburban shopping malls and on kindergarten playgrounds, their roots are steeped in a rich history that’s all about work. Work clothing now enjoys considerable attention in the fashion industry, because folks are always on the lookout for long-lasting and comfortable duds. But make no mistake, fashion jeans are typically made to look like you worked in them, while work jeans will serve you for months before becoming your soft old friends.

Work wear comes in an unfathomable number of styles and materials. Some are designed with specific tasks in mind, and others are of more general utility. When choosing any pair of coveralls, pants, gloves or boots, first think about the various tasks you want to safely accomplish around your place. If you plan to do a lot of stonework or steelwork, you want boots with a hard-cap (steel or plastic) toe box. If you’ll be spraying toxic insecticides, you want a pair of disposable coveralls, hood and respirator. Read on for a few tips on what to wear when. 

Keep a sharp mind

Headwear is often overlooked when putting together an outdoor wardrobe, but since that’s where the human nerve center is located, you should give it some consideration. Hats protect your head from injury and help keep you warm or cool at the same time. If you work in the sun in any season, choose a baseball-style cap or full-brimmed cowboy or Aussie-style hat. The ball cap protects your eyes and much of your face from the ravages of bright sunshine, but it will leave your ears and neck exposed. The wide-brimmed Stetson and Aussie hats are designed to protect your entire head and neck from the sun. For hot weather, choose hats made from ripstop nylon or woven mesh and straw. For cold weather, heavy cotton, wool, felt and leather help keep in the heat. For even more wintertime comfort, choose hats with built-in earflaps.

If the work involves an opportunity to take a blow to the head, either by walking into low-hanging obstacles or by getting objects dropped on you, consider a hard hat. This type of headwear uses an impact-resistant shell or core and a suspension system to dampen the blow from small branches falling on your head while trimming trees, for example. Hardhats come in many different styles, including a nice-looking cowboy hat.

When the work involves time in the saddle of an ATV or on the seat of a UTV, a helmet might be the headgear of choice. You’ll want one certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation, often called DOT certified. Manufacturers hate it when you operate an ATV without a helmet – you’ll hate it, too, the day you hit that new groundhog hole in the east pasture, get bucked over the handlebars and land on your head. 

Keep your thumbs opposed

Since farm, ranch and land maintenance work invariably makes heavy use of your hands, it is important to protect them, too. Selecting the right pair of gloves for the right job makes the work safer and protects hands from all manner of injury. A pair of good-fitting full-grain leather gloves is the hallmark of farm and ranch work, but not all leathers are created equally. For fencing (especially barbed wire), choose elk hide or deerskin because the sharp wire points will be less likely to penetrate and cut the gloves. For other abrasive chores, bison, bovine and goat leather also work well.

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