It’s been a little over 3 months of farm interning for me now, and this post is way past due. I’m the type of person who always obsesses over what attire to wear… events, jobs, pretty much anything that calls for more than just jeans and a tee shirt. Going sea kayaking with an outdoor school? Yup, I freaked out about that one, trying to figure out what clothes to wear and what supplies to bring. Farming was no different for me. I tried to figure out what I would need by emailing the farmers themselves, doing Google searches, and asking everyone I could think of. About half of the stuff I ended up bringing has been very useful, and half of the things I needed had to be bought up here after the fact.
What I consider necessary
This has been an epic scavenger hunt for me, trying to find the things that I need to do my job comfortably. So here it is, my favorite work-wear and supplies, and where I found them. As a side note, at the time of writing this post I am not being paid or compensated by any of these brands/companies/stores.
Socks — ‘Darn Tough’ wool socks are absolutely the way to go. I have several pairs of ‘SmartWool’ socks, and they work okay, but they aren’t nearly as good as the ‘Darn Tough’ socks that I have. You will absolutely have sticker shock when you see the price of good quality wool socks, but I consider it a great investment because I’m on my feet all day long for my job. I bought my socks at REI, they have an automatic discount when you buy three or more pairs of socks, plus I get a yearly dividend back based on how much money I spend at their stores. Because my socks are so expensive, I’m pretty neurotic about washing them the best way possible. I wash my socks inside out in the washer and then let them air dry/line dry; they have been holding up really well so far.
Shoes — Thus begins the first part of my rant, to be continued again later. It is impossible to find good work shoes in a retail store that are made for women. Tractor Supply Company, Western Wear stores, Boot Barn… none of them carry women’s work shoes. They do carry 100+ different work shoes for men, but if you want women’s shoes the only option the store gives you is to special order them. I tried some women’s work shoes that I bought at Boot Barn, and they ended up being so poorly constructed/designed that they caused blisters and killed my toenails. After running around town going to store after store, I ended up back at REI and just bought a pair of hiking boots. I got ‘Keens’, because they have a nice, wide toe box that is quite comfortable. I tried to find the most comfortable pair that also had the most leather, for ease of cleaning. I’m trying to be good about cleaning and conditioning my boots frequently, but so far I only get to them about twice a month. Sadly, I will consider myself lucky if these boots last as long as one year with the hard use that they are getting.
Gloves — It is impossible to find really well constructed work gloves made for women. Period. I will continue the search, and let you know if I find anything. In the meantime, I wear a pair of fingerless gloves that I got at Orchard Supply. Orchard Supply was pretty much the only store I found that carried a moderate selection of women’s gloves. Granted, I have incredibly small hands, but I still think that there should be more options out there for small-handed women. Are you noticing any trends here?
Hat — Summer is starting up, and that means long hours out in the sun. I am not going to have the time or motivation to apply sunscreen frequently enough to save myself from sunburns, so I bought a hat. I ended up spending the extra money and getting a genuine ‘Tilly’ hat from REI. It has a moderately wide brim, which gives me extra coverage without getting in my way. I’m always on the lookout for good hats, but I do really like my ‘Tilly’ hat in the meantime.
Shirts — Bottom line, on a farm your shirts will get trashed. Thrift store shirts and old tee shirts have been my go-to uniform, until recently. Recently it has been hot and sunny, so I ended up getting several long-sleeve work shirts. I did this for the same reason that I got a hat; there is no way I’m going to apply and then reapply sunscreen all day. I got some lightweight work shirts from Tractor Supply that ended up being about $20 each. In an ideal world, I would buy technical fabric work shirts that screen out the sun better, but I just don’t have that much money right now to spend on shirts.
Odds and ends — Pocket knife/tool, the best ones being those with a pair of pliers in addition to a good knife, I keep my pocket knife attached to my belt loop with a carabiner so that I don’t lose it; headlamp, very necessary during the winter months or any time that you need to work after dark, hands-free lighting is a life saver; sturdy, sport-style sunglasses; rubber boots and rain gear (as needed).
Pants — My search for good work pants was so frustrating that I was about ready to cry. Even worse than work shoes, absolutely no retail store carries women’s work pants. If a work wear store does carry women’s pants then they are either slacks, or they aren’t durable enough for farm work. In my desperation I ended up buying the smallest pair of men’s ‘Carhartt’ pants that I could find. The pants were wonderful in that they were durable and had the vast number of pockets needed for farm work, but they fit horribly. The waist was insanely high and cut into me every time I had to bend over; the crotch rode up constantly, giving me horrific wedgies. I tried to order a pair of women’s ‘Carhartt’ pants online, but when I got them, the sizing was completely off and the way that the pattern was cut was almost as bad as the men’s pants. Women’s bodies are shaped completely differently from men’s bodies, most especially in the hips. I returned the women’s pants and sold the pair of men’s pants I had been using to one of the male WWOOFers on the farm. At this point, I have completely given up on the ‘Carhartt’ brand. I ordered a pair of women’s work pants online from ‘The Duluth Trading Company’, and have been very happy with that purchase. The pants were expensive (about $60), but they fit me well and are incredibly durable. The sizing was pretty good, maybe a tad on the large size (but not too bad).
I realize that historically farming has been a very male-dominated profession, and that you could (maybe) argue that most farms/laborers are still men. But I think it’s time for the industry to wake up and smell the twenty-first century, the largest growth that I’ve seen in farming in modern times has been a steady influx of (young) female farmers. On the farm that I’m interning at right now, all three interns are young women. We have one more intern arriving in the next week or so who is male, but that’s still a three-to-one ratio of women to men. Shame on the work-wear companies for not making better clothing for women, and major shame on the retail stores for not carrying women’s work clothing at all. I can absolutely guarantee you that if the local Tractor Supply store started carrying a good line of women’s work wear; they would sell it. It should not be this difficult for women to find the gear that they need to do their jobs. I honestly don’t know how to change this segment of the farm industry. The only thing that I can think to do right now is point out the shortcoming and hope that by raising awareness in general, things will change for the better.