Michelle Byrne Walsh is the Lower Midwest editor at State-by-State Gardening, a master gardener and a member of the Garden Writers Association.

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Dress for Gardening Success
by Michelle Byrne Walsh    

I am the last person you would ask about the latest ladies’ fashion. Really. I still own sweaters older than my sons. They are in college. But I do know a great bargain when I see it, and I like to look a little spiffy. Plus, I am very into comfort. So maybe you really should ask me what I like to wear in the garden. This year, it is full-skirted dresses of all sorts (on the cheap, too).

It’s a funny story how this all started: Last year on a sunny Saturday afternoon I was working in the front yard. (I live in a subdivision.) I was on my hands and knees weeding (you know how it is). Before an hour had passed, I had greeted both neighbors on either side of us as they left to go to sports events, talked with my friend and her husband, and I must have waved to about five cars filled with acquaintances as they drove past. Then I looked down and realized: I was dressed like a bum. I was wearing my usual gardening “uniform”: my son’s old Led Zeppelin T-shirt (two sizes too large with a hole in the sleeve), old black sweats with fuzzy worn out knees and a White Sox baseball cap. I and I realized something else: I actually don’t like Led Zeppelin or the White Sox that much — I was just reusing the clothes my sons and husband were going to give away to Goodwill or AmVets.

Then and there I decided that I was going to dress up a little to garden outside. All of my friends and neighbors see me outside in the garden, why not look nice?

So I went online and shopped for “garden clothes.” I quickly became rather depressed: some of those outdoor outfits cost more than my “good clothes.” So then I headed out to the resale shops. We donate to AmVets, Cancer Federation Donations and Goodwill when we can; why not check out what the resale stores have to offer?

I was in heaven. Most dresses were $5 or less. At that price who cares if I get them filthy? But most of them washed and dried beautifully with little care.

Your neighbors might think you are pretty fancy if you wear a dress like these in the garden.


This second-hand dress featured bees and a hive — but its shorter length necessitates leggings.

Looking and feeling cool in blue tones (fun resale shop finds, but not the gloves or shoes).

Is the hat a bit too much?

You can still rock the concert T-shirt underneath a denim sheath dress.

My criteria: comfortable, low cost, cute and comfortable.

The clothes had to let me move freely. I recalled that women back in the old days wore full, long-ish skirts when they worked (think about the photos of 1800s’ farm wives or today’s Amish women). This type of dress seemed to be the perfect marriage of function and form. I chose dresses with full skirts made of cotton or a durable, breathable fabric. Some dresses I chose were sleeveless for summer, but I also sought out those with half or three quarter sleeves because I burn easily. I add T-shirts and turtlenecks beneath the sleeveless dresses when the weather is cooler (so I can still use the Zeppelin T-shirt after all).

Dresses with patch pockets became especially prized, as pockets held seed packets, gloves and my cell phone. You could also use aprons to add pockets to these types of outfits.

You might want to choose dresses with straight skirts and shorter hemlines, which are very adorable. However, take heed: if you do “deep bending” in the garden (rump high in the sky) you would be wise to add leggings underneath. Modesty is a good thing.

In addition to my roomy calf-skimming dresses, my other must haves are: nitrile gloves, rubber boots or clogs, and a hat with a large brim to keep my face and neck from getting sunburned. Sunglasses are nice, too. Most of these things are hard to find at the resale shops; you might have to visit a garden center or go online to find them (and, gasp, pay retail).

Nitrile gloves are a wonderful invention: they fit closely so you can pick out tiny seedlings, but the nitrile, which is like a rubber-like coating, is tough and somewhat waterproof. I also found out that they come in the most delightful colors. I buy a few new pairs each spring. They are sold by many companies, including Wells-Lemont, Womanswork and Garden Works as well as at gardeners.com. Foxgloves (foxglovesinc.com), although they aren’t lined with nitrile coating, are also durable and close fitting; plus, they look just like dress gloves from the 1950s. Couture for compost!

Although many jobs (such as heavy digging, moving rocks and kicking behinds) will require protective footwear, such as work boots, I often wear old athletic shoes (again these probably made me look like a bum). However, lately I have come to love the rubber/foam/plastic waterproof shoes and boots made by several manufacturers, including Sloggers, Muck Boot Company, Crocs and Ladybug. They slip on and off, are waterproof and offer decent foot protection. Some are cute, too.

Lastly, always don a hat. Wide brimmed hats protect your head, face and neck from sunburn and can be that “certain something” that makes an actual “outfit.” Baseball caps don’t offer much in the way of sun protection for your neck, cheeks and ears, but in early mornings or later afternoons that might be OK. They still hide bad hair. You can score some great deals on hats at resale shops, but I also like those sold at local garden centers by Sloggers, Columbia, Womanswork, online at Sundayafternoons.com, and many others.

And then, if you dare, add some fun accessories like red bandanas secured with resale shop or garage sale pins, plastic jewelry and funky earrings (not dangling earrings, though for safety’s sake).

Now when I am in the front yard I look like a crazy garden lady, but at least I don’t look like a bum.




Posted: 11/03/14   RSS | Print


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