In the agricultural world, which has become increasingly complicated WITH CHOICES and technological developments such as computer programs for crop planting, irrigatinG and harvesting, one simple subject – clothing – remains AN ISSUE. Or does it?

Sometimes we fear that if it were not for equipment dealer hats, jackets from chemical dealers and shirts from seed producers many farmers would have to go to work naked!

In the best of all worlds, clothing choice is dictated by practicality. However, in the agricultural field one is well advised to pay attention to the Four Fs: fabrics, function, fit and even fashion. Make no mistake – in some instances, fashion has become a key additional consideration.

Where once the choices were simply dictated by “tough and comfortable,” all that has changed. As one ag worker put it, “I get to wear completely practical clothes,” she said, “and it doesn’t matter what they look like.” Yet work clothes – especially those for women – have taken on more flattering fit along with the down-to-earth considerations of work-related features.

When you look at Carhartt, Dickies, Duluth Trading or Levi’s these days, what do you find? Pants or overalls made of fabric with built-in stretch capabilities. Along with those pants, there are now shirts (and several other garments) with sun and bug protection.

In terms of ease of movement, it’s not just the fabric, but the “fashion” of the garment, with gussets and other features offering greater flexibility for reaching, bending and twisting.

Today’s clothing manufacturers even offer lines of product that are impregnated with insect repellant or with SPF-based sunscreen. In either case, such clothing gives the wearer protection beyond the usual from a cotton, denim or synthetic item.

We asked Duluth Trading Company of Belleville, Wisconsin, about clothing for workers in general, as well as the agricultural market:

AIG: What features of Duluth Trading clothing are ideally suited to farm work?

“Duluth’s purpose-driven products have features that allow for getting the job done in comfort, with the ability to easily move around and have access to tools and other necessities.

Some specific features that are suited to farm work include armpit and crouch gussets for freedom of movement while stretching or kneeling in the field; the moisture-wicking capabilities of Dry on the Fly during long days in the hot sun; and the insect-repellence capabilities of the No Fly Zone line to fend off mosquitos and ticks that often reside all around the farm.

Duluth’s Heirloom Gardening Gear also incorporates these features in the female-focused line. Additionally, much of the spring/summer line features UPF sun protection and added pockets to keep smaller tools on hand without needing to walk back and forth to the barn.”

AIG: When Duluth Trading clothing (or other products) are planned, is specific thought given to farm use?

“Duluth designs all clothing and products in a function-first mindset for tradesmen and women, farmers and businessmen and women alike. As farming is a huge aspect of Midwestern lifestyle where our brand has its roots, clothing for this type of work is certainly taken into consideration, but the functionality of product is made to be useful across all trades and active lifestyles.”

AIG: Do you think the No Fly Zone clothing has special application on farms?

“Knowing that insects thrive in a farm environment and can pose uncomfortable effects for men and women who lead this lifestyle, No Fly Zone is applicable by providing the solution – a collection of products that are treated with invisible, odorless technology that is proven to repel insects. This does not mean it repels helpful insects that are important for soil and crops but it does help prevent farmers from personally being bitten or stung while on the job.”

Safety and other concerns

Agricultural work doesn’t just require specialized clothing; it requires an eye toward safety aspects that proper clothing can assist. Outside work means the selection of boots, hats, gloves and, often, sunscreen as well. As mentioned, Duluth Trading and other suppliers offer UPF-rated clothing that can keep you in the field longer, without downtime caused by heat exhaustion or sunburn. Don’t forget about sunglasses or safety glasses, either. It’s not so much about fashion when you’re doing farm work – it’s about comfort and ruggedness.

During a day’s work, a farm worker’s hands can come in contact with chemicals, harsh detergents, paint, solvents and sharp tools. Scalded, burned or frostbitten hands can be a problem as well. Cuts and/or abrasions on hands may allow toxic chemicals to enter.

Wearing gloves that match the job will provide good hand protection. Only sound, properly fitting gloves should be worn. Gloves to protect the hands can be made of rubber, plastic, neoprene or other materials and should be unlined. Wire mesh, leather and canvas gloves protect against burns and cuts. Gloves insulated with rubber provide electrical protection. They should be long enough to cover the entire hand and part of the forearm.

Wearing long sleeves will provide an extra barrier for the skin along with the gloves. Make sure you have extra gloves on hand. A pair of strong leather or leather-reinforced gloves is the basis of agricultural hand protection. Leather provides good gripping power and protects hands when handling rough or abrasive materials. It also can protect your hands from sharp objects and cutting tools.

Think about your feet

Do not neglect your feet. Safety shoes should always be worn in an agricultural work environment.

When selecting footwear, know the job or jobs it will be worn for. There are several kinds of footwear for specific jobs such as the ag market. Footwear that fits properly and is appropriate for the job is the first step in foot safety.

Different types of footwear offer different features: Steel-reinforced safety shoes protect feet from common machinery hazards such as falling or rolling objects, cuts and punctures. The entire toe box and insole are steel-reinforced, and steel, aluminum or plastic composites protect toes and instep. Some boots and shoes also insulate against freezing temperatures and in addition may be equipped with specially formulated and designed soles to guard against slips, chemicals and electrical hazards. Different soles offer protection from slipping on oils or grease and puncture.

Safety footwear comes in many varieties and which type you select will depend on the specific hazards you may encounter. If you work with electricity, you should consider special electrical hazard boots that contain no conductive materials.

It’s a good idea to inspect your footwear frequently, too. When boots or shoes wear out, they should be disposed of. Leather should be cleaned and conditioned regularly. Make sure the shoe laces are not fraying and cannot be caught in equipment.

Selection of clothing and accessories for the agricultural work environment is more complicated than it initially seems. It is not enough to slip into some worn jeans and holey sneakers anymore.

The list of options makes finding what you need more complicated – and the results more satisfying. And makes for a much safer work day.