I’m telling everyone that I’m in my Vietnamese grandpa era. These days, I’ve been into flannel shirts, clogs, multi-pocketed cargo pants, and wide-brimmed fishing hats—things that made up my late grandpa’s go-to outfit on his flea market ventures. Fact: These also happen to be the perfect clothes for gardening because they’re as protective as they are comfy!
Since my parents have had to shift around their priorities lately, I’ve been helping them maintain their outdoor garden. Obviously, my turf is indoor houseplant gardening, but the skills are somewhat transferable. The rub is that there’s more sunlight outside, which means more energy for the landscaping plants, but also more watering and more pruning burnt leaves on my part.
I’ve been wearing a lot of plain clothes lately. That’s mostly because the chores that I’ve taken up include watering, weeding, pruning, and deadheading. Essentially, it’s inevitable for my nice clothes to get mucky. Sure, I value the craftsmanship and creativity that goes into fashion and LOVE a cute fit. But sometimes, if not almost all the time, I’m at home and the most exciting part of my day is taking out my dogs to do their business and watering the plants as my little poop factories manufacture their final products. I shall NOT be wearing my cute Calvin Klein dresses for that.
(And at the risk of making you, dear reader, ralph in your mouth a little, I’ve started to appreciate the idea of inner beauty as I’ve gotten older.)
So what clothes do you need for outdoor gardening? Well, here’s my guide to gardening attire must haves! I’d sum up this whole aesthetic as “unintentionally grunge.” You could definitely look at sporting sites that sell garments with performance fabric or look for specialized gardening gear — I find that easy-to-source basic pieces work just fine for protecting me against the elements.
A gardening hat is a must, as it provides external protection against sun damage. My go to is my wide-brimmed, reversible red hat with UPF 50! It gives me Little Red Riding Hood vibes and has a cute string that I can tie to keep the wind from blowing it off. This baby is from eBay, although I’ve seen similar ones from Walmart and Amazon. It is a bit floppy, but there are more structured gardening hats out there!
I also have a basic Cal baseball cap that’s slightly more breathable, as well as a straw hat with a hole for my ponytail. They don’t provide as much coverage, so I wear them during when the sun is less intense in the evening.
My inner top is usually a ribbed tank or t-shirt, although I’ll usually only wear this layer if it’s exorbitantly hot. (In that case, I make sure to really lather on sunscreen.) For extra sun damage protection, I usually wear a raggedy old cotton dress shirt over my inner layer — I’ve picked up a few that my brother’s outgrown and thrown out! My favorite, however, is a men’s flannel (from Weatherproof Vintage) that I thrifted for $4! It has a tough fleece feel, but it’s actually 100 percent cotton so it’s very nice and breathable. Loose gardening tops made of natural textiles are breezy and won’t have you feeling sticky and icky when you’re working up a sweat in the garden!
I generally recommend long pants for gardening. Yes, it’s hot to wear long pants, but there are so many mysterious bugs and sharp spines and thorns out there. Elastic waistbands, natural textiles, and non-constricting silhouettes can go a long way for comfy gardening. And remember that even with long pants, you want long socks to keep those bugs out!
Cotton denim jeans
Over the course of the pandemic, I developed a fondness for 100 percent cotton denim jeans with high elastic waistbands — I find them in abundance at the flea market and Goodwill! They’re very small-town grandma chic, and the thick denim can endure gardening chores where they will get roughed up. I’ve gotten them secondhand for anywhere between $1 to $8 a pop, and they last forever. Since denim can feel tight, I size up two or three sizes.
My next choice of pants is cargo pants. I used to have so much haterade against cargo pants, but I’ve yielded to Gen Z, OK? I recently bought two pairs of utility cargo pants from Aéropostale. One is mostly tough cotton, and the other has a bit of Tencel blended into it. Again, I sized both up for ease of movement. I love that both have multiple leg pockets so that I can keep my tools and other small knickknacks tucked away. (I do wish they had zippers or buttons — you might have more luck if you look into sporting gear.)
Are gardening clogs a must? Not necessarily. When it comes to gardening shoes, look for something that’s 1. easy to clean and 2. has good traction. Dirt and gunk can easily build up on your shoes when you’re working with plants, so you might not want cloth shoes (like water shoes or mesh running shoes) that cling onto dirt. I often wear basic Crocs for gardening. But although these are easy to clean, dirt can easily creep into them.
My default footwear is a pair of Reebok Princess shoes. White isn’t the best color choice, but the faux leather is washable and the shoe feels stabilizing yet lightweight.
This is the last official item on my list but it’s certainly a MUST. The garden is a cornucopia of thorns, pests, saps, spines, fungal growths, and other insidious things that could maim your skin or get underneath your fingernails. Sure, using your bare hands can be helpful for gauging your soil’s wetness, for example. But I usually garden with gloves on, given how much I work with cacti and roses.
My go-to gloves are from a brand called Digz. I got two pairs for $10 from The Home Depot a year or two ago. They’re made with tough duck canvas fabric and have pleather palms. I’d prefer actual leather for working with sharp spines and thorns, but these work fine as long as I exercise caution. They’re somewhat water resistant but not waterproof, so I do get them soaked from time to time. What I do like is that the wrists are cinched, so dirt seldom gets into them. You can also toss them into your washer as well.
I’ve also stashed up a few cloth and rubber gardening gloves from Dollar Tree. While these are fine for light pruning, I’d invest in higher quality gloves for more rigorous tasks because they’re prone to tearing. Still, it’s nice to have them as back up. Just don’t do anything too wild while wearing ’em!
Clothes for gardening can consist of the less alluring but functional basics in your closet. Even if you don’t have *any* of these pieces, they’re relatively easy to find at flea markets, thrift stores, Targets, and more. Long story short, cover it up when you’re out in the yard. And PLEASE remember to lather on SPF!