Dirt and the Dress Code


Nothing hubby likes better than playing in the dirt.

A ranch wife must be able to make her peace with dirt. Dirt is ubiquitous, permeating, omnipresent, pervasive and abundant. It comes into the house on work boots, irrigation boots, tools, animals, small children, vegetables and the slightest breeze. If you relax your vigilance for a few days it will overwhelm you, but at the same time, if you try to achieve floors so clean they can be used for a dinner plate, not only will you fail miserably, you will never achieve anything else. My ranch wife mother-in-law used to sweep the floors after every meal; she said if she tried to do it only once a day the mess was so disheartening it made her want to throw her apron over her head and cry.

Of course those muddy paw prints aren’t ours!

And about that apron — when you are constantly shuttling between cow milking, cooking, bread baking, gardening and critter catching, an apron is not a bad idea. The best kind is either the standard butcher’s apron, which amply covers both chest and tummy down to the knees, or the classic old-fashioned bib apron style beloved of farm and ranch wives in the period from about 1920 to 1950. The ones I remember were the kind that had a sort of yoke around the neck, sometimes with fluttering half sleeves, always with big pockets and usually in pretty flowered or gingham patterns. In an era when many women had only a few clothes — sometimes just one or two dresses for the workaday week and one for “good” — and when washing was likely to be a once-a-week activity and dependent on good weather to dry the clothes, an apron was vitally important. Not only did it protect you from kitchen spatters, it could be used to dry the tears of the child whose sister had just clobbered her, gather eggs or fresh asparagus and, in a real pinch when the halter was out of reach, lead a balky horse off the front lawn.

Zoot suits — the rancher’s most fashionable rain wear.

If you are the sort of woman who requires weekly manicures, facials, pristine white blouses and perfectly ironed linen slacks, think very carefully before deciding to marry a rancher or farmer. It’s nearly impossible to maintain a manicure under the daily onslaught of dishes, gardening, fence mending, grease — the sort that comes from helping hubby replace a bearing on the tractor — wood hauling and similar sorts of grubby or hand-intensive activities. I always used to wonder how it was that I could clean my fingernails, get in the car and go to town, and they would be dirty again by the time I finished the drive. I finally decided that the dirt had been absorbed internally and was just making its way back to the surface.

The classic apron.

As for clothes, wear a pristine white blouse (or pristine anything) and I guarantee you will have to go catch a wayward piglet or the cow will give you a kiss. Wear shorts and you will need to climb through a barbed wire fence. Wear sandals or flip-flops — a chicken will mistake your toe for a large worm or you’ll drop an egg on your foot in the process of gathering them. There’s a reason the stereotypical rancher wears a big hat (sun protection, egg carrying and waving at critters to get them to move); long-sleeved workshirt (mosquito and fly deterrent; keeps the hay from getting in your shirt and pants when you carry a chunk somewhere); Levis (barbed wire fences, thorny brush, etc.) and boots (big-footed horses, cows and the occasional rattlesnake). Yes, the ranch wife has a dress code – it’s just a bit different from that of most women.

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2 Responses to Dirt and the Dress Code

  1. Denny144 says:

    You just described my urban gardening outfit–wouldn’t change a thing?

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