Workwear, Literally

For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking horseback riding lessons– my Christmas present, courtesy of Thomas Page McBee.  My trainer, Beth at Las Trampas Stables, is intense. Raised as an American in Italy, she’s been riding since she was five and has dedicated her whole life to the profession/sport of riding. She toured Europe as a teenager, competing in various championships. She has a degree in Animal Science and has personally pulled foals out of their mothers. She developed her direct communication style for horses, rather than people. INTENSE.

Michael von Braithwaite showed up in her “equestrian” boots ready to ride, only to discover that her equestrian boots were just tall regular boots– Beth has proper equestrian boots. They look like they serve a purpose. And they do. All of this is to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about the “work wear” trend that happened in fashion this past year. My riding lessons (I’m learning the style of American Hunt riding) have made me think about the differences between “work” fashion and work-specific “fashion.”  I thought I’d dedicate this post to professions that we rarely think of that have influenced the fashion landscape.

There will be no blue-collar denim in this post. Not to bring it to too much of an identity politics level, but as someone from a mixed-class background (poor, then middle class, then working class, now college debt nonprofit class), I have a smallish ethical issue when it comes to appropriating blue-collar wear as a “fashion statement.” There’s a huge difference between necessity born of lack of means and the privileged mind of someone who wants to align themselves with “working class authenticity.” The problem lies with suburban, white, middle and upper class  notions of what it is to be “authentic.” That said, I have my own hypocrisies– I really like the “rural fisherman look,” among others. I also get that there are many shades of gray when it comes to fashion and cultural appropriation, so I’m not damning anyone, just explaining why I’m avoiding certain looks in this exploration.

Thus ends my cultural theory digression. I am truly the queen of digressions.

What I’ve learned from Beth is that being a true equestrian is no mere leisure class hobby. It is a real job, it’s hard work, it’s long days, it’s physical perfection and psychological expansion. You need the right clothes.

I have what I thought were equestrian boots. They look a lot like that boot. They have a little bit of a heel, they’re nice polished leather, and they look like pictures I’ve seen online of English riders. They are in no way what needs to happen.

Beth wears boots that look like that. They’re field boots. Those are new, but hers are covered in mud, horse poop, and hay. They look awesome. The buckles fasten the grip to the boot. Guess what, if you’re riding a horse as a job, you need to be able to hold on. And you have to hold on with your legs. The grips help you do that. They serve a professional purpose. My boots look rad, but only on city streets. I feel right silly in the stables and I found out yesterday that my boots don’t grip AT ALL.

American Apparel started making riding breeches. They look like this:

Lauren Pilcher, courtesy of

Notice how Lauren Pilcher, 16-year old blogger/high schooler from Toronto is not on a horse in her riding breeches from American Apparel. She is in front of some art. That is because if she tried to ride a horse in those she would slip right off, as would her cute, floppy hat.

What I realized as Beth was screaming “heels DOWN, grip with your thighs and your knees, your THIGHS and your KNEES, HEELS DOWN” is that, well, you have to grip with your thighs and your knees. Also, for FUCK’S sake, keep your heels down in case the horse rears. Somehow your heels being down all the way will keep you from getting thrown. HEELS DOWN! These are for real riding breeches:

Grip with your THIGHS and your KNEES!

They have leather suede on the inside of the thighs and the knees. Can you guess why? I can, because it was yelled at me over and over. I love Beth. She’s so intense.

My friend Cathy told me I was going to have “heels down” screamed at me. Cathy is a botanist, or she’s going to be when she finishes her PhD. She’s studying plants that have natural defenses against diseases. Or at least I think that’s what she’s studying. She could explain it in all sorts of science-y ways that are really fascinating. Anyway, she is “in the field” every Summer, and as such, she needs field clothing. She sends me various websites that she finds that seem to be mainly for people who work “in the field.” Apparently zip-off pants play a large part in field attire, but since I don’t completely understand why, I won’t include those here.

Field bags were really popular accessories this year. Not to beat a dead horse, but Pendleton x Opening Ceremony was widely featured for their outdoorsie collaboration. This dude is super ready to go into the field, provided “the field” has cocktails:

Cathy sent me the link to Filson, an outdoors supplier that’s been around since 1897. They make many things, and among them, field bags like this one:

Wool Field Bag by Filson

The stitching on this bag is for real. It’s built to withstand frequent and rugged use. The sides and bottom are lined with industrial weight cotton twill, which means that bag is never coming apart. The pocket placement is designed with convenience in mind, and the size and shape are meant to ensure that you’ll be comfortable with it on your side for long periods of time. The wool will hold up to intense daily use without ripping or stretching. It looks pretty rad, too.

My favorite botanist-specific item that Cathy has ever sent me is this plant press:

Standard Plant Press from Forestry Suppliers, Inc.

It comes with long straps so that you can carry it over your shoulder like an English schoolboy. I’m not sure that the plant press has a parallel in fashion, but it should.

For good measure, here’s an over-the-shoulder bag that evokes the same spirit:

I'm into it.

That kid is German, you can tell by his haircut. All little boys should carry purses. It looks so good. As for the giant carrot, not so sure.

Finally, I’ll leave you with an image of the first women to explore Antarctica. This was in 1969, but those fur-lined parkas might look familiar to anyone who has ever known a sensitive indie rock boy. Similarly, those work boots look a lot like the outdoorsman-inspired Timberland fad of the past year.

Ohio State team of female scientists hit the Antarctic in 1969

It’s kind of weird that they did their hair.


About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.


  1. blevit

    Nice! I just got a Filson bag and I’m in love with it.

  2. blevit

    I also have a book about the history of women in Yosemite. There are some amazing photos. I’ll send some your way when I have a moment.

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