protective clothing – can you help?


I am writing a feature about the history of protective clothing. As part of this, I’m conducting a series of short interviews with people who wear such garments as part of the work that they do. Does your job involve wearing a pair of dungarees or overalls, an apron, a tabard, a hi-vis vest, or a boiler suit? Would you mind having a quick email conversation with me about your protective clothing and how you regard it? If so, please leave a comment on this post or email me at the address you will find in the ‘get in touch’ section on this page. Muchas gracias.


Margaret Foster in the lab, 1919

comments on this post are now closed – thanks for your help!

77 responses

  1. By all means – I work in civil engineering so the hi-vis, hard hat thing is normal evey time you go on site.

    It should be an interesting article!

  2. I would be happy to – mine involves one or more of the following: steel cap boots, tennis shoes, hat, harness, sunglasses, long sleeves, fluro vest

  3. I wear safety stuff at work- it sounds like an interesting article. I’m writing one about working dress at the moment so I’m kind of obsessed by the subject, so I look forward to reading yours!

    Feel free to email me if you do want an extra guineapig for your sources; I mostly just use hi-vis, eyewear, and safety shoes though. (and extremely unflattering trousers)…

  4. Would medical protective clothing count? My PPE includes strict requirements for shoes, scrubs, a lab coat, goggles, and disposable gloves. I work with human blood and tissue, testing for blood-borne disease (HIV, Hep C, etc).

  5. The Brooklyn Museum had a number of exhibitions during WWII that focused on clothing, including protective gear. For example: Women at War: Work Clothes for Women (see press releases here: http://bit.ly/lEB8Xt ) and British Utility Clothing: British Information Service, both in 1943. You can contact our archivist Angie Park for more information (angie.park@brooklynmuseum.org).
    Good luck with your project!
    Deb Wythe, Brooklyn Museum Digital Lab

  6. I wear a lab coat and protective gloves when I’m working with chemicals in the laboratory (I’m a university research scientist). Happy to help if that’s of interest!

  7. I’m not working at the moment but it occurs to me that most of my jobs have included protective clothing of some kind or another – most recent was working in an agricultural museum (steel-toe-capped boots, wet-weather stuff, hi-vis vests on occasion). Summer jobs as a student included pizza-making in a supermarket deli (green-and-white striped tabard, straw boater) and fish-factory (head to toe white including wellies) – lovely. Happy to talk about them if you’re interested!

  8. Hello, I always wear a loose fitting top when I am dyeing my wool. In winter it is a cotton zip fronted ‘jacket’ and in summer a linen sleeveless tunic thingy. Neither have buttons so as not to snag on the hanks. I always wear them as I don’t feel quite ready without them. They don’t stop me from getting wet, although they do sometimes stop my clothes from turning exotic colours, however they are part of the tools I need to enter fully into what I am doing, I don’t wear them for anything else.

  9. I used to work in the microelectronics industry, the production line was clean room controlled and involved wearing a sort of romper suit, bootees, hair net, hood, face mask, gloves and safety glasses. Occasionally I worked at a wet deck (ie using acids etc) which involved all of the the above plus apron, acid proof gloves and visor. It may or may not be what you’re looking for, feel free to get in touch if it is.

    • That was my standard gear too, when I worked in a clean room, except that I didn’t have to work with acids. The bunny suit, etc, were all intended to protect the products from me, not vice versa.

  10. I love reading your insightful analyses, so I would be happy to help! I’m a PhD candidate in organic chemistry, so my safety kit is pretty standard–safety goggles and a lab coat at all times when I’m in the lab. We do tend to decorate our coats, though, so that we can pick them out of the huge piles hanging on the racks in the lab.

  11. Alas there is no protective clothing provided when you work in the dangerous field of lexicography. Some workers are encouraged to grow a beard though.

  12. I wear protective gear at work and at play. I train for roller derby and wear a lot of protective padding and I’m a student geologist. So protective clothing is par for the course. If you want some input I’d be happy to help.

  13. I am an artist and have two pair of old overalls that I use if I’m making fine art or just painting my walls at home. They are perfect for what I do.
    Also, as a Scouter, my uniform is made to take abuse (especially the pants), and my hiking boots protect my feet, keep them dry, warm, and are well broken-in for walking.
    I would be delighted to help you. It sounds so interesting. I love the photo of the woman hanging up the “bibs,” by the way!

  14. Love this idea, sounds so interesting! I’m an English Literature student; the only protective clothing I ever don is white cotton gloves for handling early printed books. But that’s for protecting the books, not me.

    At home I love collecting old-fashioned cotton aprons and pinnies – I have many more than I actually need!

  15. PS: When I was little we wore our dad’s old shirts backwards for painting and cooking etc. Now I love to cut up men’s cotton shirts and make them into pretty aprons.

  16. I’m have a much simpler job, I’m a preschool teacher and wear an apron. It needs washing daily, and I have several. Simple and sweet.

  17. I see another medical person has already chimed in– I’m a nurse, and I’d be happy to answer questions about my protective gear. Gowns, gloves, hairnets, masks, goggles, respirators– I sometimes feel like I’m suiting up for a moonwalk…

  18. My job is a boring, safe desk job. I do however wear a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, writs guards and a mouth guard when I play roller derby. :)

  19. I’m also in health care, and my clothes are meant to protect both me and my patients. It involves “scrubs” that have to be changed every day, disposable gloves and aprons. I guess they were at some time meant to show our authority and looked more like, and were called, uniforms, which we now try to distance ourselves from, with little success I feel. Please feel free to contact me if needed, very interesting subject!

  20. If I go out into the field, I have to wear steel-toe boots, snake chaps, a high visibility vest, safety goggles, ear plugs, and a hard hat. Jeans and a long-sleeved shirt are also recommended.

    Before this, I served in the Marine Corps. My utility uniform was protective and I also wore combat boots or cold-weather boots depending on the location. I had a helmet and Kevlar vest. Depending on the weather I had protective outwear that was also a part of my uniform (coat, gloves, hat, etc.) For my service and dress uniforms, I had a trenchcoat that served to protect my uniform from inclimate weather as well.

    As for how I feel about my protective outerwear, it is different in each job. There was a certain amount of extra pride in my uniform in the military. Although the purpose was utilitarian, I took greater care with the appearance of my uniform because I felt as though I was representing something larger than myself when I was wearing it. I also felt like it was “mine”. I took it home and took care of it myself at the end of the day. My protective gear now is just utilitarian. I think of it as functional and potentially life-saving. I am not careless with it because I will turn it back in to the company at the end of the project, but I don’t think of it as belonging to me or as representing anything other than good safety practices.

  21. Hi Kate,

    I am also a research scientist and work with various carcinogenic or acutely toxic chemicals. So I wear gloves, lab coat, safety glasses etc. But I did my PhD in Chemical Oceanography and wore a hard hat and steel toed boots when aboard the ships. And when my daughter was an infant I always wore a burp cloth when “on duty”, does that count?

  22. Like a few other organic chemists who’ve already posted, I also wear shatter-proof googles, nitrile gloves, and a flame-retardant lab coat to protect me from pyrophoric (spontaneously combustible in air) chemicals. The biggest problem with the lab coats is that they’re designed for men!: the sleeves are too long, there isn’t room for my hips in its straight up and down shaping, etc. But it’s better than being on fire…

    I can’t wait to read more about what you’re working on.

  23. Hi Kate,
    In previous work in horticulture I wore work boots, protective gloves and work trousers. Before that in chemistry research I wore lab coat, safety specs, gloves etc…
    Very happy to talk to you about some or all of it.
    Jen x

  24. From my bf, the landscaper…
    Depending upon the task, there are many jobs within the scope of landscaping that require PPE (personal protective equipment).

    Steel toe boots are essential for any equipment
    Chain saws require protective chaps
    Weedeaters require long pants
    Gloves for any sawing or pruning
    Hedge trimmers require protective chaps
    We wear snake gaiters when going into wetland low areas to weedeat
    Hardhats for tree work and chipper operation
    Pesticide and herbicide applications require special gloves, respirators and tyvek clothing and/or aprons when mixing and applying
    Hand removing of poison ivy would require long sleeves and gloves
    Pants for getting into briars and prickly shrubs to pull weeds, prune or remove leaves
    Hats for the sun

  25. Hi there. I am a metalsmith in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico.
    I must always wear all cotton clothes, full toe shoes, hair tied back. Additionally, an apron of canvas for soldering, leathers for welding, also a super-ugly leather cap and a variety of leather gloves (welding, regular goatskin and kiln gloves). I have safety grade glasses, and also wear an optivisor and a welding hood (not technically clothing).
    As a tiny woman, it has been a challenge to find welding gear that fits. Sometimes when I go to the welding supply and try to find 27″ waist pants or xx-small leather gloves, the guys there think I am making a costume. I have to alter my welding gloves as well as shorten the Carharts that I wear. You can’t weld with any cuffs or frayed edges, so I actually have to tailor my work clothes. This got me into sewing heavy canvas and leather, so now I make my own tool cases, exactly how I want them. Please tell us where the finished article can be found, and feel free to contact me: no.hum.here@gmail.com
    -Linda

  26. My jobs did not require protective clothing, but I have a dear friend in my age bracket (late 60s-early 70s) who was a nurse. She has describe to me how she felt when she put on her starched white uniform and cap (and white tie shoes, back in those days): “there was nothing I couldn’t handle!”.

  27. DH, John is willing volunteer. He’s a science laboratory technician, chain saw operator, dry stone waller, motorcycler.

  28. retired now but as a student nurse in the 60’s we still wore traditional uniforms – our cap inticating which hospital we trained in. My mom did her training in the 20’s same thing only more so. happy to help if it meets your criteria.

  29. I’m an apron wearer both in the kitchen and in the studio (different aprons, mind you!). For the studio, add in safety glasses and respirator (best not to breathe in enamel powder, which is truly just powdered glass).

  30. This sounds like it will be a fascinating article and I really liked reading about all of the work done by your readers in the comments. I teach Italian at university, so no protective clothing required. Not even for the poetry courses.

  31. I worked with horses for many many years, and although the standard “barn” outfit was jeans and a big overshirt, paddock boots were necessary for getting on and off horses all day, as were good working gloves, access to an approved ASTM riding helment in case you fell off in a field. Often chaps were worn for warmth in the winter months along with wellies in the wet for mucking. Competition gear was strictly regulated by the sport organization – helmet, vest with kevlar for cross country & jumping, type of jacket for jumping, hunter & dressage by class and so on. Very complicated, some for tradition, but more and more for safety, especially in eventing. Training gear is endless both for rider and horse. If you are interested I could go on and on.

  32. If it hadn’t been for my cycle helmet four years ago, I probably wouldn’t be here to write this. But I don’t cycle for a living just to get there and back. It doesn’t look like you’ll be short of people to interview. Sounds like an interesting project.

  33. I used to work in a pulp and paper mill on the West Coast of the USA, wearing protective clothing and boots. Happy to chat with you if you need more interviews!

  34. I’ve seen a few people inquired about lab coats and such. If you need another person that has to wear such protective clothing for work I’m willing to help. I work in an infectious diseases lab and many times I also have to work with toxic chemicals so I do have to wear a lab coat.

  35. Hi Kate,

    This sounds like a fascinating project. I work as a research scientist, it’s a pretty varied role requiring lots of PPE! I would be happy to answer any of your questions.

    Lindsay

  36. Another amazing subject! I know several people have mentioned medicine. I also have (past) experience of latex and non latex gloves, a variety of colours of plastic aprons on a roll, surgical masks, gowns, scrubs, and white coats. Now as a child psychiatrist, I have none of this. In fact the (wo)’men in white coats’ are very anti white coats! Please email if you think I can help! X

  37. I work in a quilting store, we must wear aprons as part of our uniform. We were asked to make our own in any style using a particular hand-dyed fabric from the store.
    As a natural introvert, my need for protection is more spiritual than physical. But it is a need none the less, so I embroidered the word for “Fox” in Sanskrit on the neckpiece of my apron. Foxes are very special animals to me; they are resourceful in extreme situations, so I like the idea of keeping the spirit of them with me. It is traditional in Japan,and some other countries where the practice of Buddhism is prevalent, to darn or embroider a protective talisman into the neck a garment where it will hit the spine.
    All of this is a very longwinded response about a kind of protection you may not have had in mind, but there you have it.

  38. My grandfather has been practicing medicine and/or research since the late fifties, both here in the US, in Canada, and overseas–he’s not so great with email, but I’d be happy to ask him questions on your behalf! I don’t know if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for at all, though.

  39. Between research projects, internships, and amateur metalworking, I have a bit of experience with protective clothing and would love to help you out!

  40. I work in a laboratory and generally wear a lab coat at work – + latex gloves + the occasional face-shield. I would be happy to talk to you if you’d like!

  41. I don’t know if I’d be relevant but I’m about to move somewhere that have easier to access printing studios and I’ve suddenly been thrown. I’m not going to have my printmaking apron that I always always used because it belonged to school (aka I’ve done without it for 5 years but done hardly any printmaking over that time) Your post has made me realise I’m actually stuck in a pretty tricky spot. I’ll look forward to looking for and reading your feature and hope finding a plain dark blue twill cotton apron isn’t as hard as I think it will be.

  42. When I first set out to be an archaeologist I didn’t expect it to involve so much protective equipment and clothing. As it turns out though, I’m covered head to toe with prescribed PPE.
    I look forward to reading your article. The culture of safety is an interesting topic. I’d be happy to contribute my experiences and thoughts if you’d like to contact me.

  43. I am a hospital doctor (pathologist – actually). When I first started as a house officer I wore a white coat as uniform. These are now banished along with long sleeves and ties as they are a mobile source of infection. In A&E I wore a fetching green pyjama suit – the nurses got royal blue. For my postmortem work I have to don the most flattering item yet – a white plastic zip up jumpsuit with hood and wellies, topped off with plastic sleeves, apron, two pairs of gloves and sometimes sealed facemask and visor. It is fairly anonymising (is that a word?) and a tiny bit sinister. It has been nicknamed the sperm suit. There is also a tendency for the suit to split at the seat so it is not advisable to drop things on the floor. Sorry!

  44. Hi, I’m a fish and wildlife technician and occasionally a wildland firefighter, so I’ve worn a wide variety of protective clothing at work, including waders, wetsuits, chainsaw chaps, fireproof clothing, mosquito nets, and tyvek suits. Some of my protective clothing is made of marvels of synthetic chemistry like kevlar and nomex, others of ancient materials such as leather and wool. I’d be happy to be interviewed if it would help you out.
    -Jan

  45. I wear my ‘whites’ when I am working and although I am my own boss and therefore set the rules I always wear uniform when I am working.

  46. I remember going for a job interview with a temp agency and being astounded by the questions on whether I had my own reflective vest and steel-capped boots. I never knew you needed steel-capped boots for an office job! The interviewer found it as funny as I did when she worked out I was the one referred to them by the hiring company for the office job, not trying to get a job as a forklift driver…

    I also wore a labcoat and standard lab equipment when I was studying, and if I ever go back to work in my field it will be the required dress. Although, I should say we were supposed to wear lab coats at all times in the lab, but often they only got thrown on when we were working with some really nasty stuff or there was a departmental tour or inspection expected!

  47. I work in a library – and there are smocks available to wear. Mostly people wear them if they’re working with a lot of ink or dusty books. We don’t stamp date-due cards anymore so I see fewer smocks being worn. Please feel free to contact me if you like!

  48. I’d be happy to talk about protective clothing of an artist (I paint in oils), and a barista.
    Good luck-I bet the article will be fascinating!
    Sima

  49. I am an artist. I have 2 things that I wear interchangeably to protect my clothing, both which I have used for over 25 years in the studio. One is a red mechanic’s coat and the other is a cotton apron I purchased in a commercial kitchen store. They are both encrusted and I am embarrassed to admit, but have never been washed. I am very attached to them. I also wear surgical latex gloves when drawing & painting.

  50. Pharmacist here. We wear white coats, partially just as uniform, partially to help protect us from taking medication dust home at the end of the day. In hospital full cleanroom garb is used to protect the medications and therefore the patients from us while mixing IVs, and still more layers are added for chemo to protect us from the meds.

    As a hobby jeweler, I always wear cotton clothing that will not melt if caught on fire. Burns are bad enough, I do not need melted polyester in my burns as well.

  51. Hard hat, steel toes, safety glasses and a visivest are my daily wear at work. Once when giving a tour to a bunch of high school kids, the girls were lamenting putting on the hard hats and wrecking their hairstyles. My reply “We’re all fashion victims around here sweetheart, put on the hard hat or you’re not leaving the room”.

  52. Hi Kate – I don’t wear protective clothing ( I don’t think a thimble counts) but my Mum used to work in a baker’s shop and wore nylon overalls, which were supplied by the shop owner to the staff – he then deducted payment for them from their wages every week! I am amazed by all the jobs mentioned in the previous comments!!

  53. Hi Kate, I am a kindergarten assistant in a steiner kindergarten where I don an apron every day. The apron is practical in that it protects my clothing from getting messy while I prepare bread dough, carry children etc…but it is also a mantle of sorts.

  54. I’m an overall wearing cowgirl who is also into homemade aprons. Have pictures, will chat. In the southern US we call them “overy’alls”. :o)

  55. I’m an art student; protective clothing includes enclosed shoes and apron in the studio, or serious boots, apron, eye and ear protection in the workshop.
    I always wear an apron when cooking too.
    I grew up on a farm (Australia) where we did sheep work in summer in thongs (flip flops), shorts and t-shirt and consequently suffered cuts, scratches, sunburn and occasionally lost a toenail (ow).

  56. I am a cross-country ski coach. When I am out skiing with kids I would say some of my clothing is protective as I need to stay warm when it is around -20 F. Some of the items I wear to keep me safe are as follows: wool long underwear, a shell pant and over those is a gore-tex like pant. The top half again is wool long underwear, a polypropylene top, boiled wool (dense) sweater followed by a windstopper jacket and sometimes before the jacket I might wear a fleece vest. Head is a wool ski hat, a neck warmer that is fleece on the inside and wool on the outside. Wool glove liners followed by mittens that have a wind blocking panel of some kind that I love and can not find more of . . . bummer! The back side of the mittens are design so you can wipe your nose with out ripping up your face. When it is this cold I also wear boot covers over my ski boots and these things make a huge difference. Once I completely look like the stay puff skier I head out the door for ski practice!

  57. my partner works in the handbuilt bicycle industry and wears a variety of protective gear for the brazing, welding, and mechanical aspects of the job and would love to be interviewed! you can contact him via my email from this comment.

  58. I work in a lab and my PPE & uniform consists of steel capped safety boots, combat-like trousers (hard wearing and many pockets), a polo shirt, lab coat, fleece, hard hat if I have to go down to the manufacturing area, nitrile gloves for when I’m testing. I’m more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

  59. This sounds like a fascinating project. I have worn PPE in some form or other for most of my working life. I’ve worked clearing and maintaining trails in chainsaw chaps and ear and eye protection, shod horses wearing a leather apron, worked in shipyards with hard hats, respirators, full face visors and cover-alls, worn safety harnesses, and while working on traditionally rigged schooners was never allowed on deck without my knife and marlin spike. I’ve drilled regularly in donning PFDs and full immersion suits (one or the other, not both at the same time) neither of which are really considered PPE I suppose, as they aren’t meant to be worked in. My favorite, and the clothing that makes me feel the safest, though I’m not sure if it really counts, is my gansey worn over carhartts and fouly boots, with my foulies over top. As protection against bad weather and armour against the world it really can’t be beat. I also am an inveterate apron wearer in the kitchen.

  60. I used to climb TV & radio antennas for a living (up to 2000 feet high!) and had to wear protective climbing harness & hardhat. I sent an email with pictures so you can judge if it fits your qualifications.

  61. while i do NOT have a uniform, per se, i work with my high school students (after two hours of classes) in the field. this can mean at a horse farm, an organic farm, a museum, a library, and a boy’s and girl’s club. or as i will tomorrow, in the adirondack wilderness, readying a camp for the summer program for special education kids. i wear leather hiking boots or low hikers, and jeans, or climbing pants, both cotton twill, durable, though jeans are tainted by lycra these days. we wear t shirts or sweatshirts with our program logo above the left breast. gloves, outerwear, muck boots as needed. i get dirty, but no longer have to worry about wearing teacher outfits.

  62. I am a nursery school teacher and part of the uniform is a big apron. I put it on when I arrive and I don’t take it off until I leave. Part of its function is to remind me of who I am at school, a very different person than who I am in the larger world.

    Can’t wait to read what you have to say on the subject!

  63. I work at a printshop – I wear steel-toed shoes at work and ought to wear ear protection (though it’s not usually necessary since all the “loud” machines are in the other room where I’m rarely working). We also wear cotton gloves to protect the prints, and just follow a common sense rule about baggy clothing/loose hair/necklaces, etc… when working with any of the machines.

    When at home (for dyeing), I wear an apron, gloves, and mask (when mixing dyes since I use powdered).

    In general, I don’t mind wearing any “safety” clothing – I’ve worked jobs that required uniforms my whole life, with the exception of my current job, and the gear is just another type of uniform. The steel-toed shoes are a bit annoying sometimes because of their extra weight and general clunkiness. I’m not too fond of the cotton gloves, but that’s only because, as the only woman using them, they’re far too large for my little hands and I have to secure them with elastic bands.

  64. Hi Kate!

    First, your blog is lovely. I have recently started a job as a construction laborer/commercial diver/office admin. So, for the construction I generally have a pair of carhartt pants (a brand that has been around since the late 1800’s!), work gloves and a hard hat. Diving is a completely different story, not sure if it would apply to your work, but its a dry suit, thermal lining, heavy socks, hood and gloves. Let me know if you’d like to chat!

  65. I am an art teacher and wear a smock or apron every day of the week! (Except the last day of school when I also often wear all white). :-) After almost twenty years I finally retired my smock (presented to me by my mother for my first day of teaching) as the two front patch pockets were worn free at the corners, the turned up sleeve cuffs were also worn down, and there was a large three cornered tear on the right side! All the same that fabric, some kind of heavy weight woven floral pattern, wore beautifully and hid a multitude of stains and smears (I washed it only at the end of the school year)! My warmer weather/less messy days apron was a “Japanese” design purchased from the now long-gone-but-still-missed Martha Stewart Living catalog. It was a heavy plain cotton twill with two large front patch pockets. The straps crisscrossed at the back and the sides also overlapped at the back and were held in place by two button-and-loops. I wore that one almost as long and just this year reverse-engineered a new one using a decor-weight floral cotton print from Joanne Fabrics (US). No patch pockets yet though I saved the scraps to do them later. I love the design so much I plan to make several more.
    My younger students are so used to seeing me in these aprons and smocks that they frequently assume they are my actual clothes. If I take one off during the day, at least one or two will ask me where is my dress? Even though I am clearly clothed! They also will often not immediately recognize me.
    Parents, too, see my apron/smock as my art teacher persona. I admit I feel the same way and wear my aprons now matter what I am doing, from supervising students on the playground to helping them into cars at dismissal time!

  66. I manage a (well known, branded, high street) coffee shop and my apron is a signifier of my role as well as symbolic of partnership with 120000 colleagues globally, who all wear exactly the same style apron. It also saves my clothes from certain ruin!

  67. We have a dairy farm and wear overalls during milking- heavy and insulated in the winter, short-sleeved and light-weight in summer. We protect our feet with rubber boots, our hands with nitrile gloves (bright blue!), and our heads with the stereotypical billed cap sporting some farm-related industry logo.

  68. I am happy to take part. I work in a University lab and have to wear a lab coat and nitrile gloves when working.

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