Wearing somebody else’s jeans and loving it

Published 12:38 pm Monday, August 17, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Larry McDermott

Life on the Farm


If there is one thing I’ve learned about farm attire, it’s this. The best jeans are the ones somebody else wore before you.

A working farm means just that–work. Outside, day in and day out. Wrestling stinky bucks, wrangling horses and cows, chasing agile chickens, helping a doe give birth, changing oil, lubricating equipment and keeping bees adds up to a constant wear, tear and stain of the fabric.

For us, the solution has been to buy our work clothes at area thrift stores, which we have done for the past 10 years. For a few dollars, compared to $45 or more for brand new, we can pick up a pair of jeans that look eager to get to wallowing in the mud, blood and beer–I mean beans. Coffee beans.

In the thrift stores, you will see a wide variety of jeans. I stay away from any that look like they might have belonged to Elton John. If I’m sitting on a stool milking a goat, driving a tractor or riding a horse, I don’t want someone to think I’m going to break into a rendition of “Rocket Man”. So, none of the sparkly stuff for me.

Although I haven’t kept track of how many pairs of jeans I have worn out on the farm or stained beyond redemption, a good guess would be at least 50. So, I know something about them, having bought at least six brands over the years.

Levis and Wrangler are always my first choice. They fit me and the fabric is tough–not impervious to a Yellowjacket sting but honeybees rarely get through–and hides oil and blood stains. The most excited I’ve ever been was the day I found a pair of Wrangler’s George Strait cowboy cut relaxed fit jeans. I grabbed them so fast you would have thought that I had discovered a Krugerrand gold bar in the “all for a dollar” section.

“Look at this. They are practically brand new,” I said to the man next to me holding up the Elton John pair.

Walmart’s Rustler brand is pretty good, too, although the workmanship is not always good.

When my neighbor and farm friend Julie DeMilt retired from farming this week, she shared a picture of her jeans and wrote this ode:

“Lots of ups and downs together through conditions I haven’t seen with many. You endured them well. Through thick and thin. Tears. Laughter. We were quite the pair. I will go on to have others. But none will ever be quite like you,” she wrote.

Farmer jeans have stories to tell. A barbed wire rip, a pee stain from a buck too eager to show his manhood, a gaping hole fixed with duct tape, blood stains from beloved animals leaving this life, beeswax from a hive recovered from a 1900s farmhouse in the mountains, seams stretched on the way down to earth from a horse’s back after a stinging horde of grown hornets erupted beneath him.

And a few tears on some of those faded jeans.

Larry McDermott, a retired journalist, owns a 40-acre organic farm in Rutherfordton, where he grows blueberries, keeps bees and raises horses, dairy goats, and chickens. Email: hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com or see farm happenings at www.facebook.com/hardscrabblehollowfarmllc