To my local branch of agricultural engineers Ernest Doe for a ‘fashion show of country clothing’. The place was packed with those tempted by the promise of a complimentary glass of prosecco, a charity raffle, and the chance to view the latest in farmyard chic at the same time as feasting their eyes on arrays of spanners, torque wrenches and plumbing fittings.
As the fashion correspondent for South East Farmer, I was a little disappointed that a seat had not been reserved for me in the front row. Instead I found myself jostling with hoi polloi for a view of the catwalk, where models drawn from a local Young Farmers’ Club were due to show off the latest workwear clothing brands.
As the clock ticked down to the start of the show a member of the Ernest Doe staff, who normally works behind the counter in the branch, took to the microphone to remind us we were not in Milan, Paris or New York: ‘Whoever it is with the Toyota and trailer loaded with bales could you move it, as no one can get in or out of the car park?’ So uncomfortable did he look under the bright lights that a friend standing next to me said “For goodness sake, Stephen, just go up and order a spare part to try and put him at ease.”
Farmers’ taste in clothes is something that has always interested me. Who can forget those photos of those Sussex shepherds of the mid-19th century in their striking smocks, straw hats and spats. In the early 20th century, downland farmers in my area used to wear a very tall top hat with a black tailcoat around their farms. Presumably this formal appearance in impractical clothing was a symbol of their status and unfamiliarity with manual labour?
So what would the 2019 autumn/winter Ernest Doe fashion collection say about today’s farmers and the image they wish to project through the clothes they wear? The music struck up and the models were soon strutting their stuff. It immediately became apparent that the mood was definitely more ‘pheasant shoot to NFU branch meeting’ than ‘tractor seat to milking parlour’. Out were Case coveralls, fleece jackets and steel toe capped work boots. In were Berghaus, Le Chameau, Musto and Barbour jackets, hats and gilets atop a bewildering array of luxury boots and wellingtons.
Some of these clothes had distinctly fancy price tags so how do we interpret farmers forking out for such expensive wardrobes? Once upon a time we could afford a new tractor or a combine but these days we can just about bear the cost of a wax jacket or a pair of wellies. Perhaps synthetic fur-lined tweed jackets and work boots are all we now have to insulate us against the chill of current low farm-gate commodity prices and the threat, post-Brexit, of free-trade in food and the withdrawal of farm subsidies?