The well-dressed naturalist

Gene's Photos 006

The author, naturally.

By Gene Twaronite

It is vitally important to look your very best whenever setting out into the field, be it the Amazon Rainforest, Antarctica, or even your own backyard. All too often, a lack of success in nature study can be traced to a poor choice of clothing. There is nothing worse than a shabby naturalist.

A good way to keep up on the latest fashions is to scan current nature and conservation magazines such as Audubon and Natural History to see what smart naturalists are wearing in the field. There you will see glossy photos of stylish people wearing colorful shirts and blouses, pocket-filled vests, parkas, cardigans, and nicely tailored khaki pants and shorts, as they pose with the latest nature-watching gadget. I should point out that magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire are far less reliable indicators in this regard. Or you can watch TV shows on Nova and Animal Planet or reruns of “Wild Kingdom” to see professionals emerge from swamps and jungles with their outfits spotless and perfectly pressed.

Turtlenecks are a great choice. As one company promises, “you won’t be sticking your neck out with an old reliable turtleneck.” I prefer the roomy loggerhead sea turtleneck. The new side-necked turtle design, though, is a little bizarre for my tastes. Good old moleskin smocks are always in style. Seersucker suits, however, are out for now, though sapsucker suits are perfectly acceptable.

ephemera-book-binding-home-naturalist

“The Home Naturalist,” by Harland Coultas, an adaptation of “Das Buck der Sammlungen,” by Otto Klasing, cover detail, 1877. Artist unknown, public domain.

In addition to their utility, bush or birding vests add a certain layer of authenticity to your outfit. They feature all kinds of handy pockets for holding essential field equipment —sunglasses, binoculars, field guides, gin flasks, etc. One company advertises an all-cotton vest “already broken in for comfort and the look of an old hand well-versed in the lore of the road.” You can’t pay too much for that look.

Of course, for those whose budgets are limited, T-shirts are always in style. The long john shirt, preferably long-sleeved, is quite smart and is available in various designer colors like fuchsia and autumn sunset. Theme shirts are quite the rage this year; you certainly won’t go wrong sporting a chic tree frog, orchid, or Tyrannosaurus, or perhaps one from your favorite zoological garden or aquarium. One should be cautioned, though, against wearing that old Hooters or Alice Cooper shirt.

The amount of clothing you wear is largely dictated by environment.

For most occasions, cotton is a sensible fabric — whether it be in the form of a frock made from “luxurious, heavyweight cotton from Lancashire” or in an elegant “padre shirt” or “lotus pants.” Cotton shorts or trousers are always nice, preferably with drawstring waists and hip pockets. This year’s favorite colors include apricot, powder-blue, and, of course, russet.

You can usually get a pretty good idea of the latest naturalist swimsuit fashions from the travel ads in nature magazines. There, you will find photos of places like the Bahamas, Aruba, Tobago, and Tahiti, where smart naturalists can be found during winter months.

One vital piece of clothing often overlooked is a hat. Not only will a hat help to complete your outfit and identify you as a serious naturalist, it will protect you from the sun. It can also serve as an invaluable piece of equipment. The kind you choose is largely a matter of taste. Some prefer the 10-gallon, John Wayne-style, or the ever-popular fedora popularized by Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” A pith helmet can be quite fetching. And nothing quite equals a top hat for both elegance and room to spare for carrying equipment and specimens.

The young Charles Darwin is said to have once run out of containers while out collecting insects. Having discovered a particularly rare specimen of beetle, the hapless scientist was forced to carry it home … in his mouth. From that day forward, he acquired an immediate taste for hats and was never caught dead without one.

© Gene Twaronite 2013

*****

Gene Twaronite’s writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines. He is the author of “The Family That Wasn’t,” “My Vacation in Hell,” and “Dragon Daily News.” Follow Gene at TheTwaronite Zone.Com.

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