Haute-Side Couture

“Anita, why are you stomping around the brewery? You’re putting out really negative energy and it affects everyone.” It was a question I never would have expected to have to answer. The truth is that there are no local stores that carry women’s sizes in the steel toed, water proof, slip resistant boots that a gal needs to work in a brewery. That means that I can’t try them on before I buy them. I’m forced to order what I think is my size in a men’s boot, wait for them to arrive, and then hope they fit. Sure, I could always return them and ask for a different size, but in the meantime, what would I wear to work?

This is the dilemma I faced last year when my work boots arrived about a half size too big for my feet. Would the next size down (most work boots don’t come in half sizes) be too small? Would I end up sending those back as well? In the end, I chose to wear two pairs of socks to help keep them from being quite so big on my feet, though they still slip a little with each step, shredding my socks and sometimes my heels as they go. Steel toes are heavy. It’s kind of like wearing ankle weights. That stomping my coworker observed was simply the sound of misogyny rubbing the skin off my feet every time I took one of the 7,000 or so steps my pedometer tells me I take at work each day. Couple that with my perennial resting bitch face, and suddenly what I thought was simply walking has been judged as an act of aggression.

This experience isn’t new or unique. Women across the country are having a hard time finding the protective wear they need in order to perform their brewery jobs safely. While breweries vary with their requirements, and each position has a different kind of safety need, it isn’t out of the norm to find a brewer wearing safety glasses, slip resistant, water proof, steel toed boots, heat resistant and/or chemical resistant gloves, and

reinforced work pants. These items are readily available in local shops in men’s sizes. But if you are smaller than the average burly brewer, you might find yourself on a wild goose chase. I’ve seen so many frustrated Facebook posts from my female colleagues about this struggle that I decided to write about it. I asked my brewster friends from across the country to chime in on their experiences, and the response was visceral.

Carhartt has recently discontinued their women’s line. Several of the women that participated in the conversation recommended another company that makes work wear. A few of them were motivated enough to contact the company to ask about protective wear that would meet the needs of women working on the production side of breweries. They received a nice response that pointed them toward the tank tops that don’t ride up. This same company offers men’s and women’s footwear as well. In the men’s section there are several options for work boots with safety in mind. The women’s footwear consists of a large selection of hiking boots and casual shoes. That’s perfect if fashion and recreation are your number one priority. And yes, you are probably detecting a little sarcasm in my tone. I’m sorry. You know what? I’m not sorry. It’s just that I have been quietly dealing with these little annoyances for a long time.

Katie Smith, a brewer at Highland Brewing in Asheville, pointed out that there’s an oversight in the support offered by our professional organizations as well. How about the BA (Brewer’s Association) offers a member’s discount for select work wear, but only for men? Natalie Rose Baldwin, a brewer at Breakside Brewing in Portland, Oregon, approached a representative from Carhartt at the Craft Brewers Conference to ask about the lack of women’s options. She was met with a blank stare. Alyssa Snidemiller, brewing student at A-B Tech’s Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast and brewing intern at Hi-Wire in Asheville, says she has turned to Dickies for a better fit, but had to sacrifice safety in the swap. The problem still prevails, however, that these items aren’t readily available in stock at local stores.

Alyssa had to order her work wear on-line instead of being able to try them on and see what fits. Women’s bodies are all different. Hips, busts, waists, and thighs are not all created equally. So why is work wear so curve blind? Why is no one making work wear that meets our needs for mobility at the work place and for our body shape?

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a fashion designer in Durham named Reid Miller. She has launched her line of women’s business casual work wear that allows her clients to bike commute and look good when they reach their office. The inner thighs of her Riding Denim are reinforced and the fabric has some stretch to it, so active women won’t destroy their jeans with their active lifestyle. I invited her to join in the conversation that was happening among women that work in the brewing industry, but had also garnered the attention of my friends that are geologists, park rangers, and photo finishers.

“You ladies are speaking my language. There is a whole host of reasons why apparel overlooks real women. We’re on the verge of a major shift towards clothing that respects women, their time and desire to accomplish real things with their day, thank goodness. I got a nice pair of Not-So-Skinny Denim – though not specific for brewing, a great all around pant for work/play. Keep pushing to make things better. We need your encouragement,” Reid said.

So, here’s where I have to call myself out for my own dereliction of duty. I hadn’t done a whole lot of research prior to sitting down to explore the issue for this article. I’ve been complaining about it plenty, but I had never devoted the time to do a simple web search in an attempt find a solution. You can imagine my excitement when I found not one, but FOUR companies on the first page of the Google results that specialize in women’s protective work wear! One of them even has a maternity line! It still isn’t the same as having a local provider that I can walk into and try on a pair of pants or shoes, but it’s a really great start.

I hope this can be part of a bigger conversation about the real world needs of women that work hard and need their clothing to keep up with them. Do you know of a local shop in North Carolina that is catering to these needs? I would love to hear about them and share the info with my colleagues.

If you are also in search of women’s work wear, here are the links to the sites I mentioned above.

Anita Riley is the Cellar Tech and Assistant Brewer at Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh, NC and serves as Co-Chapter Leader of The Pink Boots Society’s Eastern NC Chapter. Her book ‘Brewing Ambition’ benefits The Pink Boots Society’s Scholarship Fund, which encourages, inspires, and assists women beer professionals to further their careers through education. Brewing Ambition can be found at Lulu.com. Anita is a Certified Beer Server Cicerone and studied Brewing, Distillation, and Fermentation at AB Tech in Asheville as well as Rockingham Community College in Riedsville, NC. You can find her blog, Brewing Up a Storm, which focuses on women in the beer industry at www.metrowinesasheville.com/brew-blog. Anita is a native to North Carolina.

Anita Riley
Written by Anita Riley