Gamine Workwear: Your New Favorite Jeans

Posted on October 22, 2014

Taylor Johnston is a professional horticulturist at the beautiful Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. She is also the founder of Gamine Workwear Co. Taylor designs jeans. It is actually because of her gardening career that she founded this trade-inspired collection of workwear goods for women.

What compelled Taylor Johnston to take on a second (some may even say contradictory) career? Well there was this one day. This one photo. This one inspiration. I’ll let her explain it:

“During my first year on the job at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum– on a very important, physically demanding day– I came to work in my trusty uniform of ill-fitting, tattered work duds borrowed from the men’s rack. A $5 disposable sweatshirt featured prominently in this outfit. Unfortunately for me, I did not know that Bill Cunningham of the New York Times would be there, photographing us as we installed the 25+ foot long Nasturtium vines over the balconies of the third floor galleries.

I was pretty mortified when Bill’s photos, featuring yours truly, showed up in his “On the Street” column in the New York Times.  Seeing myself in print made me realize that in some important ways, I was not actively building upon the proud tradition of my predecessors in the field of Horticulture.”

Taylor Gamine New York Times

That’s how it all started. So how’s Gamine doing these days? Well, there’s a wait list. A wait list for pre-orders. For women’s workwear jeans.

And this is what I have come to learn. When you make something with purpose, to fill a need. When you do so in a way that distinguishes the buyer. Whether you are filling your own need or someone else’s. There will be a market. There is a market for the most global of needs. There is a market for the most mundane of details. Whether the purpose you intended becomes the purpose it ultimately fills, it does not matter. Your respect for a need, whatever that need is, gives buyers the opportunity to treasure the purposeful ways they use their bodies. This is the power of an item made with integrity.

Gamine Workwear Field Tested

There are very few items that bring out the child on Christmas morning in me. My Gamine purchase feels like a gift in this way. (I celebrate Christmas, please feel free to substitute with a special day of your choosing.) The only other item I can recall feeling this way about in my adulthood was the discovery of my purple cane. I feel as though these items were made solely for me, even though I don’t use either of them as intended. I actually use my cane incorrectly. Instead of leaning on it for support, I use it to propel myself forward (a common occurrence in people with drop foot). And my jeans? I live in NYC. I won’t be sifting dirt. But I will be on my bike.

So if workwear fills a global need, what are some mundane details? Let’s start with the pockets.

“I took the pocket design in our dungarees as an opportunity to make a statement-big patch pockets aren’t something you see nowadays. But more importantly, I really wanted to create a pocket where form follows function. The size/shape came about in thinking about all the crap I stuff in my pockets at work–phone, tools, maps, seeds, keys, and my actual hands!”

Gamine Pockets

And the fit?

“In keeping with the outstanding tradition of American-made workwear, the collection highlights American utility and construction, tailored silhouettes, and natural fabrics that define graceful, good-humored beauties who work with their hands.”

In my very first fashion related post, I asked why Commuter Jeans don’t exist for women. I quickly learned that they do exist, though in every case the woman’s option was designed after the initial release of a men’s commuter. There does not exist a pair of women’s commuters that have the same amount and quality of features as the original men’s version.

Taylor’s outlook gives me a lot of hope. She is “trying to disrupt the idea that workwear for women should be a slightly modified version of what the guys wear”. I was telling her about my views on women’s commuter jeans when she told me about the recent history of Carhartt. For years Carhartt received hundreds of letters from women asking when they would release women’s workwear.  They said they decided to do a children’s line before a women’s line because “they’re a very conservative company. culturally.”

A League of Their Own

What I am learning is that we have made great strides in how we perceive women and the physical activities that women perform. The change has been especially profound over the last decade. I believe we’re on the cusp of a collective shift in how we perceive the garments women wear while performing those activities. So when something comes along that matches form and function, I’m going to notice. You see, I write about the stigma of disability and the stigma of assistive devices. I believe that equality in fashion is no different than my fight for inclusion in retail.

You have every right to ask (and I hope you do ask), what does this girl with a purple cane know? And I’ll admit, I don’t know much. But this is what I’m learning: The market is a field of dreams. And if you build it, they will come.

Field of DreamsTo get on the Gamine wait list, go here.

To help me change the world, go here.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Stephanae V. McCoy October 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Liz, thank you for all your hard work on destigmatizing the use of assistive devices. I was in church the other day, brought to the front of the room and asked to tell the congregation what my issue was. I looked at the person asking me and said with all seriousness “what issue?” I knew he was referring to my use of the white cane but I want people to see beyond the cane. Well he kept prodding until I said I was blind then he said “that’s what I hope you’d say.”

    While this little exchange wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me I took offense to the reference that because I couldn’t see therefore that equates to something being wrong with me. Is it crappy to lose your sight? Yes it is but to be percieved as someone who isn’t whole because of a disability isn’t right.

    • The Girl with the Purple Cane October 22, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      Stephanae, I thought of you recently when reading this article.

      It resonated with me, because while my vision is still very much in tact, I have lost some of my periphery. And it actually took me a while to realize certain spots were gone. It’s sort of like your vision isn’t missing (in that something is wrong), I just feel like it’s not there… which is something entirely different.

      I hope all is well!!

  2. Stephanae V. McCoy October 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Interesting article Liz. Thanks for sharing. There’s a guy named Tommy Edison who does these excellent YouTube videos on different aspects of what it’s like to be blind. Since I’ve never been totally blind I can’t fathom what it’s like.

    Even though my vision can no longer be measured by standard methods (eye chart) since I’ve grown accustomed to the lack of vision it’s not as difficult as it was when I first started losing vision. I think there is also a huge difference with people who are born blind vs. people who lose their sight. The latter group (depending on their age when they lose vision) mostly rely on memories of what certain things look like for example color.

    I never knew just how vast the range of vision loss is, and no two people who have the same eye condition experience the same sight loss. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt. lol

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