High fashion isn't reserved for the New York and Paris runways anymore. It's growing in the gardens of America, where baby boomers are digging in the dirt in style (or maybe just playing the part).
Like other garden products, which have taken a big leap since 1988, clothes tailored especially for the hobby are growing in popularity despite their often-high price tag. Everything from pants to sunglasses is being designed for and marketed to gardeners.
About 78 percent of American households garden. That number has stayed constant for about five years. What has changed is how much money those gardeners spend.
The National Gardening Association reports that lawn and garden products grew from a $14.2 billion industry in 1986 to $22.1 billion last year.
Garden fashion got off the ground in 1987 when Denman and Co. in Brea, Calif., patented a pair of gardening pants with built-in kneepads and pockets for tools. But it was Smith & Hawken that took soil chic to new heights. It designed a similar pair of pants to complement its high- quality tools, and the rest of the ensemble followed.
Nurseries such as Atlanta's Forrester's Flowers now carry boots, hats and gloves to clothe the plant-buying public.
"Right now it's only a small part of our business -- about 5 percent -- but we think it's going to be popular," said Forrester owner Joe Underwood. He eventually may outfit his nursery employees in the clothing so customers can see it in action. And he may add fitting rooms.
One of the new products Mr. Underwood is most excited about is Denman's cotton twill chaps for gardeners. They belt on over the legs, have built-in kneepads and sell for $49.50.
Many of Smith & Hawken's products are made from natural fibers, colored with vegetable dyes and fastened with shell or tagua nut buttons -- clothes they hope your conscience can feel comfortable with.
"Our core customer is a serious, passionate gardener," said Amy Loucks, spokeswoman for the company, which has grown from a $40,000 business in 1979 to a $60 million mail-order empire.
"The clothing," she said, "is not meant to be more important than the person."