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Clothes That Can Survive Even the Messiest Situations

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According to people (like nurses, nannies, and bird researchers) who would know.

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As we all know, life can be messy. Emotionally, sure, but also just straight-up covered in grime, dirt, sweat, and other unmentionable substances. And sometimes you need clothes (and shoes) that you know can stand up to the chaos. We asked people who are regularly in contact with messes (made by animals, children, and the human body) for some suggestions so that you, too, can survive whatever life may fling at you.

Carharrt Duck Work Dungaree, $49

When it’s cold and messy, I wear Carhartt pants and used/old/cheap flannels; when it’s hot (like it is now), I have a pair or two of basketball shorts and cheap A-frame tank tops that I completely destroy. Carhartts are great until they get threadbare, and then they just start ripping in the knees and butt and everywhere. —Tristan Feldman, third mate

Sperry Jellyfish Flip-Flop, $19.99

I wear the same Sperry flip-flops every day because they're indestructible. I got a ton of mud on them this morning, and then I just hosed them off and they were good to go. —Melissa Mitchell, nanny

REI Convertible Pants, $45

I'm a pretty big fan of REI’s zip-off pants (so stylish) — literally everything washes off of those. And wool socks, like Smartwool — worn and washed 10,000 times and are always good to go. —Emma Young, PhD candidate in biology/bird researcher

Ahnu Montara Boot, $165

My work boots are Teva’s Ahnu brand. They are supposed to be purple, but mine are now brown and have broken laces and a big hole down the side, but they still work really well! They get really beat up, but I love them. —Tessa Grebey, farm curator and educator

Patagonia Fleece, starting at $67.99

Most of us have Patagonia fleeces that we wear when we're cold — we have to wash stuff pretty often, and they hold up really well. Definitely worth the price. They make vests, too, and pullovers, if you don't want the full jacket. We have them all! —Naomi Fener, critical care nurse

Robeez Jaime Sneaker, $36

My kid has only ever worn Robeez shoes. In the lake, in the puddles, even in the snow and mud. The leather is so resilient and forgiving. Also, we use Ikea art smocks for bibs, both at work and at home and at every kid I have ever nannied at's houses. They are indispensable. (Except the Velcro sticks to your undies in the dryer.) —Greta Hill, teacher and mother of an 18-month-old

And some folks offered cleaning tips for when the washing machine just isn’t enough:

Sun is my stubborn laundry's best friend. Drying in the sun gets my kid's cloth diapers shining white every time, no matter if it's blueberry/raspberry poop or carrots and asparagus. —Greta

Soap-wise, borax is the be-all and end-all when something really needs to be heavy-duty cleaned. —Emma

We have these awesome bleach wipes that takes any stain out of anything. They're hospital-grade, though, so I'm not sure you can get them unless you snag them from the hospital. [WHICH WE ARE NOT RECOMMENDING.] They're in a purple bottle and not meant to touch your skin, which is probably why they work so well, hah! —Naomi

Got a mess-proof secret weapon of your own? Email us at, or leave a comment below!