Every major event in life has a dress code. It’s not being vain—it’s just how our culture works. Our dress conveys our intentions, our thoughts on the event and, to some degree, our opinion of the function. Beekeeping, while no black-tie gala, has its own dress code. Some beekeepers go on the formal side, while some attend in casual attire.
Formal Beekeeping Attire
Formal beekeeping attire is conservative: It covers you from head to toe, and with good reason. Bees are highly sensitive creatures. As new beekeepers getting the hang of the trade, we can be clumsy, move too fast and make mistakes. Protective clothing—along with a good, cool, clean smoke, of course—is the insurance policy.
It’s wise to have formal beekeeping attire on hand, whether for yourself or a guest, and there’s absolutely no shame in wearing it all—veil, gloves, jacket, pants and a full suit. In fact, it’s how many beekeepers begin the hobby. First and foremost, you should feel absolutely comfortable and at ease in the apiary wearing this attire. If you’re not, the bees will sense it. A calm, collected and confident beekeeper is a good beekeeper.
Casual Beekeeping Attire
As we get more comfortable around the bees, some clothing is shed. Usually, gloves are the first to go. Gloves can be cumbersome. They reduce our ability to accurately feel around in the hive as we’re moving frames, they can cause us to injure or crush bees, and, if ill-fitting, they reduce our ability to fully grip equipment. All of these small inconveniences may potentially lead to frustration and annoyance—both for the beekeeper and the bees. Going bare-handed gives some beekeepers a stronger sense of unity with the bees, as well as more sensitivity, allowing them to be better and more agile beekeepers.
Some “beeks” don’t stop there. It’s common for skilled and very comfortable small-scale beekeepers to forego full-suits, protective jackets, specialty pants and even veils. For most, this is a matter of comfort. These beekeepers often feel they can be more relaxed and move more freely with less restrictive clothing. Again, this is a completely subjective experience and preference. Each beekeeper—young, new or old—should wear what they feel most comfortable in.
Dos and Don’ts of Dressing for Bees
Protective clothing is often white or light-colored to keep the bees as calm as possible. Being creatures of the forest, bees are put off by dark colors—it’s probably a reaction to one of their main predators, the bear. In fact, a new beekeeper would do well to consider this a goal when getting dressed to tend to the bees: Avoid resembling a bear.
This goes for bee attire, of course, but also your “appearance” in other ways, such as scent. Bees have sensitive olfactory systems and prefer sweet smells. As such, they’re rather put off by strong human body odor and human breath—a good reason never to blow on your bees. At the same time, they’re very curious of fruity or floral scents, such as perfumes or hygiene products heavy in fragrance, like most deodorants, shampoos, lotions and body washes. It’s best to avoid these products before visiting your hives.
Keep these points in mind as you get dressed for a hive inspection, and then choose what is best for you. You are dressing for another culture, the honeybee colony, and your best chance at good communication and an amicable exchange is to come prepared to assimilate into their world.