The Farmers’ Guide to the Farmer’s Tan

If farmers can wear their farmer’s tans with pride, maybe you can too.


For soft-handed laptop jockeys like myself, merely existing in the sun with a T-shirt on can result in an intense farmer’s tan. This would be fine, but when you have to go into work — or wear anything else that fits differently in public — people will inevitably make fun of you for it. With this in mind, we reached out to the people these things are actually named after to see if they had any insight into those baked-in shades of melanin.

Here’s what our expert panel of (very proud) farmers had to say about their signature look.

Layton Ehmke, farming correspondent: Let me tell you first, vanity is everywhere. Even among farmers, you gotta have the right costume or people won’t take you seriously, and that’s the worry — you gotta be wearing the right stuff. That said, among farmers, farmer’s tans don’t often come up unless there are ladies involved, then it becomes important.

When it does happen, though — and it happens a lot because we do spend a lot of time in the sun — you rock that sh*t. You wear it with pride. It’s a good way to show off your guns, especially among the young guys. Old guys couldn’t care less. In their case, the leatherier the better, especially the backs of their necks. Some old farmers’ necks look like old saddle bags, just deep, deep cracks like the Arizona desert.

Even when it comes to social settings like weddings, you still wear it with pride, because what it means is you earned it. When you see it — a guy with a blaring white forehead and red everything else — you know that guy earned it. (By the way, if farmers didn’t have to take that hat off for manners, they wouldn’t.)

There are certain subsections of the farmer’s tan too — you’ve got the biker-farmers with the sunglass tan, that’s a big deal. We also get the white forehead and white face, which is much more noticeable. In the end, the bigger farmer’s tan you get, the more contrasting the tones (pale white forehead, deep red everything else) the better.

Josiah Garber, host of The Farming Podcast: Farmer’s tan is most noticeable when the transition from dark skin to light is too quick. If you wear shirts with different sleeve lengths, the transition will be more gradual and your farmer’s tan won’t be as noticeable, so throw on a sleeveless shirt every now and again when you’re out in the sun. And if you have the opportunity, take your shirt off for a little — just don’t leave it off too long, that white skin can burn fast and then you’ll have farmer’s sunburn.

As a grass-fed beef farmer, I’ll throw in one more tip: A study shows that increasing dietary fat may reduce the damaging effects of sun exposure. So throw some grass-fed beef on the grill. It’s summer, after all!

Matt Walter, of For a lot of farmers, a good farmer’s tan is a source of pride — it’s not about the tan so much as it is the absence of tan in certain areas. Consistency of clothing and time in the sun is all you need for a good farmer’s tan, so just try to wear the same exact type of clothes every day so the tan lines are perfectly even. In particular, wear white T-shirts; make sure you get the same brand of every shirt; and wear a ballcap on your head at all times. That way, if you go to a wedding, your white forehead will just blind the rest of the guests.

Trying to even out your farmer’s tan out would just confuse people. You need to keep it lilly white like a royal woman, because like I said, it’s a source of pride.

Paige Fox, former Pocahontas, Illinois, farmer: I think farmer’s tans can be sexy, but only when a guy is wearing a T-shirt and shorts or something casual. I wouldn’t want my plus-one showing up to a wedding looking like this goon. I also slightly resent people with farmer’s tans because it means they were outside enjoying summer. Now that I’m a lawyer, I don’t get any sort of tan, spending more than 10 hours a day, five or six days a week inside my office or a courtroom.

Ryan Zurliene, farmer in Highland, Illinois: There’s nothing better than a luscious “v” of hair on a burnt red chest after raking hay on my John Deere 4020 all day. But if you want to avoid a farmer’s tan, go shirtless, or cut off the sleeves, and never wear sunscreen. That’s for the birds, and no, REAL farmers don’t care about the farmer’s tan. We’re out there to get stuff done and make money, not look pretty.