The Valley Wire
Are aprons all about fashion or function?
Aprons have a long history. Medieval man’s loin cloth could be considered the first apron as the function of an apron is to protect whatever is underneath.
In the Middle Ages, aprons indicated the wearer’s trade or business. Cobblers and blacksmiths wore black, stonemasons wore white and barbers’ aprons were checkered. Blue was favoured by butchers, spinners and weavers. By the 16th century, aprons were an indication of status, embellished with embroidery, jewels or family crests, and were fashionable with the upper class.
In the pioneer days, people owned very few articles of clothing. An apron was a necessity. It offered protection against cooking splashes and farm chores, doubled as a pot holder or dish towel, and, if you could find a clean corner, was used as a tissue. Woven material was a precious commodity. Flour and sugar came in sacks made of finely woven cotton. Those sacks were carefully picked apart and re-purposed into aprons, dishtowels and even clothing. Recognizing this, some flour sack manufacturers made the fabric attractive with little colourful prints. Aprons and pinafores were mostly for women and girls and were worn to protect the dresses underneath. Pockets were a bonus feature.
By the 1950s, aprons symbolized the woman’s place in the house. She was idealized as mother, happy homemaker, chief cook and bottle washer, and she wore her apron as a badge of pride. The dirty apron was whipped off before supper was served, with a fresh clean one tied on to reinforce her good housekeeping standards. Aprons were pretty, floral and finished with rick-rack or ribbons. Dad wore a masculine version for cooking on the barbecue. A short decade later, the apron was considered old-fashioned, possibly as clothing was now cheaper, and more available so protection wasn’t as necessary. And women were heading out of the kitchen into the work force.
Today, aprons are popular again. We wear them to protect our clothing as we bake, cook or paint. There are heavy duty aprons for grilling, carpentry or gardening, with lots of pockets. Aprons are available in several styles and endless patterns. The traditional bib apron hangs around the neck and ties at the waist. The cross-over apron goes over the shoulders, crosses on the back and ties. The fabrics are usually cotton twill which is long lasting with good protection. It’s the prints and patterns that attract most of us. Flowers, cats, bikes, boats, garden themes, dragonflies, birds, stripes, solids, with or without pockets, there are so many choices.
A fresh apron is still a welcome addition to a wardrobe. Ask your mother if it’s worn for fashion or function.