A History of Aprons and Apron String Cuisine
Welcome to a Special Feature,
Vintage Aprons and Pies from Yesteryear,
It’s All Her -
A Short History of Aprons, Some Places to Order Custm Aprons and Some Recipes To Match
THE STRING THAT TIE, A SHORT TALE OF APRONS
(Sources below, please check them out!)
For domestic workers in the early 1900’s, the apron was a conventional, all-purpose tool, used to carry wood and kindling, to gather eggs and vegetables, to wipe their brow in the noon-day sun……
- From Ma Dear’s Aprons, by Patricia C. McKissack, American author
There is comfort food and comfort clothing. Mashed potatoes and gravy, meatloaf, and apple crisp figure are comfort foods we can all relate to. Aprons, in my mind, constitute the notion of ‘comfort clothes’. I always feel perfectly comfortable in an apron - like an anachronism but perfectly comfortable. A woman wearing an apron: a rare sight, I know so don’t look for it on any MTV video soon. But no frock, skirt, frilly blouse or gown makes me feel more feminine, and out-of-this-era than I do wearing one of my aprons – even my standard white chef’s issue.
Aprons make so much sense but seem to be something only grandmothers and TV chefs seem to remember. Whenever I see someone cooking or baking without one, I have to wonder ‘what are they THINKING of?”. It is like driving without a seatbelt. Besides which, where do you hang that damp kitchen cloth you wipe your hands on, if not on the ties of your apron. Besides which, how can anyone feel in the mood to cook wearing street clothes or home-from-work clothes?
The minute I tie on my apron, I feel ready for adventure. It is like that exact moment in Field of Dreams when the young ballplayer crosses over the line and becomes an aging country doctor again. Similarly, I ‘cross over’ the minute I tie those cords. I feel my waistline return, my sense of culinary direction forges to the fore, and I am all at once, back in time, and yet so-very present. Ah, aprons. For me, it is alternately pure chef, pure girly-girl stuff.
Ironically, the first aprons were anything but girly-girls stuff. In fact, they were quintessentially ‘guy stuff’. Blacksmiths wore ‘em, armor and weapon makers, gardeners, carvers, furniture makers, leather smiths, cobblers, tailors, jewelers, metal forgers, fishmongers, and clock makers. When you see old pictures of these craftsmen, you see men. Guys wearing leather aprons, duck cloth aprons, and canvas pinnies - barbers, stonemasons, and the Masonic society all wore aprons. Which makes you think that _expression about a man still being ‘tied to his mother’s apron strings’ is really kinda current – because for the longest time, aprons were masculine wear, not feminine.
Women ‘officially’ wearing aprons came about the turn of the 20th century, in Victorian England, although most pioneer matrons wore them, and wore them for all the right reasons: to keep their clothes clean from all the hands-on tasks they did. But Victorian England matrons, at home, were the first to wear aprons, on the domestic front (and not really need to wear them at all!) and these were delicately embroidered and stitched. As the 1920’s roared around, women no longer wanted to be solely associated with the home front and aprons, once a symbol of ‘domestic pride’, according to apron author Teresa Coats, were adopted more, as they were first intended, with a utilitarian purpose by those serving the upper classes. In short, the matrons went out to play; the maids stayed in and were bequeathed the aprons.
Thus aprons became symbols of class politics and feminism, or lack thereof – depending on the era. At one point, the full or bib style took a backseat the half-apron became popular – and cutesy, hostess, half aprons were in vogue. (Now, this is an odd thing: the half apron. It seems half-assed and half –hearted, if you mind – for it hardly protects your upper half from food stains and flying grease. It is almost a phony nicety or ‘I’ll-wear-it-if-you-insist’ sort of apron. I mean, a half apron? Why bother?). The half apron was likely seen as more stylish, less hausfrau.
As the twentieth century marched on, aprons lost their cachet and domestic élan. In rural areas, aprons were made of common cotton, white linen, or whatever materials on hand – even feed and flour sacks. The 40’s saw gingham and cheery cotton aprons replace the white ones and for a brief time, there was a resurgence. After WW II, with women tucked back safely in the burbs, and the idealized American family life (Ozzie and Harriet, et al) a national value; the ‘pretty’ apron again became the uniform of the happy (and often ditzy) housewife. Blondie of the comic strip fame is one such example but overall, the 50’s were apron heaven – creativity ruled, as aprons were at once the stuff of hostess-with-the-mostest and something to show off your handiwork to boot. Once again, it was a garment that saluted and celebrated the housewife. To quote Martha, it was, ‘a good thing’…….until the sixties. Aprons again reverted to the half-apron, apron with sayings, and men’s bbq aprons – but truth is, had they burned easily, aprons probably would have met the same fate as many a good brassiere, in the early feminist era. In fact, aprons have been taken on and off, depending on the social and political climate – feminism and sensibilities of class seem to dictate if aprons are ‘in’ or ‘out’ , fashion or uniform.
These days, the only people who wear aprons seem to be chefs and those of us, regardless of age that have the values of another time and generation. Then there are some, like me – who simply, honestly, quite love aprons. Talented as I am, I don’t sew or otherwise ‘craft’ stuff. Happily, there are folks that do and an online search matched me up with a quartet of apron makers of another era. Each apron maker created a totally different apron for me to sample. Here are some of these treasures.
These are not aprons! These are frocks! Seriously, the most unique spin on aprons on the Internet is at Valcooks.com, a delightful site hosted by Val Wilson Reed, who has taken style, femininity, creativity, and culinary flair and sewn them up into not only fashionable aprons but collector's items. Each apron is sashed in oversized bows, each has a name and theme and seeing them is the only way to have an inkling of how gorgeous they are.
Vintage, retro, and historical, and custom aprons
You can find a ton of vintage and antique aprons on ebay.com but these particular apron makers are outstanding and each, incredibly unique, in general, and from each other. Not one is the same – and it is testimony to their craftsmanship and the crafting of this simple garment, that they are so different. Differences in approaches, design, fit, ties – make for aprons that are pure art - but wonderfully utilitarian. Without exception, however, they are all of honest, 100% cotton: plain, patterned, striped, and printed but cotton.
Most of these apron makers have basic patterns and selections of cloth (that are very appropriate to the patterns) but are open to customizing things in any way you like. If you prefer a chef’s classic white apron, the best one is from Chef Revival, who makes great chef’s jackets and pants but outstanding white aprons. If you think of aprons as a dinosaur item, like an Easter bonnet, these aprons will have you fall in love again, with something from a time past. Slip one on and you not only look special, you feel like you wandered back into a friend’s kitchen from worlds gone by. Put up the coffee, get out a Jadite green mug, and slice up some pie!
firstname.lastname@example.org Lisette makes some of the most charming and authentic aprons, as well as bonnets. Her aprons will remind you of Little House on the Prairie. Old-fashioned and quaint, but totally wearable and serviceable, these aprons are for those who like a homespun look in a modern-made garment. The fabric is hardwearing and the deep pockets on the bib apron are sheer comfort, as well as stylish. Lisette researches the look of each of her items and is receptive to custom orders. Her quilts are one-of-a-kind.
Lorraine at Stitch Thru Time
This is vintage and homey apron-ville. Lorraine makes roomy, old-fashioned smock style aprons that remind you of a pinnie. Easy to wear (no ties – they are ingenuously designed to scoot in and out of, fast), available in a few fabrics, and made with exceptional care, these aprons are great gift items. Lorraine will embroider your name on as well. She is also known for her horseshoe-shaped, cotton casing, neck warmers, which you chuck into a microwave for 2 minutes and have total warming, comfort on a sore neck. Lorraine also offers patterns if you want to do it yourself.
These aprons are totally retro romantic as are the vintage (50’s) dress designs available. More femme fatale, vintage apron than matronly styled, these are for the feminine taste. We will report more when we get our order (stay tuned!)
Great, roomy, Ethel and Lucy aprons or Honeymooners style, Kitchenware Aprons are basic but solid and fun aprons. Custom embroidery is available
Chef Revival (for pro/chef style white bib and bar aprons)
For THE best white aprons, bar none, as well as denim ones (and the usual line of chef jackets)
Apron Strings and Links
Book on aprons
Apron Strings by Joyce Cheney
Aprons: Icons of the American Home, Philadelphia, Running Press 2000
The Apron: It’s Traditions, History, and Secret Significance
Ma Dear’s Aprons , Patricia C. McKissack
(Fictional book for juvenile readers)
Frontier Women Found Aprons Indispensable Because of Their Plentiful Pockets
Joyce Roach, Virtual Texan September 1998
How To Make Aprons, Roxa Wright, New York M. Barrows and Company Inc.