Taylor’d with Style -The Adorable Apron
By JeanAnn Taylor
I’ve always loved aprons. There is something magical about the fabric, embellishments, and purpose that draws me to this simple garment created to protect clothing from spills, splatters, and stains. Aprons that belonged to a beloved family member can be very sentimental as the apron is not just another piece of clothing—it hold a nostalgic, emotional tie to the past, symbolizing the wearer’s personality and values.
Within the folds of the fabric are stories and memories from once daily life. We may remember our grandmother using her apron skirt to pull out a pan of hot biscuits from the oven, or reminisce about the times she walked into the kitchen carrying eggs from the chicken coop or strawberries from the field, all safely nestled in the skirt of her apron.
Apron history goes back to ancient times with the earliest recorded evidence found in medieval paintings from the 1300s. During the Middle Ages, the color of the apron signified the trade of the wearer.
Cobblers wore black, butlers wore green, barbers wore checks, spinners and gardeners wore blue. Most of these aprons were long and had a bodice flap to protect the chest area. With the emergence of the Renaissance, aprons became more fanciful and less utilitarian.
The “pinner” apron was used in the 1700s. This style was tied at the waist; the bib top corners were pinned onto the dress near the shoulder area. In the 1800s both wealthy women and their maids wore aprons. Maids wore white cotton aprons to highlight their cleanliness and to define their status.
When maids appeared before guests, they may have worn aprons with decorative pleats or embroidery. Wealthy housewives demonstrated their family’s wealth by wearing aprons in beautiful colors of satin or silk material.
Before the invention of the washer and dryer, laundry day meant washing clothes in a washtub, feeding them through a wringer, hanging them on a clothesline, and then ironing them with a hot and heavy cast iron.
Wearing an apron over clothing was a smart and practical way to lessen the laundry workload. When an apron was worn over a dress, the dress could be worn more than one or two times. It was acceptable if an apron had a dirty spot or two—but not the dress.
While aprons are both practical and functional, they are also fashionable. Through the years, apron fashion mimicked the skirt silhouette of the times. When hoop skirts were in fashion, aprons were full to accommodate the volume.
When dresses were form-fitting, aprons followed suit. In the 1920s, aprons were long and shapeless, mimicking the fashion of the day. In the 30s, a more tailored, feminine silhouette replaced this boyish look. Dressing “smart” both frugally and in design was expected.
In the 1940s, patch pockets to carry clothespins, handkerchiefs, and other small items were commonly added to aprons. For personality, these pockets were sometimes shaped as baskets, tulips, or hearts. Fabric was scarce during the Great Depression, so aprons were often made from flour or feed-sack fabric. Rickrack and other trims were sewn onto the apron whenever they were available.
The A-line apron skirt was only full enough to accommodate fitting over the dress. The full front bib could have a straight or ruffled shoulder strap.
After the Second World War, there was a return to the desire for home, stability, family, and domesticity. Aprons became the key symbol for these qualities while portraying women as feminine and modern. The silhouette of the 1950s skirt was full; often consisting of five yards of gathered fabric with a petticoat underneath. The aprons of the 50s were made to fit this full design.
As most women of this era had sewing machines and knew how to use them, apron-making became an enjoyable way to express their creativity. Rickrack, decorative buttons, bows, embroidery, and fun-shaped pockets were added to new polka-dot, striped, gingham, and floral print fabrics.
Women often made aprons from the same or coordinating fabric to match her dress. Mothers and daughters wore matching aprons, and sometimes aprons were made to match the kitchen’s tablecloth or curtains. Home economic classes were taken by all school girls, and aprons were the perfect first sewing project.
Aprons were made to sell at church bazaars and for school fundraisers. Embroidery, smocking, appliqué, and rickrack trims were added to increase the value.
The 1950s also brought a new elegance to this tried-and-true functional garment with the design of the “party” or “hostess” apron. These attractive aprons were made from organdy, lace, satin, or silk and were only worn for presentation, not actual work. They were embellished with pretty details and were usually coordinated to match a lady’s dress.
The fashionable apron was such an important part of a woman’s style, different aprons were worn for the various seasons, holidays, or special occasions. Novelty prints with poinsettias for Christmas, lilies for spring, birds for summer, roosters, spoons, and kitchen appliances were all trendy motifs.
Newspaper and magazine editors enticed women to buy their publication by including apron patterns within the pages. In 1951, Betsy McCall was introduced as an endearing paper doll for children to cut out and play with.
The feature took Betsy on many adventures. She went to the ballet in New York City and visited the White House. She had tea parties, learned how to sew, celebrated holidays and even met Captain Kangaroo. Three or four appropriate outfits were included on the colorful page each month, and an apron or pinafore was frequently part of her ensemble.
Free apron patterns were also placed into cereal boxes. Advertising during this era almost always depicted women wearing pretty, feminine aprons.
The 1960s brought an abrupt end to this way of thinking. Women began rejecting the idea of staying home and pursued a life outside of her family. The apron as the symbol of a quintessential homemaker fell to the wayside and became a symbol of being “old-fashioned.”
Now, in fashion’s never-ending circle, the apron is enjoying a comeback. From the runway to the street, the new “apron dress” is designed with the front panel sewn directly onto a pair of pants or skirt. The dress is typically backless, with thick straps, and a square neckline. When made from denim, the garment resembles a pair of overalls.
Floral prints, checks, eyelet, leather, and even toile are all options for this quirky trend. Thanks to a return of home values and the desire for sustainability, many of us are cooking more at home. The apron is no longer a symbol of servitude, underclass or domesticity, it is one of a creative, do-it-yourself, and adventurous spirit.
Aprons are just as practical today as they were from the very beginning. Their silhouettes will change and their popularity will come and go, but their functionality will always keep them coming back into fashion. Whether you purchase a ready-made apron or sew one for yourself, choose an absorbent, woven fabric.
Look for or add pockets that will hold small items, and styles that are easy to slip on and off. Many aprons are made with ties long enough to wrap around your body and tie in the front. This is also a nice feature to look for in an apron.
Every piece of clothing we wear influences our self-perception and motivation; putting on an apron means you are ready to get busy whether you are cleaning, painting, cooking, gardening, working with a material you don’t want to stain your clothes, or simply need pockets to keep necessary items handy.
The adorable apron is more than just a piece of fabric tied around your body, it’s a practical, valuable, and effective element of style.