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January 17, 2006

What ever happened to aprons?

The latest issue of Piecework features vintage aprons, including a collection with themes like Visit to Grandmother’s Farm, and Cycle of Life. My favorite is the peridot green gingham with cross-stitch embroidery depicting the Eternal Question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Aprons remained in vogue during the entire first half of the twentieth century, when most women worked at home. Sometime during the sexual revolution, aprons lost favor, except for men working the outdoor barbeque, proud of their culinary skills, pleading for kisses as rewards.

A lot of changes took place during that time. In the course of just ten years, my siblings and I went through big changes in what clothing was acceptable, and who was expected to make it.

When my oldest sister was in junior high school, she came home one day upset because her friend had been sent home for her skirt being too short, a crime proven by use of a ruler. My guess today is that either the fabric shrank in the wash, or she’d gone through a sudden growth spurt in the legs. After all, she wasn’t “that kind of girl.” In high school my oldest sister belonged to an organization called Future Homemakers of America. Many of the girls who belonged made their own homecoming and prom dresses. One girl in my sister’s class earned the reverence of her peers when she stitched hers completely by hand.

Four years after her, when I was in junior high, we felt as if we were taking our academic lives in our hands if we wore culottes to school instead of skirts. But we apparently enjoyed putting our academic futures at risk, because we devised means, using pleats or folds, to attempt to hide the fact that they weren’t skirts, and wore them anyway, making secret pacts with each other to wear them on the same day. Around my second year in high school the rules changed and girls could wear pants—one day a week. Later we could wear them anytime, but if I recall correctly blue jeans were still limited to certain days.

Six years after I started junior high, my younger brother reached 7th grade. When I mentioned to him that girls weren’t allowed to wear trousers to school when I was in his grade, he didn’t believe me. Attitudes had changed that quickly—at least among kids his age.

I’d learned to sew as a little girl, making horrid looking doll clothes. My first results made me want to buy them instead. In junior high, girls in 7th grade were required to take Home Economics while the boys took Industrial Arts. In that first Home Economics class we baked cookies and sewed aprons. Both activities irked me as tiresome and juvenile, since I’d been baking and sewing for years. A few years later I’m happy to say the younger girls wouldn’t have believed me if I told them I had to take home ec. instead of shop.

Now here these aprons are in this magazine, making me feel nostalgic. Why is that? And what ever happened to aprons? If more women go off to jobs now, why don’t we need aprons more than ever? Are we better about changing out of our good clothes before we cook? Is everyone eating takeout? Would we rather wear cooking stains on our jeans and T-shirts as badges of our newfound freedom? Has the apron become a symbol of the past’s Stepford Wife controls over female activities? Do too many women my age remember being forced to make cookies and aprons in 7th grade?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:44 pm PST, 01/17/06


  1. Reenie says:

    Aprons went away like June Cleaver’s 3” heels and designer housedresses.

    I love retro linens of any sort. But now the only time I wear an apron is during the Christmas holidays. It seems to heighten the wholesome feeling of gathering with kith and kin. I feel like jolly old Aunt Bee as I roll out my cutout cookie dough, or baste the turkey. After the holidays, my apron gets packed away with the ornaments and other precious things. Like all the revered symbols of the season, my apron has become one too.

    Besides, with what I wear these days, there’s nothing to protect – no need for an apron.

  2. Eric Mayer says:

    Nice essay. I never thought about this but it’s true. My grandmother used to just about live in her apron. Of course she didn’t wear jeans andt-shirts. Maybe dresses need more protecting?

  3. I have an apron (not at all pretty, wish it was) whenever I cook or clean. I am entirely messy and when I cook, I would otherwise have all sorts of food stains and grease splatters all over my clothes. I wear it when I clean because a) it has a pocket and I can put my iPod in that and b) I get bleach spots on my clothes if I don’t.

    I would like to buy another apron but every time I look at them they are $40 or more! Are they kidding? So, I keep thinking that I will make myself one and then never get to it!

  4. Sarah says:

    Yes, one of these days, I think an apron will be just the thing. Then I can truly be a member of the Little Old Lady club. Now where did I put my sneakers and my half-glasses?

  5. I’m a messy cook, and I’ve always been one of those people who can’t wear white without spilling something on it. So, either I wear the oldest T-shirt I own (preferably a dark color) to cook, or I’ll have to break down and make or buy myself a new apron one of these days. The type that covers the whole body. But if I owned one of these fancy things in the magazine I’d have to save it for holidays, as Reenie does, to keep it from being ruined by my everyday clumsiness in the kitchen.

  6. The only apron I have left (was never a fan of them) is the one I made in 8th grade Home Economics class in the 1950’s. Been thinking about using it as a bib! I wish I had inherited some of my grandmother’s lovely, frilly bib aprons which she used to protect those dumpy “house dresses” she wore. Wish I had some of those dresses, too, now that I would fit into them perfectly. *aging gracelessly*

  7. Mary R says:

    I think the end of the apron can be traced to the introduction of the washing machine as a standard household appliance.

    I never did really understand the skirt-only aprons. When cooking, I tend to get flour, etc. all over my shirt as much as my pants. (Yes, I do own an apron, which I tend to use when cooking at the stove.)

  8. Mary, I think you have something there. I’m sure the skirt type were mostly worn when company was coming. The bib type makes the most sense, or a smock. I used to have a smock apron I wore to cut my husband’s hair, mainly because it had pockets where I could keep the scissors and comb.

    When permanent press clothing came into being my mom abandonded her ironing basket, with clothes still in it.

  9. Oh, I love aprons. The most practical thing ever invented. My particular variety is made from an old one of my grandma’s – probably 1940s vintage.
    I wear one everyday around the house and sometimes while running errands. I once wore one into a polling place, only to be asked “are you a waitress?”

  10. Two summers ago, I had a bout with breast cancer and during the mending process, I was fortunate enough to discover a treasure chest of vintage aprons. That lone discovery gave my spirit such an incredible lift–not only because of the wonderful memories they inspired, but because of the love and the pride that was evident in each and every well-cared-for, treasured apron that had once been the pride of an elderly lady. That day began what I now call my apron adventure, and now I am hoping to make it my ‘mission’ to bring back the glory days of femininity and love of home to a very stressed out generation. So if you like aprons, and would like to see what’s happening these days, please check out the media link at I like to say these aprons feature ‘eye catching looks for entertaining cooks!’
    God bless you all!

  11. Linda Jones says:

    I enjoy wearing an apron, while I clean house and cooking a meal for the family.
    My favorite apron is the big type with large pockets. I do not think it is a big deal.
    It protects my cloth and use it as a towel. I find it handy.

  12. Cy says:

    About two years ago I revisited my interest in aprons. I’ve just always liked them, but after I wore out the last two I owned, I didn’t get another.

    I’m an avid sewer so during one of my many trips to the local fabric store, I purchased some fabrics that I felt would make up some pretty nice aprons. I kept these pieces of fabric in my stash for about a year. Last year, I pulled out the fabric and patterns and decided to make them up. Well, I wound up making only one waist style. By Christmas of 2007, I’d regained a fervent interest for aprons and after making a special apron as a Christmas gift for all of the members in my family, my little interest turned into a serious passion. I absolutely love vintage aprons. I love looking at them, reading about them, sewing them, designing them, giving them as gifts and I’ve begun an at-home business of one-of-a-kind vintage-styled aprons. I sold about 15 this year. I love it so much, it’s often difficult to say goodbye to one of them.

    I learned through surfing the Internet, that there is a large community of apron lovers just like me. So I am happily engulfed in aprons of all kinds.

    Try one the next time you cook, clean, do some arts & crafts, serve food at church or another event, dress up for play with your significant other or try wearing one over a pair of jeans and a simple top (kind of as you would a vest), like we did in the 70’s. You just might find that an apron can be a really good friend.

  13. mary says:

    I make aprons out of my favorite dresses that have gone out of style or are too worn to wear anymore. I cut away the back, armholes and sleeves included, leaving a band of cloth to go around my neck, make ties out of the back section that I cut away, pockets out of the sleeves, and then hem the rest all around. A way to re-cycle my favorite dresses.

  14. [...] What ever happened to aprons? – The latest issue of Piecework features vintage aprons, including a collection divided into themes like Visit to Grandmother’s Farm, and Cycle of Life. My favorite is the peridot green gingham one worked with cross-stitch embroidery … [...]

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