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?