Get together with others from the ‘grownups generation,’ and it doesn’t take long for the hilarious childhood memories we all have in common, to surface. Especially those of our mums, and what they wore back then. From acrylic wigs (the sort that melted when eager housewives bent over their hot ovens to take out a cake) to ‘Easies,’ the tight elastic body stockings said to create enviable curves, we all remember them!
What we also remember are the aprons! Often in yellows, oranges, and lichen-green fabrics, they came with more pockets, borders, frills and flounces than you could shake a stick at, and they tied women to the home as firmly as they tied in a bow at the back. Which is why it comes as a surprise, that aprons are back, and not only in the kitchen, but as a fashion statement on the streets!
The word ‘apron’ comes from the French ‘naperon,’ which in English, refers to a ‘doily’ or decorated, cloth used to cover a small table and prevent it from being soiled or stained. In the same way, an apron protects the more valuable garment beneath it. Although aprons are often associated with household chores, they were also, in the 1800s, worn by women of status. Wealthier women wanted to been as such, they were obliged to take domestic life seriously. Consequently, their hard working maids wore serviceable aprons made from cheaper cloth, while their ‘ladyships’ decked themselves out in ‘ornamental’ aprons of satin, shot silk, and lace. They not only wore these frivolous garments in the home, but also out in the street when shopping.
The apron was also popular in the 1800s with American Pilgrims who possessed so few clothes, aprons were an essential tool in caring for them. It was with the Pilgrim women that the long cross-over aprons, fashionable today, became popular (more about this, later).
The depression years of the 1930s and 40s ushered in the need for thrift, and aprons during this period were often made from hessian feed sacks, and flour bags. As women were forced, for reasons of economics, to work outside the home, aprons morphed into cover-all smocks. But what really brought aprons into their own was the post-war period of the 1950s.
As soldiers returned home, and family life began all over again, domestic life and the ‘woman at home’ became the symbol of the age. Suddenly, aprons were not only seen as practical, but fashionable. It was the era of tucks, ribbons, and bows. Full aprons and half aprons were the choice, but both were equally decorated. The trend continued well into the 60s, and men even began wearing aprons when they picked up their barbecue tools!
The rise of feminism almost shuffled aprons off-stage so why is it they are back in vogue? The answer, at least in part, is the growing concern for the environment. As we are being encouraged to cut back on the use of water and detergents, and to make and mend rather than support an unsustainable fashion industry, aprons are having their day all over again. Which is ironic, given this trend spills over into fashion, itself!
There are now patterns galore for crossover aprons for children as well as for women. Once again, aprons are back on the street with gorgeous linen versions, in neutral colours, hogging the limelight. Designed to be worn over dresses, blouses and skirts, they give a rich, layered look which pairs well with leather sandals, ankle boots and chunky jewellery. Best of all, they aren’t difficult to make, so whether it’s for yourself or a grandie, perhaps it’s time you dug out the sewing machine, and stitched one up!
Aprons have come a long way since they were worn by maids, and now they’re back, we can enjoy them all over again!