ASHLAND -- Aprons have been worn since ancient times. Coming from the French word “naperon” which means a small tablecloth, aprons have had various uses over the years. They were often the first garment made by someone learning to sew.
During the time of the pioneers, most clothing was sewn by hand as few people could afford to buy clothing in a store and many didn’t live near one anyway.
Pioneer ladies and young girls wore long dresses with long sleeves year-round. This also usually included an apron. Many stories exist of how pioneer women used aprons for survival in desperate circumstances as they made the long trip west through scorching plains and icy cold snow in mountain passes.
One woman explained in her diary how she used her apron to cradle her baby in a tree to keep him safe and secure while she went back across the river to gather her other children.
Aprons were used for cleanliness, shelter, warmth, comfort and security. They came in a variety of styles and colors. The principal use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath but it also served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven and was often used to dry a children’s tears.
The apron was also used for carrying eggs, chicks and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in a warm oven.
When guests arrived, aprons were great hiding places for shy kids and those old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, when bending over a hot wood stove. It carried all types of vegetables from the garden too. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the fall, the apron was used to bring in the apples from the trees. When unexpected company drove up the road, that old apron could dust a lot of furniture in a few seconds.
Aprons were also worn by tradesmen, artisans, ancient priests, barbers, stone masons, chefs, cobblers, butchers, weavers, spinners, waitresses, gardeners, Native Americans, grillers and Masons. Colors or patterns were often designated for certain occupations such as checkered aprons for barbers or butlers who wore green. The aprons were worn not only to protect clothing, but as ceremonial wear that was often ornate and was also sometimes referred to as a loin cloth depending on its purpose.
In the 1940’s the apron became an icon that represented the mother, family and apple pie ideals. Those who saw mom or grandma in an apron after World War II felt a certain sense of comfort and security after the horrors of war and the Great Depression.
By the late 1960’s the apron was considered old-fashioned when it came to housewives as women moved from the home to the work place in search of their own personal satisfaction and sense of self.
Many recent cultural changes have brought the apron back into popularity. Cooking shows on television and food made from scratch has again become popular and have brought back the popularity and functionality of aprons. Crafters also like making and wearing aprons in vintage styles, interesting fabric and in themes such as flowers, plants or specific holidays.
Although many today do not even have an apron in their home and might ask “What’s that?” if they saw one, there are still many great uses for them and they come in several styles.
A half apron is a small piece of fabric that ties in the back at the waistline and extends to about the mid-thigh. A full or bib apron covers the chest and ties or loops around the neck and ties at the waist. Slip on aprons are like a backwards sleeveless shirt and cross aprons have a strap that crosses the back and comes over the shoulders with no ties.
A pinafore apron has more fabric over the shoulders and often has ruffles or “wings” of fabric above the shoulder. Characters such as Alice (in Wonderland), Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and Raggedy Ann wore pinafores.