Blacksmiths need them. Cobblers, carvers, jewelers, artists, fishmongers, barbers, butchers, chefs, gardeners, and above all, masons love them. Fertility goddesses in ancient Crete wore them. And look for them on Egyptian gods, Chinese deities, and Aztec Tepoztēcatl—as well as the priests who carried out their rituals. Apron strings wrap around a lot of history.
It's a little tablecloth, if you look at the French origins of the word—naperon—protecting clothes from spills, but also protecting dinner from the germs and allergens that travel home on the day's togs. An apron is a soft armor that works both ways!
I can still see my mother sweep into the kitchen and reach, first thing, for her apron—her arms twisting around to her back to tie it tightly at the waist as her mind begins to plot the courses ahead. But her mother's apron went far beyond the kitchen - carrying eggs in from the chickens or vegetables from the garden … and even served as a tent flap for shy children like me.
Suffragettes wore political statements on their aprons, fashionistas wore ruffles and embroidery on theirs, tradesmen left the rough and tumble of the day on theirs. And then… in the 1950s, advertisers made an icon of the white, middle class housewife wearing her domestic apron—and it was all downhill from there for the little tablecloth.
Aprons became a symbol of entrapment and sexism and by the 1960s, women threw them off without a second glance as they ran out of the door to jobs, paychecks, dinners out… freedom!
Imagine my surprise when I heard my enlightened niece ask me why Ibu didn't carry aprons. When I get home from work every day, I put on an apron first thing, she explained. It helps me make a shift to the other job of mine—that of parent to three small children—and I can enjoy them and our messiness together with much more abandon. Plus... pockets!
She isn't the only one. Her husband, the real chef in the family, wears aprons with great style. I even heard my nephew announce dryly, when considering his career options, I want a job where I can wear an apron—(like a farrier or leather smith or an organic farmer, I think he means. But the apron was key). A whole generation has returned to these quintessential symbols of hospitality, of slow food in the kitchen, of fresh tomatoes from the garden, of ritual meals with family and friends.
One evening recently, I came to the kitchen to wash dishes after a dinner party—in a spotless white dress. I was laughing at myself as I dug through the bottom drawer and pulled out my mother's lavender checked apron and tied it on tight—like a Cretan goddess or an Aztec priest or just like my mother—and began my ritual plunge into sudsy waters. I get it, I thought, amused at how long it had taken me. The apron is back.
All the Best,