Aprons enjoy a long and illustrious history, as a protective garment, as a fashion accessory and to indicate status. The word ‘apron’ comes from the French word ‘naperon’ meaning little tablecloth.
Soldiers of the French Foreign Legion wore leather aprons as part of their ceremonial dress and Egyptian pharaohs wore jeweled-encrusted aprons.
Distinctive aprons could also indicate a man’s trade. English barbers wore checkered aprons. Stonemasons wore white aprons to protect their clothing from the white dust created by their tools on the stone. Cobblers wore black to protect garments from the black wax used on shoes. Butchers wore blue stripes. Butlers wore green aprons. Blue was commonly worn by weavers, spinners and gardeners.
Native Americans wore aprons for practical and ceremonial reasons. The early American colonists often wore aprons. People of that era owned few garments and had to protect and keep them as clean as possible.
Aprons became very popular in the 20th Century as the icon of the perfect housewife. It signified a cozy kitchen and enough food for everyone. Aprons were often the first garment made by someone learning to sew. They could be simple and tough or delicate and attractive fashion accessories.
Homemade aprons were a popular use of fabric remnants and made welcome gifts or sale items at church bazaars. Aprons can be made of cotton, muslin, linen, canvas, leather, rubber or lead. The apron has long been a symbol of generosity and hospitality.
My mother wore an apron every day of her life. It served, of course, to protect her clothing from spills and dirt. She cooked, cleaned house and did laundry in that apron.
As I look back now, I see that her apron had many other functions as well. It was a washcloth to clean a dirty child’s face and a towel to dry wet hands. It was a potholder to remove a hot pan from the stove or oven and it wiped many a sweaty brow on a hot summer day.
Mother’s apron could be used as a fan to cool you down or wrap around your arms to warm you up. It could be used to clean a surface when needed in a hurry or dry a plate for an extra setting.. It was an all around tool that could be used wet or dry, for everyday or holiday. It was always there, always available, always the right choice.
Some of mother’s aprons were plain and worn to the bone, some were fancy with ruffles and lace, some were homemade, some were gifts. All of them were used for the proper occasion or event. Several of the aprons were even holiday specific. She employed and enjoyed them all.
When I got married, mother saw to it that I got several aprons as shower gifts. She saw it as her duty to get me started off right in the “domestic household” department.
Today I wear an apron when I cook. It just seems the right thing to do. Every time I put on my apron, I think of mother and her apron.
And I smile.