GENESIS 3:7 — Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make themselves aprons.
PART II —
You see how early aprons came on the scene—from the very beginning and ever after. As early as 3500 B.C. wool and leather aprons were used in Europe by men in their various trades.
In the Middle Ages the word that evolved in France would identify aprons eventually ... The cloth that protected outer garments was naperon, meaning napkin. As time passed naperon became “an apron.”
As suggested last week aprons were used equally by men and women in the “olden days” but men’s were always utilitarian while women’s were often decorative.
Aprons reflected the dress styles through the times thus they are identified by the period in which they were used. Of course, few actually exist because they were worn until bedraggled and thrown away. Their design names ... Bib, half apron, etc., reflect the times, too.
During World War I (1914-1918) Herbert Hoover was director of the Food Administration, a relief program for which he organized relief programs to feed the starving in Europe by the thousands, saving many lives. Their grateful expressions plus other facets of Hoover’s life are on display at his birthplace museum in West Branch, Iowa. The small humble home launched him on his illustrious career to the presidency following his serving in other capacities. There are interesting traveling exhibits there time to time. One was a replica of the trenches from which the WW I Doughboy fought. With sound effects and light shows it was very realistic.
In the Twenties, the decade following Hoover’s serving so honorably, an apron was named for him, the Hooverette. It was a complete cover up of the entire dress which by that period was not shaped at the waist but straight from shoulder to hem. And growing shorter with the years. The War brought many changes.
Although the long cover up was popular, others, too, filled the pages of pattern books or were featured in newspapers and magazines. But apron wearing was declining in numbers as women were beginning to work more and more outside the home. The apron got less wear.
The Twenties were a time of optimism what with all the new inventions that resulted from the war effort and the fact that new ways to use electricity made it an exciting time ... No longer were washboards needed, electric washers came about, refrigerators, stoves, central heat, vacuum cleaners, irons. And while advertisements touted they were labor savers in a way they made women more tied to the home because standards had risen ... There was no excuse for not keeping a neat house and cooking a quick meal now that electric was available!
But women could wear a few more frilly aprons to show off her new character ... Holiday designs, the new “cocktail” apron was a sophisticated style even in the Heartland.
After the stock market crashed in ‘29 and the Thirties came on, sacrifices had to be made. And as in everything else changes occurred in the apron line ... Dark but intense colors were chosen for them and as times got harder, feed and flour sacks were recycled into aprons.
World War II caused an abrupt end to the Great Depression. Full employment was a complete turn around from long lines of people searching for jobs. Factories geared up for the war effort. Shortages, however, caused rationing of shoes, meat, gasoline, sugar and many other items. Businesses were seeking ideas for things to make conditions easier to cope with; new fabrics and their products came on the scene.
Clothing was easy to care for; materials like rayon, nylon, etc., etc. made them much more easy and faster to wash and dry so the use of aprons waned because the homemaker could just toss clothing in the washer/dryer and it was clean in minutes. Or the housewife replaced her apron with a coverall, heavy gloves, welding mask a la Rosie the Riveter and had little use for aprons.
The late Forties and decade of the Fifties are now called the Baby Boom years ... Women had more children than had their mothers and their daughters. It was a time of home and family and still commonly tied together with apron strings. The economy was in a good condition, the population stable but growing but so was the divorce rate. As factories transformed their wartime efforts into peacetime production, wonderful advances came about in home appliances such as vacuums, furnishings, household items of all kinds that people had long been starved for—new ideas and methods because of the Depression and War were snapped up.
All the new and improved were advertised as the saviour of the housewife but they also enslaved her because more was expected of her ... New standards had to be met.
Subdivisions blossomed and houses in new styles made their appearanace along with aprons. Yes, aprons made their reappearance ... Embroidery again made its mark to show symbolically that under each roof a family had come together. Yes, moms still used aprons to give dirty little faces a spit bath or wipe away tears, carry an abandoned puppy from the side of the road with no hesitation knowing they’d become dog owners. Aprons held eggs from the chicken nest or Christmas tree ornaments, windfall apples, yesterdays baby chicks went to the coal fired range’s warming oven in the apron. It dusted the hall table when the minister came unexpectedly or was a potholder for the pan of beans on the stove. An apron could do just about everything. It’s been unappreciated and never given tribute!
Do the women with glamorous office jobs wear aprons!? If they have well-paid jobs they can afford to buy aprons designed by internationally known style maker, Anna Wang who within the past few years has added aprons to her ensemble of fabric creations. Ms. Wang’s sewing abilities began early at home where her mother aided in her development as a seamstress. As years passed and beautiful dresses came from her pen, then needle, she cast about for some kicky idea as a kind of after-thought and settled on aprons made with bright, fun fabrics with names such as Shortcake, Ambrosia, Haiku and so forth. They are made with two layers of fabric so they are reversible; to be turned at the wearers mood with a pair of jeans and a Tee, or as a very recent advertisement shows an apron with Tee and tight leggings!
Aprons have come a long way.
Beginning as in inexpensive item to collect and to add color to your kitchen, aprons have become a popular hobby. Some women collecting hundreds or a few dozen. They are found in antique/collectible mall stores, thrift shops, yard sales, trash bins, grandma’s store room—many places. There’s everything from half aprons to bibbed, ruffled organdy with poinsettia needlework, to flour sack cover up.
Wang brought fashion to the kitchen with coordinated napkins, placemats, potholders and tea towels. An apron draped over the drawer of your Hoosier cupboard or dry sink looks especially fun. Hung on a hanger on the back of the door can be the beginning of a hobby.
A few years ago Martha Stewart’s “Living” magazine suggested collecting tea towels. They may not have caught on like aprons but they’re smaller and still inexpensive.
You will see aprons in many, many places today in commercial settings, fast food chains, retail clerks, vendors, ticket sellers, butchers, wait persons, at the deli and ice cream shop. Look for them.
Just recently, daughter Margaret, and her mother-in-law, Karin, went to a luncheon at Standard, Illinois (yes, there is a Standard, Illinois!) where a local lady gave a comprehensive program using her dozens and dozens of aprons collected over many years. Her emphasis was that every apron had a story to tell. The place cards (seen here) was cleverly made from wallpaper or heavy wrapping paper with grossgrain ties and was just part of the very interesting program.
Other collections emerge as time has passed ... An old, old tie on apron from the nineteenth century in a familiar blue and white fabric is shown. The window display at the Prophetstown Historical Society a few years ago. Also, aprons shown with a washboard and wash day items. The other photo was at the “World of Variety.” The late Bill Shearer’s, who with wife, Dorothy, had all the right things one could pick up that you otherwise couldn’t find anyplace else! ...Aprons just one of them. It’s a small town loss to lose the variety store.
In thinking about aprons and the old-fashioned saying, “cut the apron strings” we wonder if the decline in apron wearing and figureatively cutting the apron strings as so many have done today in “finding themselves,” has been a coincidence that so many children are adrift?