A protective or decorative garment worn over the front of one’s clothes, the English word “apron” originally came from “naperon,” the old French word for napkin or small tablecloth. Men were actually the first wearers of aprons, as hygienic protective wear as early as the 12th century.
My love of aprons was handed down as I would cook next to my Mom’s guiding hands and eyes. My first apron was a dish towel tucked inside my waistband, probably at about the age of 4 or 5, which is also when my love for cooking began. My Polish Babka would don an apron as she prepared the delicacies of her homeland; my Italian Nonni owned a bakery, thus stark white aprons were always within reach.
Pioneer women walked and wagon-trained across the plains, prairies and mountains through uncharted territories wearing aprons to protect their miniscule wardrobe. An apron was useful to move a hot pie from the hearth to the windowsill to cool. It would double as a container to carry feed to the chickens in the farmyard. A shy child could hide behind Mom’s apron when introduced to a new friend or neighbor; an apron also came in handy to wipe little ones’ tears….and sometimes a runny nose.
A beautiful Polish wedding tradition is to remove the bride’s veil and replace it with an apron to symbolize her going from a single woman to a wife and mother – very sexist & outdated by today’s standards but a must back in the day. Wedding guests form a circle around the bride and groom while singing Let Me Call You Sweetheart. I still have the apron my Godmother sewed for me, created from the same fabric I used to make my wedding dress. Sweetheart is a favorite song we sing at the senior residence I volunteer at.
Aprons, smocks, pinafores…. all are uniforms of the trade: leather welding aprons, pristine chef coats, soda jerks, gardeners, barbers, chemists, butchers, carpenters, shoemakers; the list is endless.
My husband bought me my first “Mrs.” apron when I resorted back to using a towel, given I was hundreds of miles away from Mom’s stash. I’ve collected – and used – all of my 30+ aprons in an array of colors and styles. Friends and family have generously gifted and donated new and previously-loved items to my collection. My antique apron from the Catskill Mountains (stains included), my “Queen of Everything” bib top, to my versatile chef aprons… each apron has a unique story to tell.
I love pockets in an apron. As in the days of old, they hold treasures, such as clothes pins when hanging laundry, a hairnet to protect the kitchen from fly-aways, the meat thermometer, scissors, the baby’s pacifier, etc. Moms and Grammas had their elegant hostess aprons made of a variety of finery: lace, organdy, tulle, all very festive and worn when entertaining. A pocket might safeguard a fancy embroidered handkerchief, a favorite lipstick, or a compact to quickly powder a shiny nose.
Happily, aprons can still be found in the kitchen section of almost any store. Survival of this fashion piece has proven the apron to be a timeless treasure.