I still have a few of my Grandmother Woodard’s aprons. They were made with cheerful cottons many decades ago. Each of her aprons were machine-stitched and each of the aprons that I have are different.
More than likely, my Grandmother’s aprons were worn when she cooked and washed dishes. And she probably wore an apron when she canned vegetables in the kitchen.
My paternal Grandmother wore aprons when she cooked. In this 1952 photograph, she wore her apron to the dining table while she shared a family meal on Sunday. I can also tell that my Aunt (who is ready to eat a large bite of mashed potatoes) also wore a kitchen apron to protect her dress while helping in the kitchen.
My Great Grandmother Maggie McFann wore an apron when she worked in her kitchen and she kept her apron on throughout the day. Here, she was holding a House & Garden magazine as she posed for this photograph in 1960.
Some of the aprons worn by my Great Grandmothers were different — they were purely functional, solid white, and often they were soiled from hard work. The aprons from that generation may have been made from sturdy cotton, white linen, or even cotton feed sack cloth, and were probably more durable. Living in rural locations on farms, their daily work didn’t end in the kitchen, but extended outdoors to tend their family’s livestock and gardens. Their aprons were functional and had no ruffled frills.
My Great Grandmother Addie Woodard was wearing a torn apron when this photograph was taken of her. She was in her vegetable garden. More than likely, Addie’s apron was used to carry garden vegetables and gathered eggs into the kitchen. Having a reputation of being a good cook, her apron probably served as a type of oven mitt to protect her hands from the hot pots and pans at her stove.
My great Grandmother Minnie Crawford’s apron was very dirty in this photograph. What had she been doing that day?!
From Ma Dear’s Aprons, by Patricia C. McKissack wrote:
Ironically, the first aprons were anything but girly-girls stuff. In fact, they were quintessentially ‘guy stuff’. Blacksmiths wore ‘em, armor and weapon makers, gardeners, carvers, furniture makers, leather smiths, cobblers, tailors, jewelers, metal forgers, fishmongers, and clock makers. When you see old pictures of these craftsmen, you see men. Guys wearing leather aprons, duck cloth aprons, and canvas pinnies – barbers, stonemasons, and the Masonic society all wore aprons. Which makes you think that expression about a man still being ‘tied to his mother’s apron strings’ is really kinda current – because for the longest time, aprons were masculine wear, not feminine.
Women ‘officially’ wearing aprons came about the turn of the 20th century, in Victorian England, although most pioneer matrons wore them, and wore them for all the right reasons: to keep their clothes clean from all the hands-on tasks they did. But Victorian England matrons, at home, were the first to wear aprons, on the domestic front (and not really need to wear them at all!) and these were delicately embroidered and stitched. As the 1920’s roared around, women no longer wanted to be solely associated with the home front and aprons, once a symbol of ‘domestic pride’, according to apron author Teresa Coats, were adopted more, as they were first intended, with a utilitarian purpose by those serving the upper classes. In short, the matrons went out to play; the maids stayed in and were bequeathed the aprons.
Throughout the years, aprons were almost always homemade and as women began to sew with an electric sewing machine, apron patterns were sold. During that era, women were proud of their sewing and domestic skills. And as author Teresa Coats believed, aprons were a symbol of domestic pride.
Up until the early 1960s, it was common for many stay-at-home women to wear aprons every day. The basic kitchen aprons have always been very functional but many had detailed handwork, almost as though the aprons were a fashion statement.
Kitchen aprons almost disappeared when so many housewives turned towards careers outside the home. Aprons are becoming popular again as people are making an effort to return to the basics. And what is more basic than a simple kitchen apron?