The Life of an Apron


Do you wear an apron when you cook?  I do as I tend to be very messy in the kitchen. Recently, I asked a few of my younger friends if they did as well. When they looked at me quizzically and replied “Well, not often,” I began to wonder if this was a generational thing.  It started me pondering about where aprons came from and how they’ve been used over time.

Turns out, they’ve been around since ancient times, functioning as a practical piece of clothing to protect craftsmen such as blacksmith, furniture makers and of course, home cooks.  The French gave us the word, naperon, which translated means a small tablecloth. 

In modern times, particularly post WWII, aprons became the symbol of home, family, wife and mother.  Men wore them, too, but primarily to protect their clothing while tending the grill. With the 60’s feminist movement in full throttle, aprons fell out of favor with women.  There were some exception with both men and women sporting bibbed aprons usually with catchy sayings such as “Real men bake” or “Always kiss the chef.”  However, in the workplace, such as with chefs, butchers, and hairdressers, aprons still functioned as a protector of clothing.

Fast forward and today aprons in the kitchen are making a come-back. With our current obsession of food, Americans—either as viewers or active participants—are once again wearing aprons. No longer are aprons seen as an act of subordination or connected with the working class.  People cooking at home, gardening, or enjoying one of many messy DIY hobbies are donning aprons with total self-assurance

In my kitchen, there is a basket filled with aprons collected over the years.  Some are inherited from my mother. Some are from cooking classes with logos that carry bragging rights. And, some are handmade for me. My favorite is the flamingo-inspired apron sewn by my dear friend Jan Hazard after a cycling vacation through Andalusia with our spouses.  Basically, my mood and the dish being preparing determine which apron I select.  Sort of dressing for the occasion, if you will.

Discussing the apron topic with marketing guru Joan Brower, she observed that “Cooks and kitchen-loving people sometimes develop special relationships and emotional connections with their aprons.”  She claims, and I agree with her, that “We tend to anthropomorphize and view them as supportive "friends" -- even extensions of ourselves. So these inanimate pieces of clothing are trusted and appreciated as if they had human traits.”

So, what does your apron look like and what friend does it remind you of when you wear it???