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  • Writer's pictureMichaela A de Guire

A sign of hospitality from Grandmother

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Have you ever wondered why grandmother wore her apron in more places than just the kitchen? Or in my case my great grandmother. My grandmother is a retired nurse, so when aprons were removed from the nurse uniform in the 1990’s, as more men started joining nursing in the 1980’s, the nurse uniform was changed from the dress and cap, to the standard scrubs, pants and tunic-like top it is today.

Nurses at work. Image via: Nurseslabs

Grandmother shared with me the caps were hard to keep clean and sterilized, thus many nurses stopped wearing them all together. She also shared with me that the upkeep, that is keeping them standing tall and strong, was a lot of work. There is a process of stiffening the fabric using cornstarch to make it firm and ironing so it will hold its shape while she wears it. If this is what the hats, that are atop a nurse's head, offered in regards to the uniform and maintenance required, it is no wonder aprons were removed. However, this doesn't explain why aprons were tossed aside with use within the home.

During WWI women started working outside the home to assist with the war efforts. When the war ended most women gave up their jobs to return home. But when the Great Depression hit most families needed two incomes to survive, and so women returned to work. Indeed many companies wanted to hire women over men because they could pay the women less. However, if a company needed to make a cut, they would let the women go first. Over time society norms changed and women were working both inside and outside the home.

However, the apron was a staple in many women's home attire during this time, granted it was most frequently used in the kitchen. The purpose of an apron is to protect the clothing of the wearer. But it was used for more than just that by the women of the home in the early 1900’s. It was used as a potholder, collecting eggs, carrying vegetables and apples in from the yard. It was used for dusting, and whipping her brow, it was used for drying her hands, and children's tears. It was a perfect hiding place for shy children and keeping herself warm. At times it was even used as a flag, to wave the men in from the fields for dinner.

An apron is a multipurpose garment and should never be forgotten. An apron is a symbol of hospitality. It was worn by women in the home and often found in the workplace, worn by those such as cobblers, black smiths, artists and barbers. Over the years the apron has served many purposes. Many practical, some ceremonial, and others decorative.

How is an apron sustainable? It has multiple uses, coupled with the fact that you needn’t wash it daily and it keeps your clothes clean, thus making it a rather sustainable garment that every homesteader should have on hand.

Artist at work.

What is an apron?

An apron is a garment that ties at the waist to protect the wearer's clothing. There are many different styles of aprons, some that cover the chest, others only the waist to mid thigh, while others yet that are practically dresses themselves. The term apron came from the French word ‘naperon’ (ne pa hroon), which actually means small table cloth. The word was frequently mispronounced as ‘an apron’, thus in the 17th century, it was changed to apron.

An apron has been made with many different fabrics, usually depending on the trade and purpose for the apron. In the past they have been made with cotton, linen, leather, and even rubber. Today you will find aprons are most commonly made in either cotton or linen. Aprons have been worn by many throughout history, such as maids, housewives, workers, and ancient goddesses.

What types of aprons are there?

Bib Apron (aka, full apron): this apron covers the full length of the body, slipping over the neck and ending at about mid thigh, tied at the waist. With the simplicity of the design and the full coverage this apron offers it is an appealing choice for workers in many industries including chef and hospitality.

Waist Apron (aka half apron): this apron ties at the waist and covers from waist to mid thigh. The waist apron was commonly worn by maids and housewives in the past, now is found worn by bartenders and cafes.

Pinafore Apron: a classic apron adorned with ruffles, ribbons, and bows. Similar to a bib apron this one would cover the chest to mid thigh or so, tying at the waist. The difference? All the décor! The pinafore was often worn by children. In the past, young girls and their dolls often wore pretty pinafore aprons when they were going out.

Tabard Apron: This apron covers both the front and back of the wearer from shoulders to mid thigh or knees, usually fastened at the waist on both sides with ties or buttons. In the past this style was worn by peasants, monks, and cobblers. Today you will see it worn by bakers, nurses, and some retail workers.

Bib Apron in neutral.

Bungalow Apron: The bungalow apron resembles a dress as it was designed to be worn as a garment at home. It was worn by housewives in the early 1900’s, oftentimes worn as a house dress as it covered the whole body from shoulders to mid calf and had kimono-like sleeves. This apron has few fasteners, but could easily be worn over one's Sunday attire if need be.

Aprons Today

Aprons will never lose their natural symbol, hospitality. The apron has been in use for many years, it has risen and fallen in popularity, but has never completely lost its light. Today it is embraced once more by many, whether it be at your local café, favorite brunch place, or your own kitchen!

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