Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 24, 2013

Whatever happened to aprons?

Whatever happened to aprons?

That thought struck me after brother Dave sent me one of those "remember when" e-mails with the subject being aprons.

I do remember! I made my first one in 4-H when I was 12. It was a very simple apricot-colored one that tied around my waist. According to my 4-H club record book - yes, I kept it - I spent a whopping 84 cents on materials.

One of my first high school sewing undertakings in home economics was to make an apron.

And I wore them as well as made them. I wore an apron when I was demonstrating how to make a cake at 4-H and when I helped Mom with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

But I can count on one hand the times I've worn one in the last 10 years or so. In fact, I had to check in my kitchen drawers to see if I still had one. I do - a multi-colored apron made in Guatemala that I probably picked up when I lived in Costa Rica in the late 1970s. But I think it is more a memento than something I'd ever use.

While women of my generation don't wear aprons as much as those of earlier times did, men frequently wore them too. Blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, fisherman, butchers and others professionals wore them to protect their clothes and to carry tools. So did cooks, maids, nurses and farm wives.

Dave's message mentioned other uses - serving as a potholder when removing hot pans from the oven, drying children's tears, carrying eggs from the chicken house and vegetables from the garden, dusting furniture, and waving men in from the fields for dinner.

Both of my grandmothers wore aprons, although I don't recall much about Grandma Hulda Mostrom as we lived farther from her and she died when I was young. But Grandma Ethel Freeland wore one over her dress - always a dress - whenever she was in the kitchen.

Mom and Aunt Edith wore aprons, too. Mom had some bib-types that covered her entire outfit and a fancy Christmas one - a hostess apron - that she put on to add a touch of holiday decoration.

Cousin Jeff shared some of his memories of his female relatives' aprons.

"... As I recall, they were typically a muted print of some sort - flowers, fruit or simply a colorful print ... I suspect that the habit may have been the result of the degree of effort required to wash clothing in the past. It was easier to wash a cotton apron than a dress or skirt. Practicality was more evident in those days. Another thought: my grandmothers, Mom and yours were 'housewives.' And they were proud of it. Something that tends toward political incorrectness or something close to it these days..."

Sister Gaila said her first sewing project was to make a blue-and-white-checked apron with a towel hanging from it.

"Must have learned how to make buttonholes, too since the towel was attached with two buttons," she added.

She still has it, along with others she saved from the farm. But unlike me, Gaila still wears an apron - at least during the holidays.

"I use one while making my turkey dinner at Christmas time just to save my clothes from splattering grease and other food," she said. "But it doesn't tie around my waist - it is a full-body one that I tie around my neck ..."

Gaila also remembered Mom using one as a handy container.

"While shelling peas, she would put the shells in there and the peas in a bowl - or maybe that was Grandma and the great-aunts? Grandma always had one on."

She also remembered something Art said both his mother and grandmother frequently did.

"I just remember that Mom used hers while washing dishes and she would wipe her hands on it."

Brother-in-law Kenny said,

"As I recall, mom's aprons were a bit decorative with some kind of embroidery, usually kitchen related since she really wasn't into cutesy things like kittens, etc. They were half aprons with pockets because mom always had a facial tissue tucked away somewhere, and since she believed ladies should wear dresses most of the time, the aprons with pockets were convenient."

I later found a number of aprons in a basement closet I had saved from the farm. Among them were several white cotton ones with lace trim; a cream, red, blue, green and orange crocheted one with a yellow satin tie; several checked ones with cross-stitched patterns; a 1950s-era one with figures of plates, cups, silverware, fruit bowls and vegetables; and a sheer white one with red lace trim and a Christmas candle and holly embroidered on the pocket.

I'm not sure what to do with them. I recently learned that Mom's and Grandma's aprons are now considered "retro-chic," according to Judy Florence, author of "Aprons of the Mid-20th Century" and "Gingham Aprons of the '40s and '50s."

But I don't really care about that. For me, those aprons are something more significant. They are a connection to the women who came before me, to the women who were important to me, to the women who lovingly cared for families and homes.

I had no idea I had this treasure trove of aprons until I went searching for them.

Comments? [email protected].
Earlier columns from 2013 may be found at: 2013 Index.
Links to previous years are on the home page: Home