Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Musing On the Modern Use of an Apron

I'm sure everyone here has read one of the many variations on Tina Trivett's Poem, Grandma's Apron.
The strings were tied, it was freshly washed, and maybe even pressed.
For Grandma, it was everyday to choose one when she dressed.
The simple apron that it was, you would never think about;
the things she used it for, that made it look worn out.
She may have used it to hold some wildflowers that she'd found.
Or to hide a crying child's face when a stranger came around.
Imagine all the little tears that were wiped with just that cloth.
Or it became a potholder to serve some chicken broth.
She probably carried kindling to stoke the kitchen fire.
To hold a load of laundry, or to wipe the clothesline wire.
When canning all her vegetables, it was used to wipe her brow.
You never know, she might have used it to shoo flies from the cow.
She might have carried eggs in from the chicken coop outside.
Whatever chore she used it for, she did them all with pride.
When Grandma went to heaven, God said she now could rest.
I'm sure the apron that she chose, was her Sunday best.
-by Tina Trivett-

And its true, our grandmother's and their grandmother's wore their aprons for many reasons, and used them for many things. So do we. But I think that most of us today use our aprons for different things. Certainly, I will occasionally use my apron to carry in an
apronful of lettuce from the garden, or of peas. Someday, I hope I do have chickens and cows to carry eggs from and swat flies from, but a lot of us modern apron lovers don't have chickens or cows. We don't use our aprons to dust furniture when visitors come, because we almost never get surprise visitors. Our aprons are too thin to really serve as potholders, and we carry our laundry to the laundry machine in baskets and bags, not aprons. Many of the purposes of "Grandma"'s apron are no longer such common uses of an apron.

So what is the purpose of an apron today, in these times? Well, an apron's fundamental purpose remains the same. An apron exists to keep our clothing clean. Often as not, for many of us, its pants and a shirt that it keeps clean, and it keeps our clothing clean none the less.

But what about its other, more hidden purposes? What mental, emotional, and secondary physical purposes does an apron serve today?

How does an apron make you feel when you put it on? I feel suddenly ready to do some housework. Funny how putting on a "uniform" of sorts helps one get in the mood. I feel like I'm ready to cook, or clean, or what needs doing.

More than being a uniform though, apron's hold memories. I see my mother's aprons in the cupboard, next to mine, and remember being 7 years old, wearing that yellow apron I had to fold up at the waist so I didn't trip, my little sister bedecked in a shiny flowered apron likewise folded up, and Mama wearing an apron that fit her, as we kneaded
Christmas shortbread dough together. Or baking birthday banana cakes. I'm sure that aprons served the same purpose for our ancestresses. I'm sure that they looked at their aprons and remembered cooking with their mothers, sewing their aprons with their sisters and friends. Perhaps they remembered that a specific apron was a gift from a loved one, or remembered making a loved one a gift. Perhaps they remembered their first apron of their own. I know I do. It was a gift from my mother. I still have it. It is a "chef's apron" in cut, a heavy canvas, with a black and creamy off-white damask pattern.

In addition to reminding us of our own pasts, they remind us of the past. Aprons serve to remind us how lucky we are to live how we do, by reminding us how our grandmother's lived. Certainly, there are problems in our modern
society, but we are blessed to be able to throw things in the wash and forget about them until they are done, to be able to communicate instantaneously with friends around the world, and we are most especially blessed to be able to not worry about our children dieing from many diseases which were at one time, unpreventable and untreatable. Even parents who do not vaccinate their children benefit from widespread vaccination which helps prevent epidemics, and antibiotics truly are the most amazing invention in recent history. I can't think of a single thing more than the proper use of antibiotics that saves more lives.

As well as the bad things about the past, aprons remind us of the good. They remind us of families who worked together and lived together, they remind us of extended families who were close, they remind us of a lack of
commercial assault on our children and ourselves, they remind us of a simpler time, when TV had not been invented to become a national pastime.

What about physical purposes of aprons? We use aprons to cover our clothes, and we use them as fashion
accessories, in a way. Certainly, some aprons look cuter with some outfits, and I'm always sure to put on a nice one if I have guests coming that I am cooking for. They make us feel the hostess. Mine has been known to wipe fingerprints from a computer screen, and today's apron pockets carry not only cloth toys but cell phones, wooden spoons and GameBoy thingys. My apron strings still serve to hold a towel, and my apron itself I still dry my hands with. I wipe my floured hands from baking, and I wipe my sweat-covered brow in summer cooking, just as our ancestresses surely did. But I wipe my hands to pick up the phone, while my great grandmother surely wiped her hands to do something else. Hang the laundry to dry perhaps.

Our apron is a fun way to dress up a boring pair of jeans. Our aprons shoo babes away from
Oreo's at a friend's house. Our aprons reclaim the domestic and say, "I can be domestic without being a slave to patriarchal culture, I can be domestic and still be my own person." Our aprons declare, "I am a woman, and I will not pretend to be a man." Our aprons cry out, "I am not afraid to set my own path, in direct clash with popular culture!" Our aprons scream, "You cannot tell me who to be, I shall be who I am" Our aprons shout at the top of their lungs, "I REMEMBER!"

I remember, and respect, and move forward with that
remembrance, bringing the past with me. That is what an apron is. Our modern aprons have a different purpose than our grandmothers, but it is no less important, or noble.


  1. This was a wonderful and well-written post! Thank you for sharing it with us. I have to agree with you; when I put on my apron, I'm filled with new energy to get housework done. It even seems fun, imagine that! :)

  2. Great post! One of my first aprons was from my mother when she was learning to sew!

  3. Wow! What a great post! It really did make me feel empowered! I happened upon this blog while searching for apron patterns. I only have one little apron that I use when I make tortillas and other things involving flour, but now I see they can be used for so many more things!

  4. To Kebi: I know, only a good apron can make housework truly fun. (ok, and being 7 and playing bumper-cars with mops with your sister... but that was totally done in an apron.)

    To Betty: wow, thats so cool that you have one of the first aprons your mom made.

    to Heather: yay! I'm glad you feel empowered. Welcome to the love of aprons. May you find many lovely aprons, and many lovely apron patterns.

  5. Now I know why I cherish my apron
    Thank you for this lovely apron

  6. Wow, what a great blog.....It's amazing how you feel when you put your apron on - almost like a shield! You've brought back a lot of memories. The best is my grandma in West Virginia. Going to visit her and picking cherries! Her apron would be so stained from the cherry juice.

    My aprons usually have kool-aid, food stains from cooking, dust (from wiping something off), stains of unknown origin and lots of tears from my kids.

    Thanks for the memories!!!


Welcome Apronistas -- I appreciate your lovely comments!!