Sunday, June 26, 2005

Aprons R Us

One of the many things I collect are vintage aprons. I especially like the long, bib style that cross in the back and am also partial to the cobbler-style "jam" aprons. Anything to cover comfortably and loosely. There are also so many half-aprons out there, clearly designed for wasp-waisted corset wearing surburban housewives of the post-War era. Aprons came out of the maid's closet and were soon made in a florabundance of patterns and colors and fabrics: from sheer to organza, cotton to crinoline, even simple linen. Aprons were now acceptable to be worn by the uber-housewife who did everything while looking her best. Forget wearing an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt: aprons allowed our well-coiffed mothers to be dressed for anything while doing dishes or polishing silver or dusting the mantel. Then, if the door bell rang, you could unfurl your apron strings in a jiffy and check your lipstick in the hall mirror. So what if it was just your best friend coming for coffee? You were still meant to look "put together". Housewivery, when embraced with this kind of passion, was not for lazy slobs. I watched my mother go through these rituals and dances. It was what was done.

While the frillier half-apron evokes such 50s and 60s suburban nostalgia, the hardy bibstyle apron was for the workhorse farm wife. This was a serious, roll your sleeves up in the kitchen kind of apron and can three bushels of peaches and make 10 pies kind of apron. The farmhouse apron was longer, usually falling mid calf, and no doubt designed for we who are more amply endowed. A bib with loosely fastened arm holders kept the apron from falling down your arms but also provided ease of movement and agility. I also go nuts for rickrack, especially when found on vintage clothing items like cotton bib aprons--the farmhouse kind they wore on the WALTONS. Long and loose and made with floral patterned cotton and often embellished with rickrack. [Rickrack also reminds me of homemade dresses that my mother made for me in the 1960s--something about its carefree meandering in so many colors and widths. It is cute and just squeals 'homemade' it screams 'vintage'.]

Waty Taylor was one such farm woman. She lived across from my grandparents farm, in her Greek Revival Cape-style house, painted pink, "because I like pink!" she always said. She was an incredible cook and once did much of the baking at the Woodbound Inn just up the road and through the woods a few miles. Whenever we visited her she was always in her kitchen and usually baking pies or baked beans--the very best. When she sat, she kept her apron on always over a tidy dress and comfortable shoes. The only time I ever saw her without her apron on was when she came to my Grandmother's memorial service and reception. She seemed out of her element some how.

So now I stock pile these domestic memories, collecting them here and there for a song or even the occasional eBay find. Aprons are truly affordable antiques from another time and are representative of so much: our mothers, our grandmothers, of a more kitchen-centered domestic life. On other levels they could probably be viewed as anti-women/anti-feminist but I'm not going there. I never wear them but I probably should--perhaps I'm afraid I'd get them dirty and mussed up, thus tarnishing an image long held in my mind.

It can be difficult to imagine who wore a particular apron and even harder to place them on girlfriends or family members today. They are, perhaps, the most iconic representation of all of the good things about women and mothers, of hearth and home.


betslex said...

How fun to imagine women I know in the aprons appropriate for them...

Anonymous said...

I usually only put on my apron when I'm ready to do seriously large quantities of cooking and it immediately makes me feel very 'capable'.

Lucy Lines, Western Australia

Anonymous said...

I was very disappointed when I came to Cobb Meadow Nursery School as the assistant and discovered that the old two-sided Waldorf aprons were no more. Maybe I'll make myself some this summer -- Ivy

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