Aprons enjoy a long and illustrious history both as a protective garment in the kitchen and as a fashion accessory outside the home. The word “apron” comes from the French word naperon, which means tablecloth. Soldiers of the French Foreign Legion wore leather aprons as part of their ceremonial dress as early as the 18th century. Aprons, however, have been around much longer than that.
Fertility goddess figurines, on display at Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete, may be the earliest depiction of women wearing aprons. These ancient snake goddess figurines excavated in Crete depicted how Minoan women may have dressed in 1600 BCE: a tight bodice, bare breasts, and an embroidered or woven apron covering a long dress.
Fabric was precious in Medieval and Renaissance eras. Most people wore fabrics painstakingly woven at home on narrow looms. Aprons back then were little more than just scraps of material tied around the waist, with the only intent of protecting the valuable clothing underneath. Both genders wore aprons at that time.
Only the working class wore aprons in those early days. Wealthy individuals would never dream of performing any task that might sully their fine clothing.
Aprons became a fashion statement in the 1500s, when women started adorning them with expensive lace and embroidery.
Simple, functional aprons were already a fashion staple by the time the Pilgrims docked on the shore of Plymouth Rock. Early female settlers wore plain, long white aprons. Later, Quaker women wore long and colorful silk aprons.
Meanwhile, politics ruled women’s fashion in 1650s England when Oliver Cromwell decreed that women and girls should dress properly. This sparked the Puritan look of a white apron covering a long black dress that reached from a woman’s neck to her toes.
During these earliest days, aprons usually covered only the body from the waist down and had simple straps that would tie in back.
The “Hooverette” or “Hoover apron” emerged in the 1910s, named after the man in charge of the U.S. Food Administration at the time, Herbert H. Hoover. This wraparound apron was popular into the 1920s when fancy half-aprons became the rage. Stores began selling patterns and kits to make and adorn aprons.
Aprons became plain again during the Great Depression. Women would fashion aprons out of feed sacks to protect their clothing. Pinafore aprons, or “pinnies” as they were affectionately called, began to gain popularity in this part of the 20th century. Dorothy famously wore a blue and white gingham pinafore in The Wizard of Oz.
Aprons became lovely again during WWII, when women would wear flowery aprons as relief from the jumpsuits worn at factory jobs. Aprons became even more fashionable in the 1950s when TV moms wore them on Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and more.
Terry cloth and permanent press aprons gained popularity in the 1970s. Novelty aprons with cute sayings emerged. Vintage aprons became the rage in the 80s while barbeque aprons made their debut. Logos began to appear on aprons in restaurants.
Today, aprons are a permanent fixture in homes, restaurants, bistros and bars everywhere. Modern materials make modern aprons fit well, durable, and look great. For both function and fashion reasons, aprons are likely to be around for centuries to come.