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Ties to apron strings.

A few months ago, a friend presented me with an unexpected gift: an apron. I love to cook, but I'd never really considered myself the apron type. I'm not the neatest chef and I've stained more T-shirts than I care to admit. Yet, when it comes to aprons, I rarely tie one on.

I suppose I associate aprons with my grandmother's generation, suburban homemakers of the 1950s. By the 1970s, the apron was passe, and my mother's kitchen wear was a colourful caftan or a pair of faded blue jeans. If my gal pals are any indication, not many women my age grew up with apron-clad role models.

Still, I was touched by the handmade gift, especially since my friend spent many hours choosing the fabric and trim and carefully designing and hand stitching the unique apron. Because my friend is a feminist, I knew that the apron represented more than a shout out to traditional ideals of femininity. Both beautiful and practical, my new apron made me wonder, not only about the role of the apron in women's history, but also about its place in contemporary culture.

Not surprisingly, the history of the apron parallels the history of women's work, in both the public and private spheres. Over the centuries, male blacksmiths, butchers and cobblers donned heavy leather aprons, while female nurses, domestic servants and factory workers also wore aprons. Aprons not only protected their clothing but also served as a uniform of sorts, identifying the working woman.

In North America, from colonial times to the Depression era, women's aprons served numerous practical purposes, both in the city and on the farm. The apron functioned as an improvised potholder or hand towel, or as a basket in which to gather produce or eggs. Before inexpensive factory-made clothing, only women of the upper classes had more than a few dresses, and aprons helped keep them clean and in good repair.


However, it was in the post-war era, with the idealization of the suburban nuclear family, that the apron became symbolic of women's domesticity. While relatively few women lived this ideal, TV shows and advertising perpetuated the notion of the perfect wife and mother in her impeccably pressed cotton apron.

With more fashion options than ever before, and the convenience of automatic washing machines, the aprons of the day were not only practical but decorative. Apron historian and collector Ellyn Anne Geisels notes that many homemakers of the 1950s "whipped up theme aprons, holiday aprons, aprons that matched the tablecloth on the bridge table, mother-daughter aprons and daughter-dolly aprons."

Under the pressure of what Jezebel writer Sadie Stein dubs "apron-burning" feminism, when "second-wave feminism pushed back against a policy of domestic containment," the apron declined in popularity. However, instead of becoming an artifact of 1950s domesticity, in recent decades the apron has experienced a resurgence in popularity.

Third-wave radical crafters revived traditional women's arts and crafts, honouring their "potential for building community, rejecting consumerist sweatshop culture and encouraging creativity," argued Wendy Somerson in Bitch magazine. Radical crafting, together with renewed interest in gardening, canning and slow food, make the apron a perfect fit for the creative feminist, bridging the symbolic and the practical, the historic and the contemporary.
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Title Annotation:memorabalia
Author:Bondy, Renee
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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