Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Aprons As A Symbol

Jennifer Rose wrote this comment to my post about aprons:

Several years ago, an Estadounidense put together an exhibition, perhaps accompanied by a book, about what aprons represented. Signifying a transition into a certain role, status and respect, the concept of an apron went far beyond simply protecting the wearer’s clothing. There’s even a hierarchy of aprons – whether it’s full coverage, front- or back-opening, a bib or a half-apron. There are dirty-work aprons and more ceremonial ones. Somewhere, and I’d guess around June Cleaver’s time, the apron lost its status and became a sign of oppression for women. Among the Estadounidense women of my generation, I can’t name a single one who would be caught dead wearing an apron. And in my kitchen hangs, only as a decoration, a white chef’s apron with my name embroidered upon it, that I received at a cooking school team-building corporate event. I put it on, because I had to at the event, and haven’t donned it since.

Wow! I had only been thinking about aprons as I see them here in Mexico or as I remember them from my childhood but her comments brought up a lot of thoughts about how women's roles in the United States have changed so radically during my lifetime. "Not being caught dead wearing an apron" rates up there with "bra burning." Not wearing an apron for some generations of women is a symbol, a demonstration, that we can't be relegated to just child rearing or house cleaning.

I remember how I bristled when in business meetings and one of the men would use the term "girls" for the women. I never let them get by with it. Sometimes when I think about it now, I wonder if my agressiveness on this point was over-blown but I think not. I don't think the men knowingly meant any harm and yet it reflected an in-grained prejudice that allowed them to think of which MAN they would promote over which GIRL. A Man was manly and a girl needed protection. Could a girl stand up to the rigors of a difficult job like a Man? Well I could go on and on along these lines but for the women who lived though those times in the business world in the 1970's, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Wikipedia has a slightly different take on why the use of aprons declined. They tie it back to the 1960s when washing machines and cheaper clothing reduced the need for the protection that an apron affords. However Wikipedia also comments:

Today, the apron has enjoyed a minor renaissance in terms of both women and men now wearing them when performing household chores. For instance, an article in the Wall Street Journal claimed in 2005 that the apron is "enjoying a renaissance as a retro-chic fashion accessory" in the United States.
Jennifer mentioned an exhibition that was accompanied by book. I found it, Apron Chronicles, A Patchwork of American Recollections and now it is on my Amazon Wish List.


pitchertaker said...

FWIW, if I'm goina' cook for a bunch of people which will require me to be in the heat of the kitchen a good number of hours, I will wear an apron. I like the red "wait person" aprons they sell at Sam's Club....I'll dig around and see if I have a pic of me wearing one....


wayne said...

It never crossed my mind yesterday when I read your post about aprons. They are a status symbol, a sign of hierarchy amongst the waiters and bartenders here. The longer the apron (from the waist down), the more prestige you have. Employers tell you when you have earned the right to move from the short to medium, medium to long. Interesting.

Erika Sidor said...

I have never been one to let "cool" outdo "practical" and have several aprons. One is for darkroom work (chemistry- bad for clothes!) and two are for kitchen work. My mother wore an apron in the kitchen while I grew up (and still does) and I like that. I once borrowed an apron from a friend so that I could duplicate the pattern and make my own- she never did get it back. :)

Billie said...

Thanks all for your comments about aprons. Wayne I would never have thought about them being a status symbol with waiters on Isla. Now I'll start looking at all the waiters to see how long their apron is.

Erika, when I was working in the darkroom I had some old clothes that I donned for working in the garden or the darkroom. They were stained and pretty ragged looking so I didn't worry about getting stuff on them. If I would have used an apron I would need one that covers both front and back because I'm bad about wiping my hands on my backside.