Paula Collects: Aprons

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Paula Collects: Aprons

By Andrea Goto

Paula began collecting aprons accidentally. When you’re a celebrity chef, aprons fall onto your lap like cookie crumbs. Friends, family and even fans have given Paula 200 plus aprons that she keeps as close to her heart as a family photo album, reminding her of the places, people and events that have touched her life.

Each apron is as unique as the person who gave it to her, though Paula does have a favorite: a feminine frilly bib-style apron given to her by Miss Gloria, a special woman who worked alongside Paula at her first restaurant, The Lady.

Bib-style aprons like the one gifted to Paula date all the way back to the Victorian era, though they were worn long and pinned into place. Many of the hand-made aprons from this era that hung in affluent homes were made of white linen, batiste or heavy cotton and were used to display a woman’s needlework. But you’d be hard pressed to find a stain on these embellished designs—many women wore one apron for cooking and cleaning, and then changed into a beautifully sewn and neatly pressed one to greet her guests, making it appear as if keeping a house was as easy as pie.

The Depression forced many women in America to let their Victorian pretenses go in the name of utility. Many aprons from this era were straight and shapeless designs cut at the knee to save on fabric. Often they were made of feedsack. Eventually, feedsack manufacturers caught on to the trend and began imprinting their cloth with colorful patterns. Few of these aprons exist today because in true Depression style, nothing went to waste: once it began to wear out, an aprong would be reused as a dust cloth.

Eventually polyester and rayon took the post-war world by storm, offering more colors and designs and eliminating the laborious task of ironing. During this time, aprons became popular gift items—often for new brides—and sought-after souvenirs. Consequently, the 1950s marked the heyday of apron manufacturing. Half-aprons, or “waitress style” aprons, became popular, as did plastic and vinyl versions, which collectors prize today. The designs were simple, the colors extraordinary.

But the golden age of aprons came to a close in the 1960s when women demanded to be seen as more than the sum of their domestic parts. Consequently, aprons fell out of style because they represented a conventional life from which many women were trying to break free.

In the ‘90s, retro-style came into fashion and people began collecting vintage aprons, which are both abundant (especially those from the ‘50s) and reasonably priced. Only a select few will fetch a few hundred dollars at auction, including those from the 1950s that are trimmed with pink rose fabric.
But perhaps more important than the worth of an apron, is the memory it evokes, which is why many people begin collecting in the first place. From the smell of Grandma’s yeast rolls to the image of Momma fighting to stuff a turkey, aprons take us on a journey through time. And sometimes, as Paula discovered, they let us dress ourselves in the memory of someone special.

For wonderful recipes inspired by aprons go to:
Apron Strings Recipes

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Reader Comments:

54321

I will be making Jumbalaya as I have leftovers of spicy sausage, chicken, and shrimp. Your recipe sounds delicious! We are looking forward to having it tonight and then, my husband will probably eat the leftovers for breakfast. I also wanted to comment on your note about aprons. I, too, have a collection of them hanging on a wall. I have always used bib aprons to cover my clothing while I am cooking. My collection began when we were in New Orleans. We had a wonder Shrimp Creole and I wanted the recipe. Upon checking out, the recipe was on an apron for sale for less than &10;.00! That was the start of a wonderful collection of aprons from places we have visited, and I don't spend more than my initial $10.00. It really is a nice and useful souvenir as I wear them and display them. I have them from all over the world - even one from HELL ( Township in the Camen Islands). My grandkids have helped in the kitchen since they were very small and each has his or her own apron made especially for them. The "Grands" have outgrown them now, so they just choose one from the wall and help with the cooking. My entire family feels like our country has become overly concerned with "Political Correctness" and you have been unjustly punished because of you being a celebrity. We miss seeing you and look forward to your return ( the sooner the better) ! A Proud Paula Fan/ Elaine

By Elaine Church on March 22, 2014

54321

I also collect aprons, but I don't have near that many.

By Betty Hester-Altahy on September 05, 2013

54321

I love your recipes and enjoyed the article on aprons. I love your pans and wish I could buy more!! Someday I will have the whole collection. I watch you on TV and you inspire me to try new recipes. Thankyou, Donna Clere

By Donna Clere on April 19, 2011

54321

paul you are such a delight to watch.....my grand daughter Baylee 15 from yukon oklahoma... loves your show also she even told her dad one time that you were her hero...and her dad goes who is paula dean and baylee goes everyone knows who paula dean is....anyway i wish some day that if we are ever in savahna we might run into you that would just thrill the pants off of her..I have just starting sewing aprons for family and friends the first one i ever made was when i was in the 7th gread and still have it to this day....thanks for being you..Rilda sterling of graham washington

By Rilda Sterling on March 06, 2011

54321

i love you! your mannerisms remind me so much of my mom. i enjoy watching your shows too. for christmas i asked my boyfrind for your pots and pans; actually that's all i could talk about. there is something about you that puts a smile on my face. i just wanted you to know that you are truly loved. carrie m farmersville tx

By carrie minyard on February 02, 2011

My favorite apron was from my grandmother.  Unfortunately, I wore it out.  Gram used to make aprons out of feed sacks.  Some of them would cover you all the way to your ankles.  Gram aways had an apron on, even when she went out to the garden.  It was a way to carry her vegetables into the house.

By Marsha on October 18, 2010

Hi Paula, I had two aprons of my Grandmothers, her everyday apron and her Sunday apron. Everyday apron was just your plain ole white thick cotton and her Sunday apron was light blue frilly with lace on the hem and pockets.  Her favorite color was blue so her frilly foo foo apron went with all her Sunday dresses. I remember helping her make biscuits for Sunday breakfast ... She and the biscuits smelled so sweet. Such great memories. We had one of those Big blowy thingys (Hurricane) down here and alot of stuff that I had boxed up got ruined ...but I’ll never forget my Grandmother wearing those aprons.
Love your shows and that you include your critters ... I have boocoo critters too.

Carla

By Carla Massey on October 17, 2010

I have a old apron of my mom’s. BUT I rememeber the apron’s my grand mother in Indiana always wore-don;t know hwat happen to them but she was a great cook and made the best pies in the state-and the best home made noodles`she would come to Ohio for Vacation and I can rememeber our neighbors would pay her to make pies and noodles.

By Linda Piraino on October 15, 2010

This article taken from our church bulletin, submitted by one of our church members…..If you can remember the apron and its uses you must be 50 or older.. The principle use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath, but along with that,it served as a holder for removing hot pans from the oven;it was wonderful for drying children’s tears,
and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.From the chicken-coop the apron was used for carrying eggs,fussy chicks,and sometimes
half hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven. When company came those aprons were ideal
hiding places for shy kids;and when the weather was cold,grandma wrapped it around her arms.  Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.Chips and
kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in
that apron. From the garden,it carried all sorts of vegetables.After the peas had been shelled it
carried out the hulls.In the fall the apron was
used to bring in apples that had fallen from the
trees. When unexpected company drove up the
road,it was surprising how much furniture that
old apron could dust in a matter of seconds. When
dinner was ready, grandma walked out onto the
porch,waved her apron,and the men knew it was
time to come in from the fields to dinner.It will
be a long time before someone invents something
that will replace that “old-time apron” that
served so many purposes.—and those were the"good
ole days”..

By T Weir on October 15, 2010

I have two aprons made by my husband’s grandmother, Mrs. Ward in 1961 for my wedding gift.  They have cross stitch on them.  Now I keep them in a handy drawer, and my two grandchildren go straight to the drawer to put them on when we are going to bake cookies.  We are still building memories.  Mrs. Ward lived to be 97 years old.

By Patricia Knight on October 15, 2010

Hi Paula,

Aprons, ahhhhh yes, bring back such wonderful memories for me from my daughter to my grandgirls. My daughter always played “restaurant” with one of her friends and wore one of my old aprons that I collected from yard sales and antique shops over the years. From fancy to tattered ones, I loved and collected them all.  Now, it is my grandgirls turns.  If they help me in the kitchen, they always find an apron to wear.  My seven year old grandgirl especially likes to wash dishes, and always wears the same cotton, blue and white flowered, apron. I still collect aprons today mostly at local arts and crafts fair.  I never met an apron I didn’t like!!

By Rosie Wece on October 15, 2010

My “special” apron was my mothers’. She passed away in 1998 at 94 yrs. old.  She always wore an apron as did my dad when he cooked.  Seems like one of them always had an apron on.  When they passed away I shared some of their aprons. I wore one of the aprons at our family reunion in 2009 and everyone loved it, seemed to have their presence there with that apron.

By Patricia Hill on October 14, 2010

I grew up in a church where I was the only boy in a Sunday School full of girls.  One year we made little holiday gifts for senior widows. I think there was decoupage involved. I barely remember the gift but I will never forget one of the ladies. Her name was Ida Deming and she was very elderly and very tough, no-nonsense and perhaps a bit frightening to a child. As a “Thank You” for that one simple gift she had made little frilly identical aprons for each child in class.  They were pink fabric aprons with white crocheted trim and basket-shaped crocheted pockets.  Very Donna Reed/June Cleaver, only more-so!  When she brought them into class she looked at me with a fixed steely eye and barked “I’m 93 and couldn’t think what else to make for you, boy, so learn to cook!” Then she smiled, winked and patted my cheek as she swept out of the room. She was 93. I was 7 or 8 and I already did love to cook.  I’m 50 now. I still love to cook and I still have that little apron.

By Dave Shuler on October 14, 2010

Mamas faeded apron was a garmet full and wide. It did its humble duty and much more beside. Twas made of gingham just plan and simple made by busy, humble hands. It had neither lace nor ruffles and wasn’t bright and gay. Simple homey usefullness was the order of the day. Twas used to carry eggs, twas used to shoo away the flies and soothe a weeping baby’s eyes. Twas used to fill the kindling box with chips and cobs and twigs, and carry pesky garden weeds to the pigs. Twas used to carry taters from the hill, and maybe a mess of greens did mam’s apron fill. Tiny infants feet sheltered in its folds on mornings bleak and cold. After many a thankless chore like a lonley sentry, it hung at night by the kitchen door. When I wonder at heavens gate and see robes rich and fair, I’ll say an old apron is what I want to wear…..This reminds me of my great grandma Susan and mamaw Ruby who wore aprons every day.

By veronica mccomas on October 14, 2010

I love wearing aprons. My grandmother would make all us girls a new apron every couple years.I have 4 sisters. They’re now keepsakes but I have newer ones I wear.

By Barbara Ayen on October 14, 2010

My Grandmother was a fabulous baker.  Spanish Cream Pudding, Rice Pudding, home-made tapioca, and just about every imaginable cookie you could ever imagine.  She had a drawer in her kitchen that held all her aprons and I couldn’t wait to go over to her home and put one on.  I would pretend I was baking with her, because she would never let me help.

When grandma passed, my mom cleaned out her home and kept a lot of fabric (she also sewed, knitted, tatted and crocheted), which she then gave to a very good friend of the family who sewed.  About 2 years after she died, I got a Christmas gift from this friend of the family.  Inside a box was the one remaining apron that my grandma must have held on to.  Purple and made of cotton, with long ties to make a beautiful, I take it out of its box every now and then and just smile.  My grandmas aprons were very special to me, and if it weren’t for the family friend knowing how important family is to me….this small piece of my childhood would have been lost for good.

By Allison on October 14, 2010

I have all of my grandmothers aprons. There wasn’t a meal cooked in her home that didn’t include all of us girls being “aproned” by grandma with one of the ten or so aprons that she kept in a drawer in the kitchen. I don’t use them as much as she did, but every time I run across one I am taken back to my childhood!!!

By Linda Vidal on October 14, 2010

I have a red and white gingham checked one that my Grandma Loper wore every year for Christmas…she always removed it before the family would set down to dinner and one year I remember my Grandpa said to her as she took her place beside him at the head of the table, “Mother , you forgot to take off your apron.” She shyly got up and removed it to the kitchen and then took her place back at the table.
I think of them every time I open the drawer that I keep special things and remember all the great Christmas dinners they shared with their family. It especially reminds me of the wonderful HICKORY NUT CAKE she made every Christmas with nuts my Dad gathered on our farm.

By Gloria Fee on October 14, 2010

Made one in 4-H Club when I was a very young girl and we got to model them too. I still have it and I still remember how proud I was. I love my mom for helping me do things like that. This one goes in the “Precious Memories” catagory.

By Alice Lunte on October 14, 2010

Hi Paula, Just wanted to say a girlfriend of mine made me an apron for Christmas about 15 yrs ago. I have since been divorced and remarried. I dont see the girls from the town of Poolville Md much anymore but I wear that apron on Christmas every year and I think of my girlfriend Tina. It is made of a Holly print in Red and in the center is a Heart shape of Holly print in green. It makes me smile just telling you. Thanks for the memory reminder   big smiles and hugs   Theresa smile

By Theresa Owens on October 14, 2010

I guess compared to the others that have shared stories with you about Aprons,mine probably isn’t very interesting.I do have several aprons that are very special to me.I have a couple of my grandma Tressie’s aprons,and several of my Moms,they are very special, but I also have one that my granddaughter Savannah made me when she was 8 years old(with her mamas help).She is almost 18 now and I dont see her these days,but that apron that she made for me (her Grammy) will always be very special to me because it was made with Love and from her heart.

By Nancy Jimenez on October 14, 2010

Dearest of Paula’s,
I have a very special apron that my mom bought for me in 1986, from the Avon company. (She went to Heaven in 1988) Before she bought it for me she asked if I would wear it. “Most definitely I told her”. I assume she didn’t want to waste her money smile I treasure my Christmas Tartan apron from my mom. I really want to thank you for sharing your apron story with us all—I never thought of hanging it up on my wall. Now I can display it everyday and it’ll remind me to use it more often.
My daughter wore it last Christmas and it’ll be hers one day. I love you, Paula—you inspire me:) *hugs*

By Wendy Karcher on October 14, 2010

When I was a little girl, my mother sewed a little apron for me just like the one she made for herself. She sewed most of our clothes, so naturally she made aprons too.  I still have my little apron that she made me. When we baked cookies at Christmas, I’d put it on. When we decorated a rabbit cake at Easter, I’d wear it then. I am almost 64, and I still treasure that little apron with the tiny pocket on it. It is tucked away in the linen closet.

By Carolyn M. on October 14, 2010

I have an apron that was made by my Grandmother out of a Blue Plaid feedsack. It means so very much to me because she wore it while cooking with my Mother for us at special times when she came to visit. I have it hanging on the top corner shelf of my old Barn Wood Pie Safe. I just love the meaning of it…..

By Brenda Conner on October 14, 2010

I’am a big fan of aprons. I have many of my moms and grandmas (who have both passed away now) but i will treasure them forever. I also collect aprons and my favorite one is made like a pair of long old fashion bloomers. It is yellow with blue turquoise print and is the cutest thing i have ever saw. I have a grandaughter now and can’t wait to start cooking with her and she already has 3 little aprons of her own and soon my grandsons will be right along beside me with there little aprons on too. Paula you are my favorite and I hope to get to meet you someday. Blessings to you and your family.

By Pam Friday on October 14, 2010

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