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