aprons- bringing sexy back to the kitchen

Josephine Baker

'Black Thunder, Josephine Baker' -by Paul Colin

What happens when a dress-wearing interior decorator / former fashion designer attends a full time culinary school program for 15 weeks…..in the world’s most hideous uniform? Once she overcomes the realization that she is, in fact, far more vain than she had earlier thought, she then begins to anticipate the day when she will be sprung from the joint- not only to be reunited with her civies, but also to do her bit in bringing sexy back to the kitchen.....

Somehow, I’d made it to forty without ever having to wear a uniform (unless you count grade 6, when I played second flute in the North Shore Youth Band and had to wear a burgundy blazer). Whether or not it had been a conscious choice to spend my years avoiding wardrobe repression, I’m not entirely sure. But I am certain that, once required to adorn the same nasty ensemble day in and day out (January to April 2008), plus realizing that my yearning for creative self expression was going unfulfilled- I felt awful and, still worse, I looked awful! I don’t know whose bright idea it was that ill fitting, synthetic, asexual clothing (that disguises both curves and muscles) equals professionalism, but I doubt they’d be much fun to go out dancing with. I dreamed of the day when I could get cooking with some inspiring kitchen fashions.....

An apron is simply a loin cloth with ruffles.
- Gloria D. Nixon-John

What’s so wrong with a workplace peppered with feminine and / or masculine beauty, anyway? Was anyone ever really that bent out of shape because of a momentary, eye pleasing distraction? I highly doubt it. The culinary world is full of both men and women, working side by side and usually dressed in the exact same generic attire. Have we not come far enough in our battle of the sexes that we can celebrate the differences and simply get on with the many tasks at hand?

I thought it might be fun to seek out the opinion of an industry professional. Tony Minichiello (one of my fabulous Northwest Culinary Academy instructors, plus the school’s co-owner) was kind enough to share his opinion regarding the apron:

“There's a scene in the German film of a perfectionist chef, Mostly Martha, where she starts her day of work by tightly wrapping and tying her apron around her waist. I very much related to that scene. More than the chef's jacket, and definitely the hat, the apron tightly wound around my waist makes me feel ready for my work. Without it I literally feel naked."

"I'm a traditionalist (when it comes to the apron), I have to admit. I like the long, plain white one that wraps just above the hips and comes down below the knees. It also must have long tying strings - I like the big bow in the front. I love - and I do mean love - folding it a couple of times at the top and a very tight knot, as if wearing a weight-lifter's belt.”

As for the pants.....the very same day my friend, Kieran, was issued his culinary school uniform (while attending a different culinary school), he headed straight to his tailor for alterations, anxious to correct his stiff, bulky, one-size-fits-all pants that made him look as if he was continually “sporting wood”.....talk about distracting.

Above: 'Adam and Eve' -Rubens 1628-29. (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons
- Bible: Genesis 3:7

Apron’ originates from the old French word ‘naperon’, meaning ‘napkin or small tablecloth.’ We traditionally think of aprons as being used for cooking (though they have been cook’s companion for hundreds of years), but other occupations such as butchers, welders, school teachers and shop keepers also historically wore aprons to protect their clothing from getting dirty. Keep in mind that these were times when most did not have the luxury of owning a large wardrobe, and the clothing that they did have was washed by hand. Since the early 19th century, women have used aprons for many purposes. In addition to providing protective cover, these garments helped with a variety of important tasks.

For domestic workers in the early 1900s, the apron was a convenient, all-purpose tool, used to carry wood and kindling, to gather eggs and vegetables, to wipe their brows in the noon-day sun, or just to hide a special treat for a willing helper.’
- ‘Ma Dear’s Aprons’ by Patricai C. McKissack

In farm communities, women would use their aprons to plant; twenty or more women would line up side by side, each with her pouched apron full of grain, and would sow the freshly plowed fields in unison with the seeds from their aprons.'
- From 'Aprons- Icons of the American Home' by Joyce Cheny

Following the Great Depression, many 1940s aprons were made from the patterned linings of flour bags and seed sacks. This heavier fabric was also used for making dresses, shirts, children’s clothing and quilts. For some, feed sacks bring to mind the scarcity of material, but at the same time there is a romance to the idea that women could make something beautiful from something so mundane.

In the 1950’s, society started to see a new stereotype. During this era, women were usually portrayed on television as good homemakers, perfect wives and doting mothers….rarely seen without their aprons. By the 1960s, the apron’s popularity was beginning to wane, as more people bought cheaper clothing and installed washing machines (and dryers) in their homes. The 70s brought somewhat of a revival, in the form of a shapeless, bibbed apron (think ‘Kiss the Cook’, full frontal nudity and cheesy beer jokes) as a companion to the (then) new found popularity of home barbequing.

These days, we are currently enjoying a new kind of apron revival. This time around, aprons have as much to do with making a fashionable statement as they do with our culture's growing passion to cook and entertain at home. According to Austin based apron designer Chasity Gordon of Belle and Burger, “The resurgence of aprons has everything to do with the foodie movement and the growing desire for people to cook at home…..The apron is a real celebration about being at home and making things and family." Most recently, as we enter a new period of economic turmoil and uncertainty, it makes more sense than ever that we are seeing a mass return to domestic arts. I predict that activities such as cooking, preserving, sewing, growing our own food, and doing pretty much anything D.I.Y are about to become hotter than ever. As we figure out how to save money while still enjoying our lives…..we are sure to learn some valuable new skills and surprising pleasures such as creative expression, self sufficiency and stronger communities.

My own apron collection, ‘global peasant- bringing sexy back to the kitchen’, is due to launch on Etsy in two days. Playful, colourful and cheerful, each piece is made from engineer stripe cotton and accented with pre-loved (and laundered) vintage fabrics that have been reworked into one-of-a-kind pieces. Silhouettes include bistro, cafĂ©, bib and gathered skirts that are sure to elevate kitchen play. Stay tuned for Monday…..


Anonymous said...

You do have very sexy legs not to be hidden too much under an apron. Wishing your etsy venture much success!

Simon said...

All this talk of women's aprons...what of men's. I have an apron or two and look forward to having a third. I'll be checking etsy tomorrow.