History Of Aprons -
Early Apron History

The history of aprons is a long story, yet there isn't much written about it. There's no mention of aprons being worn in ancient times. I've heard it said that Adam and Eve wore the first aprons. I disagre. 

Since Adam & Eve's intent wasn't to protect their clothing (or body) from chore-related damage, I don't consider their leafy covering as an apron. Loincloths, yes. In my opinion they invented clothing, with modesty being the purpose. But that's just my opinion!

One of the best ways to see apron history is by looking at centuries of art. The only record  of the history of aprons in much earlier times seems to be in paintings. It may not be very accurate but with a little common sense and awareness of  clothing history, we can fill in the blanks. 

Medieval And Renaissance Aprons

The first aprons appear to be little more than squares or rectangles of linen cloth tied around the workers waist. Fabric was precious because, for the common folk, it was woven at home on narrow looms. Every scrap was used, so there was probably a minimum of cut and sew involved. And there wouldn't have been a lot of resources... time or money, to spend on decorative aprons. 

The earliest pictures of aprons that I've found showed peasants or laborers in medeval or renaissance time... both men and women. The wealthy folk that had their portraits painted would not have done any labor that required garment protection. And if they did, they wouldn't have allowed the painter show them in work garb.  

I found a nifty website about Medieval and Renaissance life & costume.  Some of their links don't seem to work anymore but there's a lot of pictures of people wearing basic aprons in artwork of the era. 

Plain aprons were the norm until the late 1500s, when elaborately decorated aprons became the style for women. These weren't work aprons. They were fashionable, status aprons decorated with expensive lace and embroidery.

History of aprons in the New World

When Europeans began immigrating to the new world,  aprons were simple & functional as a reaction to the excesses of fashion. The Pilgrim women wore plain, white long aprons. Later the Quaker women wore long aprons made of colored silk.

Back in England, politics dictated fashion during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. Simple aprons were the rule until Charles II reclaimed his throne. At that time, the fashion pendulum moved again to the other extreme... embroidery & lace again decorated aprons. They were even worn at Louis XIV's court in France.

In England, women competed to see who could have the most elaborately decorated apron. Wealthy women often left their heirloom aprons to favored family members. The Duchess of Queensbury once wore an apron that was rumored to have cost 200 guineas. (which must have been a LOT of money or the story wouldn't survive in oral history!)

Up until the American Colonial era, aprons were mostly waist or half aprons. Then full aprons began to find favor, and pinafores or “pinnies” began to be worn. (I'd still like to know what kind of pins were used to hold the bib in place.) As fabric became more available, more cutting and fitting of the garment was done. Aprons began to mimic dress styles. 

This brings me to the end of the 1700s, a good place to end this section. I'm off to do more research on Regency and Victorian aprons and will add the history of aprons part 2 when I have a chance.