In search of the perfect apron

May 31, 2010

Many years ago my sister-in-law Jacqui from Tassie made me the best apron I’ve ever owned. So much a part of our lives was it, this heavy cotton lime-green apron even scored a mention in the best woman’s speech at our wedding nearly seven years ago, as some kind of symbol of how we live (code, basically, for Pair of Gluttons).

Last week, the neck strap on this faithful friend (not the one pictured here, but similar) finally gave way, coming apart in my hands. And my elegant solution – tying a knot in it – ended up creating an unfortunate noose-like effect.

Luckily, I had to hand my first understudy apron, given me as a kitchen-warming present by the Parsnip Princess last year. This rather glamorous, intricately patterned number is especially good for hiding the many splotches and blobs that inevitably end up all over me, and also – having been made by some hardworking Kenyan gals – has the added benefit of the humanitarian glow one gets from wearing.

Then, later in the week, I was very thrilled when Charlotte Chicken’s foster grandmother Deb presented me with a perfect replacement for my old green faithful, that she picked up during the dreadful hardship of a trip round Spain and Italy recently.

All this led me to think about the essential qualities of the apron, and whether I am alone in obsessing about this. I am amazed by all those cooking TV shows where there’s nary an apron to be seen – how do they do it? What do they wipe their hands on? I have several half-aprons, but find the classic coverall shape the best for my particular style, which tends to the slip-slop-slap.  And I am keen to hear from you, dear howtoshuck family, about your criteria for the perfect apron. Do you, indeed, even use one? If you do, what’s your favourite type? Do you have views on length and width? Are pockets essential? Are you a fan of those cute retro half-pinnies? What about strings and straps – adjustable, or no?  Front-fastening, or back? Half or full?

I await your advice. And then down the track we must do a companion piece on tea towels…


  1. Adjustable is a must for the vertically challenged like myself. I have a gorgeous apron complete with ruffled edge and matching tea towel which my aunt gave to me as a house warming gift. I find its big pocket handy for shoving recipes in when I’m up a ladder searching the top pantry shelf.

  2. Nice one Lucie. I agree pockets are a must, though ruffles begin to make me uneasy.

    On the issue of strings, just in, an opinion piece from the aforementioned Deb:

    “Strings are all important. They need to be long enough to tie around the body and back to the front. Three reasons for this:

    “1. It gives you a nice businesslike feeling when you put it on;
    “2. When the strings are at the front you can get the apron off quickly without marking the back of your clothes (think floury hands and knock at the door;) and
    “3. It’s easier to undo from the front when an excess of businesslike zeal makes you knot it too tight.

    “I thought some more about the patterned cloth to deal with stains but have discarded that idea and replaced it with plain fabric and sewing an ornamental little running stitch around all unremovable grease spots. A kind of showing off of noble scars. I’d use 3 strands of pillar box red embroidery cotton.

    “You need several aprons.”

  3. I usually wear a standard apron–full cover-up–like the lime on pictured on your blog. It has one big pocket. But I have some aprons I keep for nostalgic reasons. One is a 3-quarters neck to thighs slip-over-the-head apron (is this the half-pinnie?), the type all my farming female relatives wore on the farm. These aprons have a huge sectioned pocket along the bottom hem, which women used to hold everything: scissors, seeds, gathered eggs, thread, etc. I have a ruffled apron made from flour sacks from a local mill. (Coloured flour sacks were apparently brought out in the Depression in the USA so that people could make clothes from the good fabric.) I have a tiny jazzy green/blue diamond-patterned number that was my first sewing project in Year 8. And also a frilly apron that my mother used in the 50s. You kept your work apron on until guests arrived, then changes to your frilly guest apron. Years ago, an elderly neighbour gave me a half aprong with 2 big pockets, which she had sewn. I use it as my clothes pegs apron and am amazaed at how sturdy it remains.

    • Ah, thank you Marsha – finally, an explanation for the teeny frilly apron. For guests. Weird, though, isn’t it? Perhaps one could just take it off altogether when the guests arrive? But now I think of it, I tend to wear my giant ones covered in splotches all through dinner with guests, like a giant napkin … perhaps it is time to seek out my inner Fifties Housewife.

      • Hi Charlotte, Interestingly, I read about someone in Australia who has researched the social elements of aprons. I couldn’t find any more info on the Web but did find this brief history, from the Spotlight site (below). It looks as if the holy grail for you to channel yhour inner ’50s Aussie housewife is not only to put your ‘guest apron’ on but ensure it is starched AND matches your tablecloth. Your splotchy giant napkin apron sounds much more comfortable.
        SPOTLIGHT SITE: 1920s and 30s: Aprons followed the fashion silhouettes of the time – long, with no waist line. 1940s: aprons featured a cinched waistline and were often brightly trimmed with rick-rack, buttons and pockets of contrasting colour. 1950s: Half-aprons appeared, and advertising often showed a woman with perfectly ‘set’ hair,in a shining kitchen, wearing a highly starched apron. The half-aprons were often embellished with rickrack, ruffles, buttons and appliqués. Women often changed from their cooking aprons into serving aprons–which matched tablecloths or place mats.

  4. My mum received an apron from my grandmother with a tea-towel attached to the bottom half of the apron. I thought it was perfect. Alas, I’m not sure if these aprons are available here in Australia, she bought it in Israel.

    Hi Charlotte, I wanted to introduce myself because I have read and love your work, and I have also taught your novel, The Submerged Cathedral, in one of the undergraduate English courses I have taught in. It is truly one of my favourite contemporary Australian novels.

    All best!

  5. Shuckin’ Charlotte, I hope you’re off kissing the mirror after reading the above comment!! Anyway, I wanted to say I just proved I *should* wear an apron whenever I am even contemplating crossing the threshold into the kitchen – I knocked a full pot of coffee off the stovetop and now, oddly, my sleeve smells like wee.

  6. Marsha, I am most delighted by your apron investigations – matching with tablecloths?? what an idea. Perhaps I could get some woodgrain fabric and match mine to the floorboards. And as far as I am concerned, there is simply not enough rickrack going round in contemporary life, and I plan to change that. Excellent work.

    And yes, doctordi, I am swooning after Hila’s exceptionally kind remarks. Especially a few years after a book has gone out into the world, it’s easy to feel that it’s been forgotten. So Hila, I’m especially grateful for your love of TSC; it’s the kind of thing writers live for, and I appreciate it more than I can say.

    Doctordi, what can I say, except that you clearly require more than an apron. Perhaps one of those full-body suits plus helmet, the kind of thing worn by people who work in nuclear power plants….

  7. It’s my pleasure!

  8. So lovely to have you back. You were very much missed. Apron sounds all too organised. I have a few – coverall and half skirt – but I forget they exist and they get lost at the back of the 3rd drawer with the old teatowels. I usually tuck a teatowel into my jeans, pants or skirt or sling a teatowel over my shoulder for the essential handwiping.

  9. Ah, JMo, a proponent of the tea-towel-over-the-shoulder school. I can respect that. But I am clearly a messier cook than you. A tea-towel is not nearly big enough for my mess…

  10. […] – if you’re like me, half the white would end up dripping down your arm and into your apron pockets, and then how the hell do you measure whether you have enough white left for the recipe? […]

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