A dozen aprons hang on four hooks in my kitchen – a 1950s red-and-green trimmed hostess apron that belonged to my mother-in-law; one with handprints of small children, a class thank-you for being room mother; a fall-themed number hand sewn by a reader.
The most-used aprons are in the front, marked by splattering oil, sputtering tomato sauce and even slippery mango, a vicious staining agent if there ever was one.
My very favorite working apron, as I call this version of the kitchen utility shield, was bought in a small linen store in the south of France eight years ago. Its made of thick cotton, wide at the bottom to cover my considerable flanks, and providing a place to wipe my hands. The waist straps are long enough to wrap around and tie in front.
Concerned about the day when Apron No. 1 falls apart, I called in the best seamstress I know to replicate it. The apron went with me to California where I left it with my sister. It, and the three she made using the original as her guide, came back to Florida on a recent visit.
Obsessed about aprons? Possibly. But I am not the only one.
The resurgence of apron buying and wearing can be explained in many ways, but the truth is that aprons are hot as both collectibles and utilitarian kitchen essentials.
At vintage shops, trendy boutiques, kitchen stores and even barbecue supply businesses, youll find healthy supplies of aprons.
The fifth edition of Apronology, an annual anthology of everything apron, comes out in February, with photos, stories and patterns for homemade projects.
A traveling exhibit, Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections, is in its eighth year and is now at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pa., north of Philadelphia.
Its curator and organizer, EllynAnne Geisel, is also the author of several popular books on aprons and shares stories about favorite aprons at apronmemories.com.
Some say the aprons renewed popularity stems from a growing interest in domesticity by a generation of young women who grew up in homes where Mom was working rather than waiting at the door with milk and cookies after school. Others believe its a love affair with nostalgia, fueled by the likes of chic Betty Draper in the retro-cool TV show Mad Men, and all those 1950s and 60s programs we love to watch (and rewatch) on TV Land.
And – how novel – theres actually a school of thought that were cooking more, and we need aprons to protect our clothes, the original purpose.
Claire Steele, who, with her mother Jessica, runs jessiesteele.com, which specializes in feminine vintage aprons, says the modern love affair with aprons blends both fashion and utility.
Steele says the sites sales are up, both in the United States and internationally. One of the biggest sellers is an apron adorned with cupcakes topped with a cherry. That might have something to do with the cupcake craze that has been strong for several of years. Two trends in one, it seems.
What Aunt Bee, June Cleaver and Ozzie Harriet wore so proudly now represents such fundamental needs as joy, nourishment and love, Steele says.
Desiree Sheridan, owner of Buffalo Gal Vintage Clothing, Accessories and Gifts in St. Petersburg, Fla., sells vintage and reproduction aprons from the turn of the last century up until the 1980s. She says she has seen more interest in aprons, especially around holidays.
What her customers consider vintage has to do with their age. Women in their 70s look to the 1920s, when the aprons were white with long skirts and often a bib, she says. The hostess aprons of the 1950s appeal to women in their 50s, who remember Mom and Grandma entertaining in frills. Even the mustard-yellow, avocado-green aprons of the 1970s have their fans; mostly women in their 20s and 30s.
And how about the apron as a political statement?
Recently, women in England were encouraged to wear aprons to church to protest a vote that denied women the right to become bishops in the Anglican church.
The idea is that women wear an apron or pinafore on top of their clothes as a mockery of the idea that they are fit only for tea making, one of the organizers said.
Geisel may be the nations foremost authority on aprons – and the strings that bind us to the women who nourished us.
Geisel originated the day-before-Thanksgiving Tie One On Day to honor the apron. A woman once told her that when she tied on her mothers apron, she felt like she was getting a hug from her.
Thats the thing, the joy of these vintage aprons. They have the stories and spirit of the person woven into the fabric, she says.