Though many people still think of an archetypal housewife when they think of aprons, the garments go back much further. In the Middle Ages, monks and nuns frequently wore sleeveless garments called scapulars over sleeved garments, says Daniel James Cole, a professor of fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Soldiers also wore apron-style garments over their armor to help reduce glare from the sun, he says. Such coverings gradually migrated into court dress.Share
In the 19th century, apron-like garments were worn as part of uniforms by servants, and their association with housework and working-class labor endured throughout the 20th century.
Aprons do have historical ties to fashion. Akris, the family owned, Swiss fashion label, was launched as an apron company in 1922. The fashion house continues to draw on that history. Akris designer Albert Kriemler cited the legacy of his grandmother, Alice, in "the minimalist shape of our white double-face sheath," for example.
By the 1970s, women were entering the workplace in larger numbers and cooking less, and the women's-liberation movement saw the apron as a symbol of female oppression. Aprons enjoyed a renaissance about six years ago, with rising interest in home entertainment and gourmet cooking. But these aprons were strictly for the home.