By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 05, 2002 at 5:22 AM

I started collecting aprons because I thought they would somehow string me along into the kitchen and inspire me to finally bust out the pots and pans I received as wedding gifts. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but I do have dozens of darling aprons on display throughout my home and a whole new appreciation for bric-a-brac.

Thrift stores are the best places to purchase aprons. Orchid Annie's on Brady Street and Yellow Jacket on Humboldt Avenue usually have great selections. Of course, scoring them from female family members is the best of all.

"My grandma ALWAYS wore aprons while cooking. We baked with her all the time, and I have such fond memories of grams lookin' all cute with her flour-dusted apron on, the kind that was so old and soft, you could almost see through it," says Renee Bebeau.

The aprons originally came to America with European immigrants. Years ago, women didn't have the money to own large wardrobes, and washing was a very time-consuming chore that was done infrequently, usually only after a garment was worn four or five times. So aprons served a practical purpose: To keep clothing clean.

"I think aprons are wonderful. I think that they are quite utilitarian, even when they're just the smallest of aprons," says Becky Hollman. "I think using aprons as curtains is a wonderful idea, and I think they are also great for gardening."

Throughout the Twentieth Century, aprons slowly became more decorative. In the '20s and '30s aprons followed the silhouette of the long, waistless dress of the time. By the '40s, aprons gained a cinched waistline, and were often trimmed with bric-a-brac, buttons and pockets of contrasting color.

In the 1950s, when household appliances such as refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, irons and other cooking devices became widely popular in homes, there was a renaissance of arts and crafts (because women had more time) and aprons became more aesthetic. Aprons decorated in holiday motifs became very popular, especially Christmas aprons.

"I don't like to wear an apron. I guess it has to do with never really getting into the 'kitchen thing' when I was young. I remember my mom having many aprons. She had several everyday aprons that she wore whenever she made a meal or baked and Bridge Club aprons that were fancy chiffon with lace. She also had aprons for all the holidays, especially Christmas and Valentine's Day, which were her favorite holidays. She washed them by hand and hung them on a line to dry. She would use a cool iron to press out any wrinkles. Funny how much I remember about aprons and yet never got into them," says Rosemary Brunetto.

The '50s were the heyday of aprons. Aprons were a serious fashion element, not just a cover-up. Half-aprons of highly starched cotton organdy (sheer, see-through) trimmed with lace were popular for special occasions, as well as two-piece aprons and short smocks of bright cotton prints for every day.


Message aprons first appeared in the late '60s. "Kiss the cook" and "For this I went to college" were some of the most popular messages embossed on the once-again-popular full-length aprons. These messages were a reflection of the Feminist Movement that was starting to pick up steam at this time.

"When I was a kid at St. Robert's school, we would bring in one of our Dad's old button-down shirts to wear as an apron in art class. I always really liked putting on my apron because I loved art class and I loved my Dad and it was nice to have something of his to wear. I mean I guess I never have worn much of my Dad's clothes besides that, why would I? The class looked so cute and silly -- all these little kids wearing these big ole shirts," says Jessica Laub.

Many women today don't even own an apron. But some women, like myself, own them more out of aesthetic appreciation and an unexplainable feeling of nostalgia for a decade that we didn't live through. Aprons represent the "June Cleaver era" that was undeniably a very lonely, powerless time for many women, yet seemingly simpler and strangely comforting.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.