Readers will recall a previous post on aprons, but today we will focus on brief descriptions and the apron’s use in carrying various items. Gathering these references reminded me of my youth when aprons were commonly worn whether fancy for show or utilitarian for gathering eggs, holding clothes-pins, picking vegetables, etc. The references are presented as they were found pre-1790 with no additional rhetoric on my part.
Thomas Sheridan defined an apron as, “A cloth hung before to keep the other dress clean, or for ornament”. (1790)
A novel described a utilitarian apron in 1797 as: “her old checked apron, which was very clean, and had been patched and darned from one end to the other…”. – The Universalist’s Miscellany.
Let’s look at the description of a fine apron. “…having an apron on, that was embroidered with silk of different colours…”. – Annual Register. Vol. I. (1758).
While being queried for a possible service position, it was written that the lady had not only observed the girl’s appearance, but had felt her garments as well. “…every article of which she not only examined with her eyes, but her fingers, feeling the stuff of my gown, and holding my apron between her and the light, to observe the quality of the gauze and the texture of the lace.”
The woman then questioned the girl as to whether it was her own or a borrowed garment, “why this is a lace at twelve shillings the yard, was there ever such extravagance! But perhaps you had it cheap at an old-cloaths shop…In fact she had guessed the real history of the apron, which I had bought that morning in my way to her Ladyship’s house; and I owned it was so, and that I had it at a third of the value”. The lady appreciated her thriftiness at having secured such a bargain. Upon entering service, the girl received a blue flannel apron and stomacher from her Ladyship. – Mackenzie, Henry. The Lounger. 1788. Edinburgh.
Jonathan Swift wrote: “I found out your letter about directions for the apron; and have ordered to be bought, a cheap green silk work apron.” Works of Jonathan Swift. 1784.
A 1780 account noted a butcher’s apron was white and ironically so was an executioner’s. 1780, The Antiquarian Repertory.
In 1770, John Gay, documented a white apron worn by his maid. – The Works of Mr. John Gay.
“She then removed her checked apron, and mewed [sic] a white muslin one, embroidered and flounced”. The woman revealed to her companion that she was not in service, but instead a gentlewoman and dressed down in order to go unrecognized. “I keep a large bonnet, and cloak, and a checked apron, and a pair of clogs, or pattens, always at this friend’s; and then when I have put them on, people take me for a mere common person and I walk on”. – Burney, Fanny. Camilla. 1796.
Henry Fielding penned the phrase, “a short flowered apron”, in 1741.
I found references prior to 1790 to: a greasy apron; a leather apron; a clean apron; a gentleman’s linen apron; a gold apron struck with green; muslin apron; an executioner wearing a linen apron; “her apron green serge, striped longitudinally with scarlet ferreting and bound with the same”; a Holland apron (1728); white apron trimmed in pink; a cobbler’s apron; “her apron tucked up”; “the lady’s laced apron”; a coarse apron; a waiter in a blue apron; “fate must hang on apron strings”; and “tied to her apron strings”.
Aprons were a universal means of carrying various items as is evidenced by the close-up of a painting of Rubens’ (1750 or 60’s) in which the child has an apron full of grain and several pre-1790 written references to “an apron full” to include: an apron full of shells; an apron full of papers; an apron full of letters; apron full of wit and novelty; apron full of biscuit; apron full of tools; apron full of stones; apron full of playthings; her apron full of grain and millet seed; apron full of sheaves; apron full of onions; apron full of peas; and an apron full of reasons; apron full of cloths.