Thursday, January 24, 2008

Aprons, Aesthetics, and Hip New Things

It's always a strange feeling to find out that something I've always done is the hip new thing. Or, in a slightly different tack, to find out that what I always took for granted that people just did, most people don't do. And then when they start doing it, it becomes the hip new thing, usually for reasons quite different from why I always did them.

For instance, I grew up with a mom who wore aprons virtually every day of her life, and when I turned out to be a "kafflich" (Dutch word--prone to spills and splatters and messes) sort of cook, I wore aprons too, especially if I was working in good clothes.

I have made and worn cobbler aprons and lacy aprons and ruffled aprons, but mostly I come back to basic, hardworking, one-main-piece-of-fabric aprons.

Now suddenly the mommy-blogs are awash in women who are all excited about this new fad, and the sidebars are popping with links to sources for cutesy 50's-vintage aprons with cherry prints and scallops.

Which makes me wonder: were there really so few women wearing aprons that these women think they've discovered something new?

Then there are things like growing and canning tomatoes, reusing yogurt cups, and using a vinegar mixture to wash windows, more things I've just (almost) always done. Suddenly there are people "discovering" that these are actually options, and their motive is usually big words like environmental responsibility and sustainability and ecological something-or-other.

It always intrigues me to find someone who actually articulates reasons for doing this sort of thing, because that's not something I very often think about. I just do them. Why? Because, if I really ponder this, hmmmm, I guess frugality and tradition and stewardship and waste not, want not.

My friend Robin from our Red Moons writing group does not to my knowledge wear aprons, but she has put a lot of thought into her lifestyle and is determined to go against the cultural norm in terms of how her family eats, how much trash they generate, and so on. Reading her blog is fascinating, because sometimes she's discovering for the first time things that I grew up with and sort of figured everyone knew about, and often she spells out exactly why she chose to do something that I also do but it never occurred to me to think about why I do it.

Here she writes about "The aesthetic of the useful," specifically about clotheslines. I think I've had a clothesline in the backyard of all but one of the 15-ish places I've lived at, and I have many random photos of them. There's the web of lines from tree to tree to tree in front of our cabin in Round Lake, with hundreds of tiny garments flapping in the breeze, then the line of little pants when I got too ambitious too early with potty-training Matt, and more recently, a line of jeans against a setting sun with the air full of harvest haze.

Once again, I always hung clothes on the line whenever I could, because I liked to and it made sense. It's fascinating to see it through the eyes of someone who thinks deeply about such things.

Maybe there's too much that I do without ever really thinking about it.

Quote of the Day:
"Just so you know I am not an aspering wrighter like Emily told you I was."
--Jenny, on a guest xanga post


  1. Oh I could have written this same post. I no longer embrace the Mennonite faith but boy I can tell you I thank God I was raised knowing that wearing an apron is just the sensible thing to do and that all those other little things women are trying so hard to get back to are things I just do normally without any thought! Yesh, thats right, Im glad I dont have to have any deep thoughts about it. I just do it cause thats how its done. End of story.

  2. Generations of women in my family have worn aprons and I also do. It just doesn't feel right to start preparing a meal without putting on one of my several aprons hanging in the pantry. I love your reminders of things I've always known.

  3. I can't imagine NOT wearing an apron when I'm in the kitchen! My OMI always wore an apron and maybe that's part of why it seems so natural to me. On the rare occasion I've seen the cooking shows on TV none of those EVER wear an apron! I am messy but I also use it for wiping my hands off on. needless to say, they start looking pretty shabby, pretty quickly!

  4. My own daughters always wear aprons when working in the kitchen. What a privilege it is to have those useful things handed down from generation to generation! (washlines, etc.)

  5. Aprons are great spot preventers.

    For those apron hand wipers a small hand towel, tea towel, or scraps from a worn bath towel(for the recyclers) attached to the apron by velcro, snaps, or buttons is real handy. The towel will get wet and dirty quicker than the apron so it works great to have two towels per apron.

  6. When I hear about recycling egg cartons and peanut butter jars and grocery bags and table scraps, I always think of my Grandma, who once had a large farmhouse where she stored all those things. I never gave her enough credit for her hip-ness. :) (And she wore an apron everywhere except to church and to town.)

    I'm a kafflich cook too, but the splashes always went right through my aprons back in the day when I tried them. Maybe I should make an apron out of a vinyl table cloth...decorated with cherries and scallops, of course.

  7. I've also felt the pull between the two worlds you describe so well here. The world of the exceptionally thrifty and practical Mennonite woman and then the world of those who have consumed too much and are now attempting to cut back in a new urbanish trend.
    I often find myself explaining my clothes line, my canning to these folks in explanations that use the following terms: carbon footprint, simplification, environmental consciousness and eating close to the earth. They seem to understand it better when you use those terms.

  8. Sometimes I think I must have been born with an apron on--I love them, and wear them all the time. There are currently 8 aprons hanging on the inside of my pantry door, and probably a few in other places as well. In the church kitchen we have about 2 dozen of the same color/type of apron so we're never at a loss.

    I think there is a great deal of beauty in the common apron--and not just for the protection it provides for the clothing underneath. It is a type of "identity apparel," it identifies the nurturer, the one who provides sustenance and all the care that goes with it. And for some, it identifies the "nurturer-in-training," which is a great thing--mistakes and all. And then there's the whole lovely part about wearing aprons that someone else wore at one time.

    Just don't get me going on clotheslines and clothespins!

  9. "Kafflich" - so that's how you say it? My sister-in-law says "dapplick" and my grandmother says "doppy" to mean the exact same thing. We don't have any Amish heritage, so I guess we got these words second, third or fourth hand and got them all mixed up! I read "Ordinary Days" and enjoyed it very much. I gave it to my mother for Christmas on a hunch that she would really identify with it and boy, was I right! Thanks!

  10. I like Anonymous' suggestion of the towel attached to the apron! I'd never thought of that! Thanks!

  11. To Coleen--for us, "doppich" (no L) meant clumsy and "kafflich" meant messy. I could see how they could kind of get combined after a generation or two.