Aprons – A Historical Overview

Aprons can be seen everywhere, on everyone in the 15 and 16th Centuries.  Worn by both men and women at work and at play, they appear to be a standard attire throughout the early modern era.

Worn by the lowest classes as working garments to offer some protection for their dearly owned clothing underneath, aprons were also worn by the highest classes as a show of status in extravagant embellishment and fine work.  Even women of the gentry would need some protection of their clothing when doing the various household tasks not trusted to the staff.

Clothing cost money.  Lots of money.  The poorer classes would have 2 maybe 3 outfits.  One for church, one for the rest of the time. They ate, drank, worked, and even slept in the same small wardrobe.  In order to maintain the best condition of their clothing, protective layers (both inside and out) were made of cheaper materials. Items such as the hemd (English: smock, Italian: chemise) and the schürze (English: apron) were generally made from linen and served this purpose.  I believe there are some records of wool aprons, but I am lacking a citation at the moment. It would make sense, since wool was nearly as cost effective as linen, although harder to clean.

Aprons in 16th century Germany are standard to a few different styles.  I will explore these designs in detail in future posts.  For now I will refer to them as “Front Aprons”, “Full Aprons” and “Shoulder Suspended”

Aprons
Image 1, Center: Full Apron, Right: Front Apron
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Image 2: Left: Shoulder Suspended Apron

Aprons were often smocked with either basic or elaborate embroidery, displayed cutwork and pulled thread work. The colours ranged from undyed to black, reds, blues, greens and yellows can be found in imagery of the time.  Most often, aprons were white presumably for ease of cleaning and re-bleaching for reuse.

Like head coverings, aprons are something we often neglect in our portrayals of persons in history. In our modern recreations of historical dress, we go for the flashy, big picture. Accessories are the details that blur the lines and make our garb more authentic and feel more real.

Image 1:  Costumes and moral images of the 16th century from Western and Eastern Europe, Orient, the New World and Africa – BSB Cod.icon. 361

Image 2: The Sächsische Stammamuch – Mscr.Dresd.R.3

 

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Apron Research

Melancholia I – Albercht Durer – 1514
Melancholia I (Apron Detail) – Albrecht Durer – 1514

Aprons, ubiquitous to all stations throughout history, serve both functional and frivolous purposes.  Made of wool or linen, ranging in colours from black to white to green to blue, they were used to protect clothing and as a status symbol.

This is the beginning of my research into aprons in the German Cities in the 16th century.  I’ll be looking at the range of colours displayed in art and trying to extrapolate a difference in social class in relation to apron colour.  I will also try to identify different styles of aprons; pleated, smocked, flat, partial coverage or complete.

I like aprons, I find them useful every day.  I cook, clean, work, and relax in garb over the course of an event.  Having useful functional clothing and accessories assists in maintaining my kit as well as lending authenticity to it.  The devil is in the details. I’ve had a simple pleated apron made of midweight linen for 5 years and it’s finally time to cut it up into wash cloths.  I need some basic functional aprons, but I’m also working on some fancier ones similar to the apron depicted in Durer’s “Melancholia I” shown above.

Welcome to my Rabbit Hole!