Vintage-inspired aprons should come with a warning label: This garment increases the risk of cooking, baking and other exploits of domestic prowess.
Sure, they protect your clothes from sizzling projectiles of bacon fat and threat of pomegranate stains, but their deeper appeal belongs more to sentiment than pragmatism.
Go ahead. Cinch an apron around your waist and feel as capable roasting that turkey for Thanksgiving as you do making microwave mac 'n' cheese.
In a time when our lives are bombarded with media messages, cell phones, a flailing economy and the feeling that things are transient, there's a desire to go back to things that have roots.
"The interesting thing about aprons is it kind of fits with what's happening with the fascination of cooking," said Susan Kaiser, a professor of textiles, clothing and women and gender studies at the University of California, Davis. "It is that interface between the body and cooking and fashion and food."
Vintage-look aprons, part of a larger trend of retro-styled clothing and textiles, can be found in boutiques, kitchen stores, food festivals and farmers markets throughout the country, and apron patterns and retro textiles abound in fabric stores and online.
Sandra Skellenger, a retired mail carrier who has her own vintage-inspired apron business, Aprons by Mema, uses several vintage patterns, as well as her own, to make her intricate Donna Reed-esque aprons, which are sold at Taylor's Market (taylorsmarket.com).
Skellenger began making aprons last year, after the avid quilter's relatives indicated they didn't need more quilts for Christmas that year.
"They said 'We're about quilted out, Mom,' " Skellenger said. "I just wanted to do something different."
Skellenger, 62, made aprons for her seven granddaughters and four daughters and daughters-in-law, using different fabrics and styles to suit their personalities.
The aprons were an instant hit.
"They all put them on and wore them all day while we were making Christmas dinner," she said.
Skellenger hasn't stopped sewing aprons since, even carting along her sewing machine, fabric and supplies on camping trips.
Her apron-making hobby has garnered quite a following. The aprons, made from 100 percent cotton and machine washable and dryer safe, sell for around $40 each.
"They're a little on the expensive side, but she makes them so beautifully people see that and appreciate it right away," said Kathleen Johnson of Taylor's Market.
The aprons' appeal doesn't seem to fit just one demographic. Teenage girls and young women also are snapping up the retro aprons. Some apron makers say their popularity plays off the increasing popularity of vintage fashion courtesy of shows like AMC's "Mad Men" and of food and entertaining.
The memories evoked by vintage-inspired aprons also seem to aid in their popularity.
"People are tickled when they see them," said Theresa Balzer, who owns RetroFit Aprons in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "Some people will come and just stand and stare. . . . You can see it just hit them really hard."
One young woman's reaction has become a fond memory for Balzer.
"She chose one of the aprons and paid for it, and she was holding it next to her heart," Balzer said. "She said 'Now maybe I can channel my Nanna.' It was so sweet."
- Niesha Lofing,
AN APPRECIATION OF APRONS
The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath. Because she only had a few, it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material .But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven. It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.
From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs.
When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.
And when the weather was cold, grandma wrapped it around her arms.
Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.
Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.
Grandma used her apron to set her hot, baked apple pies on the window sill to cool.
Her granddaughters set their pies on the window sill to thaw.
They would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.