Quick Tips for Collecting Vintage Aprons:
- The oldest collectible aprons were made during the Victorian era, including black mourning versions.
- Many collectors look for aprons featuring delicate hand work such as embroidery and crocheted trims.
- Aprons from the 1950s are most plentiful on the secondary market, with many fun styles available ranging from holiday versions to souvenir aprons. Full plastic aprons from this era are desirable.
- Many aprons can be found reasonably priced and there's little or no worry about reproductions making this a great field for budding collectors.
An Introduction to Vintage Aprons
There was a time, you might remember, when a pretty apron was quite a fashion statement. In fact, the nicest aprons were rarely soiled because they weren't worn while actually preparing food.
No, mom would have worn her working apron in the kitchen and then switched to a prettier version when she actually emerged to show off her culinary artistry. The wearing of the apron was a badge of honor indicating the lady present who had toiled over a hot stove to prepare a delicious meal.
Aprons as Collectibles
Aprons haven’t always been popular as collectibles in their own right. Those who fancied vintage linens might pick them up here and there, but you didn’t hear much about people focusing on aprons. Since the early ‘90s, however, aprons have gained popularity with collectors and other nostalgia buffs, which isn't surprising. Some of the most endearing collectibles are those that take us back in time to another era.
Some people find the June Cleaver association to be charming, viewing aprons as symbols of Mom's loving gestures straight from the 1950s kitchen. Others, with a more liberated view point, see aprons as utilitarian linens that once put women in their proper place in the home. This notion takes us back as far as the time when aprons were first used right through the mid-1960s.
It doesn't matter what got them to actually notice vintage aprons in the first place, what most people find really surprising about them is the sheer variety available on the secondary market. From hand sewn and embroidered versions to mass-produced souvenir aprons featuring popular tourist destinations, there's an apron out there that will appeal to most everyone.
The Oldest Collectible Aprons
From about 1880 through the 1940s, chicken feed and large quantities of flour arrived in cotton sacks that would eventually be fashioned into new aprons and other garments for the lady of the house. The cotton cloth that made up these bags was durable enough to stand up to rough handling, yet pretty enough to be considered attractive. The older bag fabrics were plainer in nature, featuring mainly solid colors. But by the '30s and '40s colorful floral patterns dominated feed sack motifs.
The oldest aprons collectors seek these days were made during the Victorian era. These styles, made of course weave material, often served as an artistic canvas to showcase delicate crochet work and other needle crafting skills. Aprons were popular handmade gifts during this time as well, which led to an abundance being produced and worn.
Victorian styled aprons were also long enough to cover the dresses of the day and were generally pinned into place rather than tied. Aprons made of black fabric were worn by ladies in mourning, but these were often decorated with black lace and embroidery as well. Donning a white apron during such a somber time would be inappropriate, but a black apron didn’t have to be ugly.
Styles Change with the Times
The custom of an apron covering the top half of the body in a bib style continued through the 1920s, although the aprons made then tended to have more colorful trim work and matched the knee length dresses worn at the time. Later into the 1920s, half aprons became popular while some bib aprons were still being worn.
Although half aprons didn't use nearly as much fabric as the older versions, they were still beautifully designed. Even during the depression era, when fancy fabrics were in short supply, ladies embellished simple aprons with lovely embroidery.
The World War II years found homemakers faced with war rations. They were again required to “make do” with hand crafted kitchen accessories, including aprons, to support the war effort.
New Fabrics and More Choices
When the war years passed new fabrics like polyester and rayon were introduced to homemakers. These new fabric choices offered more colors and designs than ever, and they required little or no ironing to look crisp and new. Aprons were popular gift items once again, and frequently served as souvenirs for travelers to take back home to friends and loved ones.
At this time ladies could buy aprons already made, or easily stitch one up using a pre-printed pattern (which are collectible as well). It wasn't uncommon to find an apron drawer in a kitchen filled with styles for everyday use, comical designs for barbecuing and Christmas themed versions as well. Plastic bib aprons were also popular during this time, and collectors will pay dearly to own them in excellent condition.
With so many different aprons being used during the 1950s, it's really not surprising that these are much easier to find than the older versions. After all, fabrics made at the last turn of the century have been discarded and deteriorated over time, and cloth items produced during the '30s and '40s were generally used until they were worn out or turned into dust rags. Nothing went to waste.
Of course, items still in abundance are usually inexpensive so that’s welcome news for budding apron collectors. And since apron collecting is a rather new field, there are still many bargains to be found in the $5-15 range. See what you can find, and tie one on!
Vintage Apron Price Points
- Clear plastic full ruffled apron with yellow floral decor, 1950s - $260.55
- Plastic apron decorated with pink roses, mint in package, 1950s - $100
- Santa & Reindeer Christmas half apron, 1950s - $31
- California souvenir map half apron, 1950s - $20.77
- Bib style feedsack apron with pink roses, 1930s - $18.49
- Las Vegas hostess half apron with hotel names, 1950s - $16.50
(eBay prices realized 12/06)