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Nan H. Mutnick

APRONS "Apron" means an over-garment covering the front of the body (from the French naperon, a small tablecloth). For centuries, people worldwide have worn them as protective garments, as ceremonial indicators of marital and parental status, rank and group affiliation, and as decorations.

Cretan fertility goddesses and Assyrian priests wore sacred aprons. Egyptian rulers broadcast their status by wearing jewel-encrusted aprons. In Europe during the Middle Ages, women placed extra swaths of cloth in their laps to protect their skirts during rowdy communal meals, and tradesmen and artisans began wearing aprons to protect their clothing and their flesh. In fact, tradesmen in general were called "apron men," as aprons were so common that several trades boasted distinguishing styles. Gardeners, spinners, weavers, and garbagemen wore blue aprons; butlers wore green; butchers wore blue stripes; cobblers wore "black flag" aprons for protection from the black wax they used; and English barbers were known as "checkered apron men." Stonemasons wore white aprons as protection against the dust of their trade, and even in the twenty-first century, aprons survive as part of Masonic ceremonial attire. In contemporary South Africa, young women wear beaded aprons to celebrate their coming of age.

By 1500, decorative aprons had become fashion accessories for European women with lifestyles permitting such luxury and display. Their popularity waxed and waned over the centuries. By the time colonists settled in North America, aprons were firmly established in European women's wardrobes.

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