Strings Attached: The Great Urban Apron Experiment

I love aprons. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a waitress just so I could wear one. Waitresses seemed so cool and in control. They carried so many awkward things at once, and always with a smile. Since then I’ve had more than a couple of jobs where an apron was required, and I now know they have little to do with multi-tasking prowess, and yet I maintain my affection for the domestic accessory. I thought about writing a love letter to the humble apron, but Serah-Marie, our editor-in-pants, had a more immersive idea: “Why don’t you wear them and write about that instead?”

It seemed simple, but when I mentioned it to a friend of mine he was taken aback.

“Aprons?!” he scoffed. “You’re going to wear aprons…outside?”

“Yes. Is there something wrong with that?”

“No…I guess not. I mean, would it be weird if a butcher walked around wearing his apron outside?”

I paused. My initial confidence in this social experiment cooked up in the safe stylish world of WORN began to waiver. To put me at ease, my first sartorial choice was a sentimental one. I picked a blue-fringed floral apron I had worn as a kid in my Grandparents’ backyard. (I was pretending to be a waitress and “taking orders.”) I checked my reflection in the mirror. I liked the way my new accessory looked over my jeans and light cotton tunic. I thought: “Yes! This works.”

After 10 minutes I was hooked, imagining myself as some sassy Elaine Stritch character, playing hooky from her job at a greasy spoon. Plus, I now had two new front pockets, handy for pens, iPod, keys, and snacks. Much to my surprise, as I walked down the street, I barely raised eyebrows from passersby. It wasn’t until I met up with fellow Wornettes that I got a reaction. “It’s so cute,” they cooed, “very cool.” Any inkling of trepidation that remained soon evaporated.

Over the next couple of days I wore two cocktail aprons I’d found at Kensington Market’s trusty vintage destination, Flashback. One was a souvenir of California, circa the ’60s, the other, a sheer brown fabric with white polka dots. I wore them for activities that required apparel protection (a cookie-frosting marathon and bake sale, respectively) and it began to dawn on me: these things were a lot like headscarves. They’re protective and practical, but there’s no reason they can’t be pretty. And just like scarves, you can wear them for fun—with the added benefit of emphasizing your waistline.

I began strutting my ’50s inspired polka-dotted apron out of the kitchen and down the bike path, paired with a full-skirted sundress. I layered a fire-truck red, paisley apron, starched stiff atop of a crisp collared shirt and trousers. I even dug up a pink farm-themed bib apron I hadn’t seen since I was seven and was thrilled to find that it now fit like a baby-doll dress. Walking through Leslieville in Toronto’s east end, people not only acknowledged my smock, but it inspired a group of jewelry makers to throw on their own. Vive la revolution!

As a kid, I admired grownup work uniforms because they came attached to grownup pursuits, so I played dress-up in aprons. But my experiment made my outfits feel playful. And never once did I feel like June Cleaver or like I should be wielding a cleaver. Rather, I felt like the apron-wearers of my childhood, practical and poised. So I say it’s time uncover your cover-ups and show off your kitchen chic. I promise it will make you feel anything but domestic.

text by Cayley James
photography by Samantha Walton

15 thoughts on “Strings Attached: The Great Urban Apron Experiment

  1. DUDE, wearing aprons in public is where it’s at! I just think of them as half-skirts.

    Check out Courage My Love in Kensington, their aprons have the best prints. Also Phillip Lim totally embraced aprons in his SS11 collection. Clearly everyone’s getting on the bandwagon. Let’s start an apron revolution.

  2. Cayley, this is great. I used to work at a museum where we had to wear aprons daily, and I always used to look forward to putting mine on – they came in so many colours and prints, and I loved that something practical and necessary could also be beautiful. I’m so happy you did this – it makes me want to go out and track down some aprons to wear myself.

  3. This post is my favourite thing in the world right now. Great work Cayley, and lovely aprons! I love the idea of taking the apron out of the domestic sphere.
    Adorable photos Sam!

  4. Loved this, Cayley! Keep collecting and experimenting and musing and reporting. Move over “Bata Shoe Museum”…..Here comes “Cayley’s Apron Extravanza”!!!

  5. I was so excited to see this as I have been experimenting with aprons as everyday fashions myself. In fact I have been taking pics of my apron-outfits since this summer to blog about! Maybe it’s finally time. I was toying with this idea after aquiring quite a few through thrift and antique store visits and decided that they were so awesome- I just wanted to wear them everyday! I started looking online for inspiration and couldn’t find one site that was devoted to aprons as everyday fashion- I kept thinking- I can’t be the only one who wants to do this!!! I am so glad that I have a place to turn now for this fashion fetish! I love my aprons over skirts with tights and jeans and have gotten lots of reactions from strange looks(not abnormal for me though lol) -to many, many complimets. Anyhow, keep rockin’ out the aprons and thanks for the inspiration!!! I heart WORN!

  6. I quite enjoyed browsing through this. I think it’s going to go really nicely with the handmade accessories I saw at etsy.com/shop/FlosCaeli I buy all of my headbands, necklaces, etc there.

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