Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Things I will be thinking about while I sew myself an apron.

Mmmm, aprons. So pretty, so functional, so pre-feminist.

Aprons are practically a phenomena in the craft blogosphere. Amy Karol has posted a bunch of downright sexy aprons on her
blog, and almost all of my new craft books have apron patterns. Aprons have transcended their functional role - protecting your nice clothes - and are now seen as a blank canvas for artistic expression. But before I use a vintage pillowcase and rick-rack to make myself a new apron, I can't help but remark on the not-exactly-obscure symbolism: Sexy aprons?

"Wow, the Feminine Mystique was HOT!"

You know, sexy in a barefoot, pregnant, stuck in the kitchen sort of way. Or in a meeting the man at the door with a martini after he's had a long day at work sort of way (I need a wife!). Or in a Doris Day looked pretty darn good way. An apron can even enhance your bustline, girls!

The problem is, I really like aprons - I even have a collection of vintage aprons I've found at thrift stores and garage sales over the years.

(You may well ask: "Inder, what kind of vintage textile art don't you have a collection of?" To which I would respond: "I don't collect vintage bias tape. But I kinda want to start.").

I could even claim (but not with a straight face): "Hey, I've been into aprons since way before it became a postmodern craft blog fad!"

Of course, the apron trend is part of a larger trend that has extremely confusing implications for feminism - a craft-renaissance, a renewed appreciation for art-forms that have been, historically and traditionally, reserved for women, especially underprivileged women. Quilting was a way to conserve fabric and money. Embroidery was cheaper than buying printed fabric. Knitting, well, it kept you warm. At one time, craft was a matter of necessity. Of course, it was also one of the only ways for women to express themselves - they couldn't even vote, after all (I'll be voting in a few hours and thanking my suffragette foremothers for the privilege).

Back then, you only would have had a few dresses, so needless to say, you would wear an apron over your dress while you did your messy chores.

Folk craft seems to come in and out of style with exactly the same regularity and usually in the same time frame as folk music. I know this because I love both folk crafts and folk music, and I've spent some time being out of style! I do feel that there is symbolic significance to the trends - a reaction against consumer culture; a complex nostalgia for the old days when women lived and worked and gossiped together more than they do now; a pining for the emotional/physical intensity of living close to the land and literally hand-to-mouth. Most of us don't actually want to live in a pre-capitalist subsistence-based economy, making or bartering everything we need, but we can't help but think, there was something very real about that, and we wonder if those folks worried about the purpose of their lives as much as we do.

Probably not, because they were worried about starving to death. Why romanticize it?

So anyway, I might make a bust-enhancing apron. And resolve the theoretical issues later.


  1. If I ever do learn to sew, an apron will be the first thing I make. I simply love them, regardless of feminist analysis. However, you make great points, in a very entertaining way.

  2. Aprons are practical and not antifeminist. Men never needing aprons, on the other hand, is antifeminist. Aprons protect your clothes while you work. Everyone should have an apron.

    I have what I consider to be the ideal apron -- lots of coverage (and no bust enhancement, thanks). And also, because it is from Japan, there are teddy bears on it.

  3. Okay, something's been bothering me about this post, and Linda's comment too, and it is this: there's this underlying assumption that feminism -- not patriarchy, but feminism -- is trying to suck all the joy out of life by reminding you of sobering realities when all you want is a fun, functional garment. It's the old humorless-feminist trope coming in through the back door.

    But in fact, it is not feminists who are going to try to police how you perform femininity; it's anti-feminists who will.

    Moreover, while I take your point about the associations we have with aprons, very few women wear aprons while barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Very few women wear an apron to greet their husbands with a martini. Aprons, in fact, are not a wardrobe staple anymore, which, Inder, is kind of why you're into them, n'est-ce pas? Aprons are, in the mainstream, over.

    On the other hand, the problem that you've correlated with apron-wearing, namely that women's domestic labor is still unseen, undervalued, and out of proportion, is still going strong, in spite of the demise of the apron as a wardrobe staple. Which means that the apron was never particularly central to patriarchal oppression.

    In summary:

    1. Feminism is not putting a damper on your fun; a history of patriarchal oppression is.

    2. Aprons per se don't have that much to do with patriarchal oppression.

  4. I openly admit I am confused by this too. I can't figure out whether we are reviving the "domestic arts" in order to give women's forms of expression the place in the canon that they deserve (rescue them from obscurity), or whether we feel nostalgia for a time when women had simpler (also more oppressed) lives. Or most likely, a little bit of both.

    It hurts my brain, because of course, those bad old days were pretty hard on men too - when everyone is working their fingers to the bone in order to survive, a division of labor makes more sense.

    I think Natalia is right - reviving "women's crafts" is not antifeminist, although continuing to dismiss them as something less than real art is antifeminist.

    Aprons are practical (Steve uses one in his job when he waxes snowboards, so of course they are not gender specific), and making practical things pretty isn't antifeminist - rather it is what distinguishes us from other higher primates - one thing I took away from four years as an anthropology major: humans universally love to decorate themselves.

    I'll leave it at that for now.

  5. I would like to attribute all the blame for this conundrum to Anthropologie, whose environment my mom remarked reminded her of Berkeley in the 60s. Which in itself is intriguing: nostalgia for homemaking during a period that was already nostalgic for homemaking. Many have commented on the rapid acceleration and layering of nostalgia trends, but it still fascinates me.

    I think you're on to something, Inder, about the insidiously latent comforts of simplified gender roles (which, you may recall, was my theory about the swing trend last decade). Maybe I should blame war instead of Anthropologie. Or both. American ideals = Consumption = creating desires for things that keep us locked into systems that profit others.

    That is, I may revise your point about survival eliminating existential thought to say that well, the world is f-in SCARY right now, and gender roles are reassuring, as long as we know better.

    None of that has to do with the cool discussion of decoration/utility as a feminist issue. Which i think has been amply covered here.

  6. i am always looking for some free stuffs over the internet. there are also some companies which gives free samples. homedepotmyapron.net


I love comments! I do my very best to respond to comments, by email or here, although I am often running late. I also try to follow and comment on my regular readers' blogs. So please let me know you were here!