Aprons took on a new role in the 1950s. Many were still practical, designed for a woman keep clean while cooking or maintaining the home. However, 1950s aprons were also becoming prettier with decorative details that had little if any use. The apron was a mandatory part of the housewife’s uniform.
She had to look like she slaved away in the kitchen all day in her best dress and prettiest apron to welcome her husband or house guests to dinner. Having girl children wear matching aprons with mom was a sign she was fulfilling her role, training the next generation to be perfect housewives (In reality, I hear most mothers preferred having their children stay out of the kitchen as much as possible).
The 1950s apron became a novelty item, one that came in a new version for every chore, every season, and every holiday. Most women had a drawer full of aprons she wore only a few times a year. Newspapers printed easy patterns for women and children to sew at home. More complicated patterns were sold by McCall’s or Simplicity. They featured the latest color trends and designs.
Plain aprons were out of fashion. Novelty prints were in style. Themes of food, travel, and holidays reflected the trends of the day and personality of the wearer. Stripes, plaids and polka dots were equally common. They often matched the house dress too – blurring the distinction between dress and skirt.
The apron was the first thing girls learned to make in home economics classes. Mothers continued to sew aprons at home or as part of a church group raising money at a craft bazaar. Adding decorations added to the value and price of the garment. Fine embroidery, smocking, applique, and stenciling were new(er) ways to add embellishment. Sewing rickrack around edges and pockets was an easy, frugal and fast way to spice up a plain apron.
Even men wore aprons, but only when barbecuing in the backyard. Naturally, they had themes of barbecuing and bartending.
Types of 1950s Aprons
Day to Day Choice Apron. The most practical, all-use design came from the 1940s. It had a full front bib with straight or ruffles shoulder straps and an a-line skirt. As dress skirt widths grew during the decade, so did the skirt of the apron. Most aprons had two large pockets in the front, shaped into a novelty shape such as hearts, diamonds, or triangles.
Half Apron. Bib front aprons were practical but half aprons or skirt aprons were the most common. Made of cotton, linen, rayon, or other absorbing materials, they were pleated or gathered (or cut like a circle skirt) and tied almost all the way around the waist. They had to fit over full swing skirts and hang long enough to protect the dress, but hardly ever fell to the hemline. Some were smaller, more dainty half aprons that served other purposes.
Plastic Apron. For extra wet duties, a plastic front or half-skirt apron protected dresses best. They became very popular when plastic linens, curtains, and place settings also boomed. Very practical, they almost never needed to be washed — only wiped away.
1950s Cobbler ApronsCobbler Apron. This smock style fully covered the top half of the body but only part of the skirt. It looked like a dress bodice with side ties that brought in the wasp waist. Two or three large pockets lined the front to hold a lot of items. Cobbler aprons were especially useful on laundry day. They became very popular around 1955. Plastic versions were especially popular for messy chores such as canning fruit.
Party Apron. The fanciest half apron was the party apron made of organdy, chinz, or net. They were also called dress aprons, hostess aprons, cocktail aprons, or glamour aprons. The fabric absorbed nothing but stains, so it was only worn after a meal was ready to be served. They were half aprons, rarely full length, with decorative small pockets, if any. Many had ruffles and layers to add volume and drama to the look. These were not worn over house dresses. Women would change into a party dress or at least a nicer day dress to wear with a party apron.
New 1950s Aprons & Patterns
In the past 10 years, along with an interest in 1950s fashion came about a revival of the apron. Feminine prints, ruffle straps, and novelty themes exploded into mainstream collectibles. Making aprons from vintage patterns has become a new crafty activity for many women. Retailers jumped on the trend and are now selling vintage style aprons, oven mitts, rubber gloves, and matching kids’ aprons, too.
You can either buy a ready made vintage apron or sew one of your own and relive the past. They are very practical today, too. Perhaps not the party aprons, but a good half apron is handy in the kitchen, the garden, and when taking care of a baby (big pockets hold burp clothes, pacifiers, bottles and toys really well).
Shop for new 1950s aprons and sewing patterns here:
Do you have some vintage 1950s aprons in your collection?
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.