Etiquette of Our Maid’s Apron

This is the fourth article in July of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on July 25, 1909, and is an article on why aprons are important to housemother’s even if they don’t do the housework themselves.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Etiquette of Our Maid’s Apron

WE ARE told in some devotional book that “Open confession is good for the soul.”

Then should my soul and conscience be measurably comfortable when I confess that, when asked to talk today upon the subject set down at the head of this page, I rebelled strongly. There seemed to be nothing more in it than would suffice to make up a paragraph, say, a printer’s “stick” in length.

Seeking illustrious precedent for my discontent, I reminded myself that Cowper had stared helplessly at Lady Austen’s command when he said he could think of nothing to write about—“Write upon my sofa!”

He slept upon the behest, and began next morning upon the monumental poem in blank verse that will outlast time.

I shall essay no monumental bit of prose. These Familiar Talks are, at their best, bot smooth pebbles from my brook of thought, designed to mark and inclose bits of beds of flowers and herbs of grace in Milady’s Garden.

If I were to undertake anything like a complete history of the Apron in accident and modern life I should turn out a boulder as big as the whole garden. If you doubt it, look up the word in your dictionary. Then group hastily the references in scared and secular story to the Apron from the first black day that fell upon our world, when Eve stitched the largest fig leaves she could find (probably with a thorn for the needle) into the first apron of which we have any record. As you run down the line, take in the Mason’s apron, dating back, say members of the ancient and honorable order, to the building of Solomon’s temple. Touch upon the bishop’s apron, still a part of the ecclesiastical garb of the Anglican clergy. Do not forget Wordsworth’s “Lucy, with her apron blue,” and the coquettish pocket-aprons of other English and American writers.

I wish I had time to dwell longer upon the bewitching catalogue. I could convince you in half an hour that a woman’s apron is the most expressive article in her wardrobe.

Said some one to me the other day. “The apron is essentially the badge of the housewife.”

“Now, perhaps,” I answered. “Fifty years agone, we wrote them with the afternoon house dress.”

Such pretty, dainty, fuffy affairs as they were! Earlier than that—when I was a child—dress aprons were of silk, colored or black, and embroidered. I wrought one under the eye of my governess, who had a taste for fancy work. It was black silk, a half moon of wild roses ran around the bottom and a bunch of roses adorned each pocket. I sported it with my best Sunday frock.

Down to the Prosale.

I read last year that fancy aprons trimmed with lace and furnished with the dear little jaunty pockets of story books, were scheduled for next season’s fashions. I would the tale were true!

Coming down to the present and the prosale, she is a sensible woman who reckons among the essentials of her wardrobe a generous supply of aprons. If you doubt how much soil they ward off from the gown beneath, examine the apron you discard for a clean one tomorrow morning. If you would guess how much wear and rub they intercept, note how long you may wear your working gown before it gets shiny in front and on the tips. One of the most elegant women I know, whose abundant means lift her above the need of supplementary housework, invariably wears an apron in the forenoon in her own home—a bona fide apron, of cross-barred or stripped muslin, two breadths in width.

Her husband avers that it “makes her look sensible and comfortable.” Her college sons call it “cuddly,” reminding them, as it does, that she was never afraid to lift them to her knee when they raced n to show the minnows they had caught and the wild flowers they had picked, or the chick they had rescued from a hawk. “Mother’s lap” was the family hospital. If the apron came to grief in the course of the “cuddling,” it was easily washed, and there were clean ones galore in her bottom drawer. Madam wears it while superintending garden and kitchen and closets. One pocket holds the scissors with which she lips and snips stems and leaves in arranging the house flowers she will trust to no other hands. A purse and a tiny needle book are in the other. She boasts that she “envies no man his pockets” in the forenoon.

Conventional Garb.

For the sewing room an apron of goodly dimensions and deep pockets is a necessity, not only because it defends the gown from fluff and friction, but to hold within easy reach spools, scissors, pins and other evasive implements of industry.

The voluminous kitchen apron goes without saying into the housewifely armor of proof. It should come well up to the chin and run well down to the hem of the skirt. If it have not sleeves, let her have a pair of gingham sleeves with drawstring top and bottom to protect her gown, or her arms, if she have short sleeves. Now that these are fashionable, especially in summer, it is a pity that the woman who does her own work should be obliged to wear hers down to the wrists to hide the range-reddened arms which John used to praise in their courting days. Personal comeliness is as truly an obligation in the wife as in the betrothed.

For the morning garb of the housemaid in the family where two or more maids are kept custom prescribes a neat washgown, with a wide white apron. She should not wait at table with bare arms. It is not appetizing to have a red or moist wrist and elbow thrust under one’s nose in carrying on the business of the meal. But she may roll up her sleeves when the family has left the dining room. For sweeping, window washing and bed making it is well to cover her gown as fully as is compatible with freedom of motion with a large pinafore, as our great-grandmothers called it, that buttons at the back. She will be surprised to learn how clean it will keep the frock beneath. It is easy to slip out of the coverall (if I may coin a word) to answer the bell or go into the drawing room on an errand, and to resume it in returning to her task.

For afternoon and evening the well-trained maid dons the small bib apron or, what is the most becoming and altogether suitable uniform she can wear, the black gown, bretelled apron tied behind with wide strings of the same material, and the collar and cuffs, which, with the dainty little cap, make up the costume of our neat-handed Phyllis and deft Abigail. It is at times misnamed “a badge of servitude.” The sticklers for equal rights and uniformity of attire do not, I observe, take exception to the far less picturesque and becoming attire of the trained nurse or the visiting sister. They do not bewail the tryranny that puts shoulder-straps upon the officer and ordains that the subaltern go without. They are proud of their college daughter’s cap and gown on commencement day, and radiant when the son sports his medals and badges.

Phyllis is as respectable in her station as I am in mine. I do her full honor so long as she deserves my respect, and this she does in a much larger majority of cases than the critics of our domestic service are wont or willing to believe. I am never more proud of Abigail than when she helps me dress for dinner or reception, herself more than personable in the trim black gown and pretty ruffled sewing room. She is good to look at, resting the eye and pleasing the taste infinitely better than if custom justified her in bedizening herself in a cheap imitation of her mistress’ wardrobe.

Pretension is always ridiculous and almost always a pitiable burlesque. Modest conformity to reputable and established rules and customs is sensible and safe.

Marion Harland

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