STYLES - DECORATION - COLOURS - JOB SPECIFIC VARIATIONS
Aprons are an item of clothing which have
remained basically unchanged in both form and function for hundreds
Aprons have been worn by women to protect the clothing underneath when
performing other work. Only at certain time periods in history has the
apron become purely decorative as a fashion item or part of a national
costume. Neither of these apply to medieval aprons, which were purely
functional. Shown at right is a detail from the 1490 Grimani Breviary
for the month of June. It shows a woman working outside in warm weather.
wears no shoes and a hat, has her kirtle tucked up at the front and
is wearing an apron to protect it. At left is a detail from a copy of
the Tacuinum Sanitatus showing a women at work indoors dying
or washing fabric. Her apron protects her gown and she has her sleeves
rolled up while her headscarf keeps her hair out of the way.
Aprons appear to have been made from linen. They were usually white
or unbleached, rectangular and have apron strings which were long enough
to be functional but no longer than they needed to be for the individual
wearer. Length-wise, aprons varied from below the knee to almost down
to the ground. They
were worn by women for indoor and outdoor work at all times of the year.
Medieval aprons were almost always undecorated. In only a very few instances
can we see aprons with evidence of decorative needlework. Shown at right
is a detail from the English manuscript from the 14th century, the Luttrel
Psalter, showing a woman feeding chickens and wearing an apron with
some kind of needlework at the top.
article published in 2001 by Marni McLeavy for the Queensland Smocking
Guild cites smocking as a traditional 14th century English technique,
although the only source for this I have seen points to the Luttrel
Psalter aprons as the earliest depiction of medieval smocking Without
any written evidence, it is impossible to verify if the decorative feature
is smocking or another kind of fancy stitching. There is no real evidence
that aprons were smocked with any great regularity, but in slightly
later years when chemises were starting to be seen at the top of clothing,
smocking was used, so the technique was not entirely foreign.
Aprons, as mentioned previously, were almost always white or unbleached.
Again, only rare instances depict coloured aprons during the main medieval
period. In another example of nontraditional aprons, the Luttrel
Psalter detail at left shows a woman wearing a decorated apron which
is brown. One or two other illuminations show black or green but these
are a rarity.
Women's aprons during the medieval period are always of the style which
does not have a bib on the top. Only a few images that I know of, including
the detail shown at right from the Holkham Bible from 1330 shows
a woman wearing an apron of a different style to the usual tie-around-the-waist
In this specific instance, the woman pictured is doing a job generally
done by a man- blacksmithing. The apron being worn seems consistent
with male blacksmith aprons which were worn at the time, indicating
that the apron itself is more specific to the occupation than the the
gender of the wearer.