The power of the pinny: how aprons became 2020’s most important style item

As we spent lockdown wrestling with sourdough, barbecuing, cleaning and generally kitchen bothering, sales of the humble apron have rocketed

Sales of aprons have gone through the roof this year
Sales of aprons have gone through the roof this year Credit: Hulton Archive

How different one’s early twenties are to one’s late twenties. A whole, exhausting lifetime happens in those short, exhilarating years. For me, in my early twenties “tying one on” meant getting comprehensively, exuberantly and deliberately drunk; by my late twenties it meant donning an apron for the purpose of making dinner. Wild.

Recently, wearing an apron was seen as not quite the done thing – very uncool, more home economics housewife than hedonist. Nigella famously doesn’t wear an apron, and if I looked like her, to be honest, I wouldn’t either and damn the spills.

But in a year that keeps on turning up surprises, here – for me at least – is one that is welcome. According to bargain-hunting site lovethesales.com, its apron sales have jumped 56 per cent this year, an increase more robust than for any other product except – drum roll for that 2020 hero… – leggings. More generally, adult apron sales have gone up 82 per cent since November last year; children’s aprons have gone up by 45 per cent.

It makes sense when, these past few months, more of us than ever have been baking, barbecuing and general kitchen bothering, along with cleaning, tidying, sorting, gardening and crafting to fill the hole where our lives used to be, and to dull the creeping panic about where they might end up. Tie on a pinny. Control your own small corner of the universe. All will be well.

My childhood memories of my granny and her sisters, Auntie Louie and Auntie Dolly (not Auntie Lily, she was a bit too fast), was that they would don their pinnies over their good clothes every morning and wear them inside the house at all times. In an era before fast, cheap fashion, you took care of your things. Of course they were not the sort you tied on, but the sort you crossed over, almost dresses in their own right. They were floral, comforting. I once bought a similar one in a French market. Fine terracotta linen. I thought it was marvellous until I wore it a few times and felt about 100 years old. I quickly returned to my favourite, tie-on butcher’s-style aprons, of which I must have about a dozen.

I am away from home at the moment and have been for a few weeks. I made a disastrous packing error with the apron I brought with me (you do take your own apron on holiday, don’t you?). While it looks perfectly lovely and seasonally appropriate, with tasteful line drawings of ceps and chanterelles printed onto heavy cream canvas, it has no pockets. I have dropped my phone on the floor about 10 times now and lost an unknown number of pencils beneath the kitchen cabinets. In aprons as in life, give me pockets or give me (culinary) death.

By their pinnies shall ye know them. From granny-chic floral efforts to slightly saucy frilly numbers – much favoured in recent years by waitresses in vintage cafés, along with victory roll hairdos and a strong red lip – historically, your apron said a lot about you. In the past, barbers wore checked aprons, blacksmiths leather ones to protect them from sparks, stonemasons white ones (better to hide the dust), cobblers black ones to hide the polish, butlers wore green ones when below stairs, and gardeners often wore blue or beige ones. Traditional blue and white butchers aprons had a code all of their own. A broad stripe symbolised a master butcher who had learnt on the job; if he had served an apprenticeship, the broad stripe was accompanied by a narrow stripe; apprentices wore narrow stripes until they completed their training.

The smartest aprons now are toughly constructed from denim or leather, with serious buckles for serious people Credit: E+

In the Seventies, when plastics felt new and exciting, the PVC apron came into its own, often decorated with product logos, faux boobs or saucy slogans, and while they were wipe-clean, they seldom had the advantage of pockets. Also, they refuse to die. They linger on long after the initial joke or appeal has worn off, in some cases by decades. No doubt some will even grace Christmas kitchens this year, a joke and yet not a joke, as much a part of family lore as the paper angel on top of the tree which some much-adored child made from a loo roll and a doily circa 1982.

We then vaulted through a couple of decades of Habitat-esque sturdy cottons, canvas and linens – worthy, serious, practical, no jokes – while we all knuckled down to learning how to make pâté and bread. Today, if anything, we seem even more serious in our apron messaging. The smartest ones now are toughly constructed from leather, denim, serious buckles for serious people. They scream: ‘I may be a banker during the week, but at weekends I smoke cheese and fish in a contraption I wrangled from an old filing cabinet – excuse me now for I must break down a carcass’.

Personally, tying on an apron has always felt quite soothing, like a cricketer polishing a ball before he bowls, or a yoga fiend taking a deep, cleansing breath. It puts me in the frame of mind for serious – often pleasurable – work: making dinner, sorting things out, potting up plants, making my own small world better, my uniform and my armour, and it seems from these numbers I am not alone.

Just make sure they have pockets.

Our pick of the pinnies

By Krissy Turner 

Frilled floral apron, £30 (anthropologie.com), Garden figs apron, £24.95 (emmabridgewater.co.uk)
Floral apron, £18 (johnlewis.com), Cotton apron, £55, Charvet Editions (libertylondon.com)
Blushing birds apron, £45 (pipstudio.com), Birds of a feather apron, £18.50 (wrendaledesigns.co.uk)
Pineapple apron, £54 (ladoublej.com), Le Creuset chef’s apron, £45 (johnlewis.com)