Aprons: Practical, Decorative, and Everything in Between

Antique historical photographs from the US Navy and Army: Camp Blacksmith with aprons.

At its core, the apron is a garment rooted in protection. It is designed to provide a barrier between some kind of messy work and the more-valuable clothing beneath it. Today, we mostly associate the apron with cooking, and while it has certainly been used for that purpose, its versatility reaches far beyond the kitchen. 

A closer look at the apron provides a kind of historical look at human labor and its place both inside and outside the home. At each development in the apron, we see a different emphasis on what gets protected and the role of the products the labor creates—from the cobbler’s shoes to grandma’s apple pie. 

Early Aprons Protected Clothes from Tough Jobs

In their early days, aprons were nearly entirely reserved for men, and not just any men—the men who did the toughest, most demanding jobs. Aprons were donned by blacksmiths as they worked and fishmongers as they cleaned their daily catch. Other roles requiring aprons included stonemasons, barbers, tailors, gardeners, and cobblers. In these roles, aprons were designed to protect the more delicate clothing beneath them from some of the messiest work around.

These early aprons were often made out of tough material like leather or canvas. Often, aprons were tied around the waist and simply draped down over the legs, making them closely akin to a loincloth. Depending on the work, some of these aprons covered both the front and the back of the body to offer maximum protection for not only the clothing but also the person’s body. You’ll see a similarly-purposed apron every time you get x-rays. The technicians don heavy protective aprons to shield their body from frequent doses of radiation during the course of their job. 

The color of the aprons used during the Middle Ages could even demonstrate what job a man did. Barbers wore checkered aprons. Butchers wore blue stripes. Stonemasons frequently donned white aprons suitable for working around the white dust their jobs produced.  

From the Practical to the Symbolic

While the earliest aprons were typically donned by men, more delicate versions were adapted by women who were cooking in the home. They used them to protect their clothing from spills and stains. This practical use was particularly important for families without a lot of disposable income. Dresses were expensive, and laundry was time consuming. Most women in modest homes did not have the time or the money to deal with their dresses getting stained at every meal. These simple garments would often be made out of flour sacks or other common, easily-available materials. 

As the “roaring 20s” took hold, many women rejected associations with the drudgery of housework. At this point, the apron was often a symbol of status. Maids and hired help wore them while the “lady of the house” did not. This tiny piece of cloth became a symbol for who was expected to do the labor in a household. 

The Apron Has Philosophical Ups and Downs

Following the Great Depression, the 1940s and 1950s saw a rise of the apron as a desirable garment. American women embraced housework as their role and took on the image of “domestic goddess.” At this point, aprons became symbols of their duty to the home, and they give off messages of hospitality and goodwill. They became much more ornate, decorated with lace and patterns. 

The apron’s association with housekeeping and gendered labor made it a target for derision during the feminist uprising of the 1960s. This garment fell out of favor as it was associated with oppressive and limiting gender expectations. 

Once again, the negative association did not last. In today’s world, cooking at home is on the rise again. The popularity of cooking has been helped along by television shows like those featured on The Food Network, and environmental and economic concerns have many people turning to home cooking as a solution to global problems. Even those who end up ordering takeout more evenings than they’d like to admit often fill their homes with the symbols and trappings of dedicated home cooking including upright mixers, shiny pots and pans, and—yes—the ever-protective apron. 

Maxi Dresses: Timeless Versatility

Egyptian papyrus -Three Girls Holding A Lotus Flower. History of maxi dresses

From Ancient Egypt to Hollywood, the maxi dress hasn’t lost its appeal. This versatile style is suited to every situation. A version of the maxi dress can be found in virtually every part of the world. Maxi dresses can be found in a plethora of fabrics, patterns, and styles. Falling the length of the body, the maxi dress defies modesty constraints. No matter the country or religion, the maxi dress is a flexible option. The classically beautiful silhouette of the maxi dress highlights every body type. Appropriate from the office to the Met and everywhere in between. No matter the occasion, style, country, or religion, a maxi dress can be found to fit the bill.

International Heritage

The maxi dress has been all over the globe. The Theban tomb of Nakht in Egypt contains beautiful paintings. Heralding from the 18th dynasty, they depict Nakht’s lovely musicians wearing very modern-looking maxi dresses. The Egyptians wove exceedingly fine linen. The fabric of the maxi dress itself would have been almost transparent. Historical depictions of maxi dresses show them as being long and straight, with some pleating depending on the era, and with a slim, structured silhouette.

The Roman Empire put a different spin on the maxi dress. The form was more flexible. During the reign of emperor Justinian silk was made possible. The mulberry worms were smuggled into the empire and the fashion industry suddenly had a new medium to play with. Maxi dresses of silk were long, flowing affairs tied in the middle with a corded belt. Like those of Egypt, the maxi dresses in Roman history are shown constructed without sleeves. This style was likely influenced by the hot desert and Mediterranean climates common in those parts of the world.

In Ireland, a piece of clothing was uncovered in 1931 called the Moy Bog Gown. It is presumed to be a garment for a female and is fashioned in the style of a maxi dress. This style of long gown was common throughout the middle ages as well.

Flattering to All Body Types

The long line of the maxi dress has many advantages. It can hide our body type or flaunt it. Many women who dislike having shorter legs in proportion to their torso utilize the maxi dress. Its flowing line doesn’t break up the body at the hip. This line also gives the illusion of height. In addition to adding height, a maxi dress can show off your curves while elongating them to give a sleek, sexy silhouette.

Glamour on the Go, or Cozy Downtime

Today’s busy women are looking for a simple, elegant, and carefree garment. Maxi dresses eliminate the need to coordinate your outfit. Just grab the dress and go. You will look fabulously, effortlessly put together in an instant.

Maxi dresses are so versatile. The sexy backless dress of Hollywood’s red carpet is the perfect glamour dress. Curling up in woolen nightgown with a cup of cocoa and a book is perfect for a winter retreat.

Don’t forget your maxi dress when you’re heading to the beach. Maxi dresses are the perfect after swim cover-up. Beach styles are available in halter, backless, and sleeveless patterns. Naturally breathable, cool fabrics like linen, cotton, and silk allow you to look elegant and still keep your cool.

Have a hot date to the art gallery opening and can’t run home to change? No worries. Wear your sleek black maxi dress to the office. A fitted blazer covering your naked back takes this dress from sexy to smart. You’ll make the date and look great!

Maxi dresses are an essential part of a busy woman’s wardrobe. Look stylish in minutes. Travel with ease. Modern fabrics have eliminated the need for ironing. Maxi dresses will look perfect going straight from your suitcase to the invitation-only luncheon. No matter the occasion, season, or region, you can’t go wrong with a maxi dress.

The Saree: India’s Timeless Gift To Fashion

Beautiful indian woman with very long hair wearing saree in a park

A saree (also referred to as a sari or shari) is a garment worn by women in India. The saree is a drape that can measure up to 9 yards in length. It wraps around the waist and drapes over the shoulder while exposing the midriff. A variety of styles are available, allowing women to choose what is most comfortable for them. Additionally, the saree is often accompanied by a choli, a fitted bodice. In some parts of India, a parkar (petticoat) is also worn.

The Origins of the Saree

The Saree has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years, dating all of the way to 2800 BC during the Indus Valley Civilization. Sarees were originally made of cotton but silk became more popular beginning in 2000 BC. Various dyes, including indigo, red, and turmeric, were used to give these fashionable articles of clothing a vibrant dash of color.

The word “sari” originates from the word “sattika” which is mentioned in Buddhist and Jain literature. The saree evolved from a Poshak, a three-piece outfit that included a lower garment, a veil, and a chestband.

It wasn’t until the second century BC through the 6th century AD that the choli became commonplace. It appeared more frequently in northern India and is still commonly seen throughout the state of Rajasthan today. 

Sarees can also be highly ornate. Sarees are decorated with much attention to detail, making these pieces of clothing wearable art. From traditional embroidered designs to Swarovski crystal embellishments, the creation of a one-of-a-kind Saree is a delicate process.

The Colors of Sarees

It’s important to note that different colors can be used to signify different events. Most commonly, red is used for wedding saris within the Indian culture. During monsoon season, block-print and tie-dyed sarees are worn, which are referred to as Bandhani.

With the way that fabric and printing have become more mainstream, it’s not uncommon to see more colors and prints than ever before. In addition to cotton and silk, other fabrics like polyester and charmeuse are also common.

Saree Draping as an Art Form

It has been recorded that there are over 80 ways to wear a saree. While it is most commonly wrapped around the waist to keep the midriff bare with the loose end over the shoulder, there are a number of other options.

The way in which a saree is draped will depend on region, family, and occasion. Some of the most common styles include:

  • Nivi
  • Bengali
  • Himalayan
  • Nepal
  • Manipuri
  • Khasi

Some of these styles will crisscross over the shoulders, cover more of the legs, or even wrap through the legs. You can find countless YouTube videos that cover the many different ways to wrap an Indian saree.

Sarees Outside of India

Bollywood is one of the main sources to popularize the saree internationally. However, there are also lots of American stars who have embraced the saree and drawn attention to this glamorous piece of Indian culture. Ashley Judd wore a purple saree to a YouthAIDS gala in 2007 and the Pussycat Dolls wore sarees when they attended the Fashion Rocks concert in NYC in 2008. Selena Gomez even chose to rock the garb when she went to a UNICEF charity event in 2014!

While the saree is still considered an Indian garment, it’s not uncommon to see it worn outside of India. Its beauty and comfort make it an appealing item of clothing around the world. 

Jeans: In Our Closets and In Our Hearts

Metal studs on jean pocket, metal rivets upclose - history of jeans

There’s no item of clothing more iconic than a pair of blue jeans. Virtually everyone is familiar with this article of clothing. You wear jeans, your mom wears jeans, just about everyone you know wears jeans. But do you know why? Have you ever wondered about the origin of these slightly-stiff but deeply-loved denim pants? 

The Origin of Jeans

At first consideration, it’s easy to assume that jeans are All-American. Not so. While they have become a cultural staple, the fabric used for jeans was a French invention. Rather, a French variation on an Italian invention– a sturdy fabric called “serge.” People from the French region of Nîmes tried to replicate it, coming up with a fabric they called “serge de Nîmes,” later shortened to the word with which we are familiar, “denim.” 

The actual pant was the brainchild of Nevada-native Jacob Davis and German immigrant Levi Strauss. Jacob Davis was a tailor with a problem: the pants he was constructing for local miners couldn’t stand up to the wear-and-tear of their work environments. He came up with the idea of “riveted trousers,” overalls made of canvas which were fortified with metal fasteners.

As the success of his idea rose, so did a necessity to protect it, and so Davis turned to dry-goods store owner Levi Strauss to help him secure a patent, which they received on May 20, 1873. The two ended up going into business together, founding the still-famous brand “Levi Strauss & Co.” Eventually, Strauss substituted the French fabric, denim, for the chafe-prone canvas, and blue jeans were born. 

Levi’s are Born

Strauss and Davis’ patent expired in 1890, but it was of little concern. The brand had already taken root in the American economy; its reputation was excellent. All pairs of pants bore a tag with the phrase, “Patent Riveted Duck & Denim Clothing. . . Every Pair Guaranteed. None Genuine Unless Bearing This Label.” (It wasn’t until the mid-1900’s that the little red tag became ubiquitous.) 

1890 was a significant year for the company; it also marked the introduction of Levi’s 501 style, the classic silhouette that probably comes to mind when you think of blue jeans. With that, jeans began their rise to cultural prominence. 

Until the mid 20th century, jeans were worn primarily by blue-collar workers, miners, cowboys, and, interestingly enough, polo players– they held up remarkably well while riding horses. The elevation of jeans to everyday popularity can be credited to movie stars. Think of James Dean: when you see him in your mind’s eye, there’s a good chance he is wearing a leather jacket, a t-shirt, and a pair of jeans. This is the uniform he popularized in 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause. Influencing the woman’s wardrobe was Marilyn Monroe, who wore blue jeans in the film The Misfit. The public, eager to emulate movie stars, couldn’t get enough of the denim pants. 

Jeans Fashion Takes Hold

Though jeans were now ironed into the fabric of American fashion, more developments were to come. In the 1950s, the boxy, cuffed look made popular by the movie stars was all the rage. As the ’60s rolled in, bootcut was the preferred look, worn by celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and Pauline Boty. Bootcut morphed into the flares of the ’70s, bootcut’s extra-wide ankle cousin. This decade also hosted a popularity surge of patched and embellished jeans. In the ’80s, the high-waisted, stiff-legged jean came into fame but was trumped by the dark-wash, low-cut, stretchy jeans of the ’90s. In the 2000s, glammed-out, low-cut jeans became all the rage. From 2010 into today, a host of styles have made the rounds, most notably, a rerun of the classic ‘80s high-waisted look colloquially known as “mom jeans.” 

From 1873 until today, jeans have slowly but surely lodged themselves in our closets and in our hearts, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be going anywhere anytime soon. 

The History of the Caftan: From Royal Signifier to Modern-Day Comfort

caftan or kaftan shop of Moroccan dresses in the medina of Tangier, Morocco

The caftan (or kaftan, as it is sometimes spelled) has Mesopotamian roots that can be linked to a royal heritage. Traditionally worn by men, this garment’s modern iterations come in variations with long and short sleeves and can be worn by men or women. The universality of its shape has made it a basis for many different pieces of clothing, and its long and storied history means that the caftan has been showing up across cultures and locales for millennia. Today’s most fashionable version, which tends to be worn by women, offers comfort and style. 

The Early Days 

The earliest known usage of the caftan is in ancient Persia in 600 BCE. Its popularity spread quickly and elaborate, highly-decorated versions were known to drape across sultans from the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. The distinguishing features of the caftan were its long, flowing shape. These robe-like garments were constructed using a variety of materials including satin, velvet, silk, and metallic threads. While the materials alone communicated the high-status and luxuriousness of these items, they were also specially made to denote the rank of the person wearing them. In addition, they were often bestowed as valuable gifts of honor to important government officials. 

While showing off rank and status, caftans would also be worn in layers for ceremonial purposes. Two or three caftans with varying lengths would be draped on top of one another, creating a stunning look. 

By this point, both men and women were wearing caftans, but there were some differences in shape. Men’s caftans tended to flare at the bottom while women’s caftans were more fitted. 

The Caftan Spreads 

Today, the caftan remains a popular item of clothing, and its ceremonial significance is still present. Today, caftans are popular clothing choices in regions where the Islamic religion is particularly influential including across North and West Africa. 

It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that the garment took off as an item of high fashion popularized around the globe. French fashion artists like Christian Dior reimagined the garment as a kind of loose-fitting gown to be worn over matching trousers. At the time, the caftan was seen as an alluring mix of leisure and luxury. 

The piece is seen as an easy-to-wear article of clothing while keeping a kind of exoticism that makes it interesting, and that has given it a wide range of adaptability. The caftan is equally at home in a bargain marketplace and on the red carpet. The high fashion versions tend to be elaborately beaded. 

In 1996, Tom Ford made a much-shortened version of the kaftan for the spring Gucci line, showcasing how the simple silhouette could be energized to fit the styles of the time.  

Caftan’s Offer Grace and Comfort

When Mad Men star Christina Hendricks explained that she is most at ease in a caftan, she pointed to the true power of this ancient garment: comfort. Indeed, other stars (including Jessica Simpson) have turned to this garment during pregnancy as a way to find maximum comfort and a bit of modesty at a time when their bodies were most scrutinized. 

Historically, as the caftan grew in popularity with women, it offered a way to break free from the constricting (and often painful) articles of clothing considered fashionable in the previous eras. Caftans provided loose-fitting comfort while still offering grace, luxury, and poise. Designer caftans have been featured on such high-fashion icons as Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy, giving them a status not usually extended to such a comfortable piece of clothing. 

While the caftan is forgiving and able to mask perceived “flaws” of an overly-scrutinized celebrity body, it is also fluid and moves gracefully across the silhouette as the wearer glides through the world. Rather than a garment to hide behind, then, the modern caftan is better thought of as a shapeshifter that subtly highlights the wearer’s features. 

Today’s caftans can be had at almost any price point. From extremely expensive luxury items to everyday affordable ones, caftans have influenced a range of fashionable choices that equally adorn stars on the red carpet and moms running out for errands.