05 May 2012

Apron Strings

Earlier this year I was the lucky winner of The Hectic Eclectic's apron giveaway (many thanks Mrs. C!) which inspired the following research regarding 18th century apron strings.

I've specifically been looking for examples where ladies have tied their apron strings in the front. Is it a knot with the strings hanging? It is a bow? Is it centered or off center? Did ladies with embroidered aprons tie them in the front or is this a lower class trait? Here are some sources, listed in chron order, that begin to answer these questions.
Detail from William Hogarth's The Enraged Musician, 1741
Strings tied in front in a small bow; it looks like the apron dips, which Hallie described in a post earlier this year.

Detail from The Enraged Macaroni, 1773
Lewis Walpole Library Accession Number 773.
Strings also tied in front and again it looks like there's a small dip in the apron.

Detail from A Girl Buying a Ballad, Henry Walton c.1778
Tate Gallery T07594
It looks like the strings are tied in front. Unfortunately I can't tell if the apron dips or if its worn beneath her gown's bodice. 
A Market Girl Holding A Mallard Duck, 1787 by John Russell
Strings tied in a bow. (I love that bonnet!) 

Detail from At the Inn Door, fourth quarter 18th century by Henry Singleton
V&A Accession Number 1834-1900
Strings tied in a small bow.

Detail from the print Spring and Winter, from A Collection of Drolleries 1770-1797
Lewis Walpole Library Accession Number 785.10.9.1
Strings tied in a small bow.

Detail from Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape by Agostino Brunias, Brooklyn Museum Accession Number 2010.59
The museum dates this painting as c.1764-1796.
Judging by the high crown of the ladies' hats in the center and the high waist of the short gowns on the left, I would guess this painting probably dates from the 1790s.
Another example of an apron tied in front that dips and has a bow with short strings.

While this is a very light survey of 18th century artwork with aprons, there's enough evidence to suggest that tying apron strings in the front with a small bow is a good choice for someone reenacting the second half of the 18th century who's focusing on a working class impression.  

So when cutting linen/cotton tape for apron strings, how long should the strings be so they're not too long or too short? For someone my size (medium) the tape could be approximately 88 inches long. This means I need to trim a few inches from my apron strings.  


  1. I think it's so nifty how aprons in artwork have the "dip"--because it's exactly what my apron tends to do after a couple hours of wear. And then it starts to dip too much and I retie it lol. I started tying my apron in the front for ease of retying it and taking it on and off throughout the day, not even realizing how authentic of a practice it was--funny how sometimes just wearing the clothes leads us to do the right thing with them!

    1. Interesting...I haven't noticed mine dipping throughout the day, but I will pay closer attention!

  2. Excellent post, thank you. I shall post your link on my blog.
    Regards, Keith.

  3. Another wonderful example

  4. here is another, much better view



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