A while back, I announced to my good friend that I had an idea for an invention that was going to change the lives of millions of people. Like a good sales person, I started by explaining the problem: Almost every day, most restaurant workers, cosmetologist and service industry workers ended up going out of the house looking pretty good. They put on a nice, crisp pair of pants and a spotless shirt in the morning; then, by the time they ran out the door to go to work, their shirt and the top part of my pants would be splattered with some mix of ketchup, grease, spills, cooking oil, and a couple of substances heretofore unknown to science.
“So,” I explained, “Here’s the invention: It’s a piece of fabric that goes over whatever you’re already wearing, for when you’re doing messy work. But unlike the traditional apron, it connects to your shirt by Velrco, instead of having to put the yoke of an apron around your neck. Then, when it’s time to leave the work, you can take off this fabric covering and your clothes underneath will still look great!”
I waited for my friend to jump out of his chair and pronounce me a genius. Instead, he said: “Umm, are you talking about an apron?”
Oh. NO! What I’m talking about is called the Shirpron, it’s the comfort and convenience of shirt with the coverage and protection of an apron.
It’s amazing that in the span of one generation, a clothing item that was once a staple of the restaurant and service industry could become almost entirely obsolete. Though restaurant and service industry worker used aprons regularly, people my age didn’t see much of them in our own childhoods and rarely use them ourselves. The common thinking about why the apron fell out of favor, even with restaurants who might have a use for one, was that it came to be associated with popular concepts like fashion over function and saving cost for the bottom line during the technology upheaval of the 1990s and ‘2000s.
That’s certainly true, but I think the reason for the apron’s decline goes even deeper than that.
One of the cornerstone beliefs of the modern secular world is that the meaning of life is to maximize your personal pleasure and comfort; therefore, people are encouraged to minimize phases of life that might involve hard work or service of others. This probably impacts waitstaff, cashiers, hairstylist, chefs and bartenders more than anyone. They receive the message loud and clear that their situation, with all the mess and physically demanding work that goes with it, is the very antithesis of a good life. No way to thrive here, the thinking goes. Best to not wear a bib apron that is pulling on your neck and constantly reminding you that you are working than blocking your clothes from spills and debris. Workers start to think that they should accept this sad fate of looking (and feeling) tired and sloppy, that the only solution is to just grit their teeth, power through, and get past this time of life as quickly as possible.
In this mentality, you can see how restaurant and service industry workers would feel like they couldn’t possibly be open to wear a bib apron. Going work with stains all over your shirt for a couple of years is one thing; it’s another thing to do it for decades.
OLD NEW AD medium2This is why I’d like to see the apron make a comeback. It is the essential accessory for a life of service. Donning an apron is a simple act that sends a surprisingly powerful message, especially if you’re a restaurant or service industry worker. It’s a symbolic gesture that indicates that you’re seeking to thrive now, here in the midst of the toil that comes with serving others not as a temporary phase, but as a key aspect of a well lived life. Taking the time to attach the Shirpron to the shirt and attaching the single string of an apron around your waist sends a message (to yourself, as much as to anyone else) that it’s worth the effort to protect your clothes so that you can look nice at the end of the day—that self-care has not been shoved to the back burner just because you have messy job.
Obviously, I don’t think that aprons are the cure for all the world’s ills, but it goes a long way in protecting clothes, branding and uniformity. The forces that discourage workplace the use of them in restaurant industry probably aren’t going to be vanquished by a single wardrobe item (except for maybe this one—awesome!!) But I do think that there is a direct relationship between apron-wearing and embracing a life oriented toward the service of others. It will be hard for restaurant and service industry worker on a large scale to be open to messages of openness to life until they understand that it is possible to thrive during the hours and feel completely free while working (in other words: that you actually don’t have to frump around the restaurant, salon, hardware store or grocery store in a stained shirt). If more businesses who understood this were more bold with their use of this under appreciated clothing item, it just might send a message that our culture desperately needs to hear:
The work of serving others is messy. Life is messy. But that’s why we have aprons.