“I feel like every woman who likes cooking has been given a stack of cutesy vintage aprons with frills,” Heather Cahill, the general manager Pizzeria Beddia in Philly, told me recently. “But man, give me something durable — I don’t have time to spot-clean that shit.”
I’ve got a small collection of hole-y, stained options stashed in the linen drawer of my kitchen to prove it. About half of them are vintage aprons bequeathed to me by my apartment’s former owner; a few were borrowed indefinitely from the test kitchen of the food magazine where I used to work; at least one frilly floral number was given to me by my mother. Would it surprise you to hear that nothing in the rumpled pile is doing its job too well?
But the past few years have seen more and more kitchen apparel companies cropping up — brands like Jones of Boerum Hill and Tilit, makers of the ubiquitous jumpsuit you’ve probably seen everywhere, including Eater’s holiday gift guide — producing professional-quality aprons that look as good as they function. Better yet, plenty of these companies are placing a refreshing emphasis on catering to women’s bodies, expanding the options for everyone. So I asked chefs, bartenders, butchers, food stylists, and other people who spend all day working in a kitchen for the best options.
Hedley & Bennett was a name that came up a lot. More than one chef mentioned Bragard as a good, cheap option. A handful of restaurants turn to local makers to outfit their staff: The staff at the new Tartine in LA wears custom White Bark Workwear aprons; several restaurants in New York, like Frenchette, Barano, and Saint Julivert, outfit staff in Jones of Boerum Hill; and Urban Farmer in Denver partnered with the husband-and-wife team behind Valentich Goods on custom aprons. Food stylists and recipe developers seem to favor lightweight, linen designs. Meanwhile, Cahill said that most chefs she’s worked with are cool with the white, single pocket aprons their linen companies provide, with the exception of a few who went for custom options in leather or denim. (“Common denominator? Sharpie pocket. Gotta have it.”)
So what should you buy? Check out some apron-shopping advice from a few of the most opinionated folks polled. Apologies in advance: There are enough eye-catching suggestions that you just might have to try more than one.
“I prefer having a cinched waist — it’s less likely to be in the way, especially if I’m working over a fire or something like that. One of my very favorites is from Gjusta Goods, the store from the folks behind Gjusta and Gjelina. [The half apron] is the one that I’ll always reach for. The aprons are designed by somebody in-house, dyed with natural dyes, and made from scrap linens from the DTLA textile factories.” — Samin Nosrat, chef, cookbook author, and host of Salt Fat Acid Heat
“The new apron upstart in my apron life is from this guy Charlie Pennes, who’s also in LA. His company is called White Bark Workwear. He uses hemp, and all of the cool restaurants in LA now use his aprons. I was just at the new Tartine in LA and all the different departments have different color schemes of White Bark aprons. A lot of them have this incredibly adorable contrast stitching. I’m kind of gross — I’m always wiping my hands on my apron — so I usually choose a darker color.” — Samin Nosrat, chef, cookbook author, and host of Salt Fat Acid Heat
“I love the Drapron by Handyma’am Goods — it’s pricey, but I think totally worth it. I have a terrible habit of wiping my hands on my butt when I’m baking (this admission feels vulnerable), and this apron protects my clothes from that. It’s also a woman-owned company, and everything is really beautifully crafted and long-lasting. Highly recommend!” — Cara Nicoletti, butcher, cookbook author and Munchies host
“For me, a good apron is all about the fabric. I prefer a shorter apron as opposed to a long one that goes down to your toes, but I’m not too particular about size as long as the fabric is a bit thick, and really soft and malleable. I don’t like denim or other stiff-material aprons at all — it should be well-washed and soft.
Another thing I can’t stand are special pockets or weird straps or buckles — I would rather all the straps are adjustable and simply tie to one another. We get well-washed cotton aprons from our linen supplier that are great, but a brand I’ve used in the past and liked is Bragard. They really soften up after a while, but you have to put real time into them.” — Nick Perkins, chef-owner of Cervo’s, Hart’s, and The Fly in NYC
“I don’t want anything on my apron that will make it heavy or bulky, so I like the linen aprons from Merci in Paris. I learned about them while working in the test kitchen at Martha Stewart. They are super lightweight, which means the neck strap doesn’t ache after a long day of cooking. They’re also the perfect size and thickness to wrap around my entire waist and then some, so the sides of my jeans stay clean. Plus they come in the most beautiful colors.” — Samantha Seneviratne, cookbook author and food stylist
“I always look for washability and a color that won’t fade too quickly. I like my aprons to be utilitarian and not a fashion accessory. So for me, leather aprons and aprons with leather straps are out. My main problem with these new ‘bartender-designed’ aprons is that they have all these pockets for your spoons and strainers and shit. First off, I don’t want lint on my tools. Second, I don’t really want a pound of metal tools hanging around my neck. I’m pretty partial to Sur La Table brand aprons.” — Jeffrey Morgenthaler, author and bar manager at Clyde Common and Pepe Le Moko in Portland
“I have a large chest and have never found any kind of apron that lays well and is comfortable for me, so I only like bistro-style aprons. I pretty much exclusively wear Hedley & Bennett aprons, because I only like bistro-style aprons. They stand up to a lot of washings, and I find them very durable. I like thicker, sturdier materials like denim or canvas. Thinner, T-shirt-like materials or plain cotton usually get holes and hold stains worse than the thicker materials.” — Erin McDowell, food stylist, cookbook author, and recipe developer
“I prefer waist-style aprons and love the Fog Linen midi apron, although I also have the daily style. With the latter, I always fold the top over onto itself as I don’t like to feel encumbered when I work — even if it means I have to sacrifice a shirt here and there. Fog Linen has the softest linen.” — Candace Nelson, co-founder and executive pastry chef of Pizzana and Sprinkles in LA, and judge on Sugar Rush
“Durability and comfort are key. There are a lot of aprons out there that may be more ‘stylish’ but not as functional for everyday use in a professional kitchen. Soft durable cotton, denim and brushed canvas are great materials that hold up wash after wash. I like cross-back style aprons, which are definitely more comfortable than a traditional bib style, though they are a little more complicated to take on and off. At home, I wear a much lighter weight linen apron that is more comfortable wearing with just a T-shirt to cook breakfast in on the weekends. At work, I have several pockets on my apron for pens and Sharpies that are more ideal for multitasking throughout the day. Some favorites I’ve worked with are Brooklyn-based Tilit and Jones of Boerum Hill (I love the chambray option), as well as Hedley & Bennett. For something on the less expensive side, I like Bragard’s black pinstripe service apron.” — Ryan Sands, executive chef of Aster Food Hall in Chicago
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