Aprons for action

What's wrong with a little protection from rough puff pastry?

My first one was in PVC. I was under strict instructions from my home economics teacher, Mrs T (no relation to the man from the A-Team), as to what it was to look like. I bought it at Whiteleys, the department store I was lucky to have on my childhood doorstep, and it accompanied me through many a lesson in making choux pastry, rough puff pastry and hamburgers, getting dirty and being wiped clean. It had an advert for Paxo on the front - rather ironic, as such stuff was completely alien to our household. Despite its lack of style, it sowed a seed of love for aprons and the transforming properties they bestow upon the wearer. It doesn't matter who you are; an apron speaks of industry.

When I was in my early thirties, my father decided to open an ice-cream shop. When I used to help, I always wore an apron because it made me feel purposeful and, in some way, protected. But people thought I was 18 and would talk to me as if I were a little bit simple. I remember one American asking me if I was sure I was selling genuine Italian ice cream, because he'd "tasted the real thing in the States, so I'd know, you know". Perhaps this said more about him than my apron-wearing self, but still.

My best friend, who has only in recent years discovered the joys of baking (she was once heard to say to her husband at a dinner party: "Darling, the oven's making that noise," to which he replied: "Darling, it's on"), has long hankered after a waist apron with a frill around it. It's a secret longing that only I know about - no one else would guess, because this woman is more sex than soufflé siren. But I did find one while at Snape Maltings in Suffolk. It had a good 1950s vibe without going into the overly whimsical (such as I think Cath Kidston can do) and it looked authentic. I bought it for her, and she adored it.

When my daughter was born, aprons became a thing of necessity because she sicked up a lot. I also seemed to need ten thousand things at once, and Muji provided the definitive apron. This still has no equal today: it is apron king. It has no annoying neck or waist ties; you just stick your arms through (difficult to explain, but brilliantly designed) and the straps sit high on your shoulders. The fabric is really bril liant and it has two enormous pockets on the front. It is, veritably, an apron for the action. I bought two (breaking my own rule there), in case I ever lost or damaged one.

It was at the weekend that I realised I actually have an apron fetish as I took delivery of my latest: a gardening apron (from Lakeland, and highly recommended). It has pockets, naturally, but the great thing about it is that you can wear it long to protect your clothes/knees, or pop per it up to make a huge front pocket so that you can use it as a collecting vessel when weeding and deadheading.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New Britain - The country Brown inherits