The principal use of both was primarily to protect the dress they wore underneath, because they had very few of those and many aprons. It was also far easier to wash aprons than dresses, particularly at a time when fancy washing machines were in short supply.
But an apron had many other uses. It served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven, or to place a hot apple pie to cool on the window sill. It was perfect for drying children’s tears, rubbing clean a dirty face, or for a child to hide behind when confronted by strangers. It could be knelt on while scrubbing a step, and it was surprising how much furniture an apron could dust in a matter of seconds if unexpected company suddenly called, or how quickly it could vanish and leave Mum looking clean as a new pin.
Within the mysteries of its pocket could be found a boiled sweet, a few pegs for the washing line, a handkerchief for a child’s runny nose, a hair grip, scissors, and a bit of string in case something should need tying up or ‘fettling’ as my gran would say.
An apron often came in useful when a bag or basket wasn’t to hand. It could be used for carrying eggs from the hen coup, or vegetables picked from the garden. Logs and kindling would be brought into the kitchen in that apron, and after the peas had been shelled sitting on a stool at the kitchen door, it would carry out the hulls to the compost heap.
Mum would use it to wipe a perspiring brow as she bent over the hot fire or cooker, to wipe her hands on if called unexpectedly to the door. And when the weather turned cold she’d wrap it around her arms while she stood on the doorstep enjoying a bit of crack with a neighbour.
And on top of all this, it could also be seen as a sex symbol, as shown in the Lucille Ball picture.
Our daughters, not to mention ‘elf and safety’, would surely have a fit at the thought of all the germs that no doubt could be found upon that apron. But I don't think I ever caught anything infectious from any of them, only a great deal of love.