Fashion: The apron without the strings: They used to symbolise graft and hardship, but the workaday clothes of yesteryear have become today's statement of style, says Marion Hume

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Indy Lifestyle Online
FASHION moves in mysterious ways. Utilitarian items that men and women once joyfully cast aside in pursuit of white-collar lives have come back as stylish outfits for spring - without any of the hard graft that traditionally went with them.

Aprons that once tied our grandmothers to the kitchen sink have become the latest look in dresses and the boots our grandfathers wore for work have been adopted as the footwear to go with them.

Aprons are now worn by women who have no intention of going down on their hands and knees and scrubbing the front stoop. Instead of rolling up sleeves, tying an apron over a second-best dress and cooking a hearty dinner out of nowt for a family of 16, today's aproned woman is wearing one - or two tied over each other - to sit down to eat in smart restaurants. Our grannies' pretty patterned aprons are worn by independent women with no strings attached.

It is not only the workaday garb of women of the past that is being appropriated by fashion. The traditional navy and white striped apron worn by the local butcher to hack up joints of meat; the pristine white apron worn by the fishmonger to gut herring; even the moleskin apron once worn by the local rat-catcher, have all been recast as female fashion.

Once one recovers from the origins of the idea, aprons look rather pretty. Some shown here are the real thing, including a traditional butcher's apron bought for pounds 4.95; others are fashionable variations on the theme. Red or Dead, Agnes B and Martin Margiela have knot-and-tie dresses based on aprons - at rather higher prices than the originals that inspired them.

The difference, of course, is in the fit - particularly at the back, where the traditional apron begs the question of what on earth one puts underneath it and, if one chooses a pretty, long skirt, why one should want to cover the front of it in the first place. One of the most affordable versions of the apron theme skirts that issue by wrapping all the way round. Just peeking out from under a floral apron is the utilitarian, washed out blue apron dress from Miss Selfridge. It costs pounds 34.99 and can also be worn on its own.

Traditional striped butcher's apron, pounds 4.95, from P Denny Catering Wear, 39 Old Compton Street, London W1, and catering shops nationwide; navy and white spotted bias cut dress, pounds 69, from Jigsaw, 31 Brompton Road, SW3, 22 Market Street, Cambridge; faded denim jacket, pounds 35, from Outlaw at Kensington Market, Kensington High Street, W8; lace-up boots, from pounds 60, by Blundstone, from PIL, 61 Neal Street, WC2.

Natural linen apron dress with rope halter neck, pounds 95, by Red or Dead, 36 Kensington High Street, London W8; 14 Cheapside, Nottingham; Royal Exchange Shopping Centre, Manchester; mail order (081-902 5588); Birkenstock sandals, pounds 49.95, from Plum Line, 55 Neal Street, WC2; The Natural Shoe Store, 21 Neal Street, WC2; 325 Kings Road, SW3; 22 Princes Square, Buchanan Street, Glasgow.

Indigo cotton apron (worn under), pounds 34.99, from Miss Selfridge, 40 Duke Street, London W1 and branches; powder blue floral print apron dress, pounds 39.95, from Jigsaw (see main picture); cream vest, pounds 19.95, from Muji, 26 Great Marlborough Street, W1; 39 Shelton Street, WC2; 63 Queen Street, Glasgow; brown jodphur boots, pounds 55, by Blundstone (see main picture).

Black linen apron dress, pounds 240, by Katharine Hamnett, 20 Sloane Street, London SW1; small flower print apron, pounds 35, by Agnes B, 35-36 Floral Street, WC2; 111 Fulham Road, SW3; cropped v-neck shirt, pounds 113, by Ghost, from Whistles, 12-14 St Christopher's Place, W1; The Warehouse, Glassford Street, Glasgow; sandal clogs, pounds 27.95, from The Natural Shoe Store, as before.

Apron worn by herring girl, c 1905.

Half apron worn by cooper, c 1912.

(Photographs omitted)