18th Century Blue Aprons

This page focuses on blue aprons worn by men and women in the 18th century. These are largely working-class aprons, presumably in linen or occasionally in wool (as the descriptions below indicate); they seem to be associated with housework and other trades & occupations, especially noted in the text descriptions.

Finer silk aprons also appear in blue, like MFA 43.1036, but these are beyond the scope of these notes.

This passage from Hannah Hewit: or, the female Crusoe uses different styles of aprons as metonymy to describe social strata:

Thus was the church-yard of a Sunday, just after the parson had admonished his parishioners, and charged them not to slander their neighbours, filled with sarcastic rustics making satirical remarks; and thus it went, in gradation, all the way up from the washerwoman to the squire’s lady. The blue apron envied the check, the check the holland, the holland the plain muslin, the plain muslin the sprigged, the sprigged the flounced, the flounced the gauze, and the gauze the blond lace. What does this say more than that human nature is human nature in all stations; and that, however, the other qualities of mankind may fluctuate and vary, envy is always stationary.

Evidence for blue linen aprons

  • Fries Museum T11025, first half of the 18th century
  • “Emanuel Pim, was indicted for; breaking and entring the House of William Wayte, and stealing 2 Shirts, a Sheet, a Smock, a Blue Apron, and 3 Handkerchiefs, November 4, in the Night.
    Joan Wayte . I hung up some Linnen to dry in my Room below Stairs. I went out between 8 and 9 at Night, and shut my Door after me; but when I returned, which was in about half an Hour, my Door was open, and the Linnen was gone.
    Edward Lawrence, Constable. Going by a suspected House, I listened at the Window, and over-heard this Boy, Will. Bear, tell his Mother that he had got a Shirt, and a Shift. I went in and apprehended him. He presently offer'd to discover his Accomplices. As I was going with him to Justice Lade, we came to a House where he said the Prisoner lived with a Woman that past for his Wife. I went in and found the Prisoner and the other Shirt, a Shift, and a Blue Apron; the Prisoner said he found those Goods.
    Will. Bear. On Monday Night I met the Prisoner in Paul's Church-yard, he asked me to go with him, and so we went to this House where we saw some Linnen hanging to dry. There was a half Hatch bolted with 2 Bolts. He unbolted them both, but he was forced to hoist himself up and lean over the Hatch to reach the lower Bolt. Then he went in and brought out 2 Shirts, a Shift, a Sheet, 3 Linnen Handkerchiefs, and a Blue Apron.” (OBP, December 4, 1734)
  • “Mary Thompson, of St. Martins in the Fields, was indicted for stealing a Linnen Apron, value 6 d the Goods of Ann Branson , and 45 s. the Money of Wm Standbank, Dec. 14 …
    Ann Branson. I am Standbank’s House-keeper. The Prisoner being a poor Creature, I did what I could to help her, and she now and then did a Jobb for me about the House. The 14th of Dec. I went out, and when I came home the Money was gone. I had wrapped it up in a blue Apron, and laid it up in a Cupboard. I enquired after her and found her out; I carried her before Justice Hilder, with the blue Apron upon her.
    The Prisoner said in her Defence, her Husband came and asked her to go out and take a Dram; and being in haste, she took the Apron to tye about her before she went out.” (OBP, January 15, 1736)
  • “Ann Beezly, of St. Giles’s in the Fields, was indicted for stealing … a Linnen Apron, value 18 d. …
    Ann Birch. My Husband dy’d on the 12th Day of last Month; I took the Prisoner to help me in the House as a Chair-Woman, and she robbed me of what I had, and left me sick in Bed. She took away with her … a blue Apron” (OBP, October 11, 1738)
  • “Charles Ashman was indicted for stealing one linen shirt, value 2 s. one linen apron, value 6 d. … Some time after, in January, the apron was found on him. I was not present when he was stopped. I brought him home; he had that blue apron on him, which is marked with the initial letters of my name.” (OBP, February 20, 1771)
  • “MARY JAMES and MARY COLD were indicted for breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Robert Tallworthy, on the 15th of May about the hour of eleven in the night, and stealing … a blue linen apron, value 6 d.” (OBP, May 19, 1779)
  • “ELISABETH HUMPHREYS was indicted for stealing a blue linen apron, value 1 s.” (OBP, June 28, 1780
  • “ROSE FLOOD was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 14th day of August last, one blue linen apron, value 6 d.” (OBP, September 9, 1789)

Evidence for blue wool aprons

  • “Joseph Barter and Sarah Barter, were indicted for stealing two Spoons, value 2 d. and a Blue woollen Apron, value 2 d. the Goods of Thomas Marshal” (OBP, June 28, 1733)
  • “she had a blue woollen apron” (OBP, October 12, 1748)
  • “Dorothy Jukes. My husband’s name is John: we keep a public house in Shoreditch: the two prisoners came to my house about the beginning of November, and asked for work: they said they were hungry: I bought a spade of them for 18 d. they pulled out a crust, and I gave them some cheese. Barnfield went down into the yard, where I had hung out a piece of blue baize. When they were gone, Mr. Simonds and Mr. Lyon came, and asked me if I had not lost my ironing cloth. I looked, and missed the baize. I went with him to Mr. Simonds's house; there were the two prisoners. Barnfield owned he took it, and said he did it to make him an apron.” (OBP, December 11, 1765
  • “WILLIAM GORBELL and WILLIAM EASDON, otherwise PLUMB, were indicted for burglariously breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Margaret Fisher, widow, on the 29th of January about the hour of one in the night, and stealing … a blue woollen apron, value one shilling” (OBP, February 21, 1776)
  • “ELIZABETH BLAND was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 23d day of June last, one pair of woman’s stays, value 6 s. one linen shift, value 4 s. one woollen apron, value 18 d. one cap, value 2 s. the property of Elizabeth King.
    JANE MOORE sworn.
    I live in Whitecross-street, the prisoner at the bar pledged these things with me, the 22d, 23d, and 24th of July, I know her a little while before, she pledged them in the name of Elizabeth Blake, here is a pair of stays, a blue apron, a shift, and a cap.” (OBP, September 14, 1785)

Blue aprons on butchers

Blue aprons on domestic servants

Blue aprons on dyers

  • “[Joseph Vialls.] I had a blue apron on … I am a Scowerer, and Dyer, by trade” (OBP, July 11, 1759)
  • “I thought, and the person thought, that he had a blue, or a green apron, and thought he was a dyer.” (OBP, July 3, 1771)

Blue aprons on gardeners

  • Bob Nunn, one of the Duke’s gardeners at the Great Lodge by Paul Sandby, c. 1752-1765
  • “Q. Did Kidden describe Blee to you?
    Cooper. He said we might find him by his dress, that he had got a blue apron on like a gardener, a blue coat, and a carroty beard …
    Q. from Berry. What colour’d apron had you on?
    Blee. I believe it was a blue apron, I have worn divers sorts.” (OBP, June 3, 1756)
  • “a gardener, who was emptying ſome weeds out of his blue apron upon the dunghill” (The Adventures of a Pincushion, 1788)
  • “WILLIAM CADDICK was indicted for feloniously assaulting Mary Ann Rowe, on the King’s highway, on the 20th of December last, and putting her in fear and danger of her life, and feloniously taking from her person, and against her will, a silk handkerchief, value 6 d. a linen handkerchief, value 3 d. a woollen apron, value 3 d. … The prisoner came to our house, and called me down stairs, and told me he came from my father, who had sent him to tell me to get two handkerchiefs, and a cloth, and a blue apron. My father is a gardener.” (OBP, January 14, 1789)

Blue aprons on market vendors

Blue aprons on publicans

Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) shares a few terms that demonstrate how ubiquitous blue aprons were among English publicans of the 18th century:

Admiral of the blue, who carries his flag on his mainmaſt, a landlord or publican wearing a blue apron; as was formerly the cuſtom among gentlemen of that vocation.

Blue flag, he has hoiſted the blue flag, he has commenced publican, or taken a public houſe; alluding the blue aprons worn by publicans.

(H/T Adam Hodges-LeClaire)

  • Hob Selling Beer at the Wake by John Laguerre, c. 1725
  • “There was the other Pressoner [Jeremy] Fitzpatrick, a sitting upon a Pench py the Fire, with a plue Apron on … Fitzpatrick put on a blue Apron, which I never saw him wear before, but I suppose he did it, that he might pass for the Landlord of the House … And ash for my wearing a blue Apron, if you pleash to be after ashking any Body that knowsh it, they will tell you that I kept an Ale-house twelve Yearsh ago, but meeting with Mishfortunes, I wash forsh’d to leave it off, and turn Merchant.” (OBP, March 2, 1726)
  • “Francis Baggonett of St. Martin’s in the Fields, was indicted for assaulting Mary Barber in the dwelling house of the said Francis, putting her in fear …
    Mary Barber. On the 12th of November about four o'clock in the afternoon, I was going by the White Lion Tavern in the Strand, the Prisoner was standing at the door with a blue apron on” (OBP, January 16, 1745)
  • A Victualler or Publican, Erected out of his own Implements without ye Aſsistance of Nature, 1746
  • An Election Entertainment by William Hogarth, 1754-55
  • “But my Mother’s Circumſtances being much on the Decline, and being tratable that Way, I from time to time began to aſſiſt her occaſionally in the public Houſe, till at length I put on my blue Apron and my Snuffers, waſhed Mops, cleaned Rooms, and in one Word, became a profeſſed and common Drawer.” (George Whitefield, The Two First Parts of His Life, 1756)
  • A serving boy in the background of a Tavern Interior by John S C Schaak, 1762
  • “The woman who cohabited with another woman, lately deceaſed, 36 years, as her huſband, and kept a public-houſe at Poplar a great part of that time, but retired from thence laſt Saturday ſe’ennight, on account of the diſcovery made of her ſex, returned to that pariſh laſt Thurſday, accompanied by a gentleman to ſettle her affairs, in order to quit the buſineſs. She was dreſſed in a riding habit, with a black hat and feather: ſo that her acquaintance could hardly believe her to be the ſame perſon, ſhe having generally appeared in an old man’s coat, woolen cap, blue apron, &c.” (Annual Register for the Year 1766)
  • The publican at the Cocks tavern in Billingsgate Triumphant, or Poll Dab a Match for the Frenchman, 1775
  • “GEORGE WOOD sworn. I keep the Black horse in Kingsland-road. I missed a work basket in which was a bit of tape, the string of my blue apron, which I knew.” (OBP, February 24, 1790)
  • The Ale-House Door: “Come my Dear! I’ll pledge you!” 1790

Additional depictions & descriptions of men in blue aprons

  • From the album of Johann Franz Hörmannsperger, 1736: Mein Schönes Frauenzimmer Hier Habens ein Schöne Döcken, Was Befelchen sie mein Herr Officier und Herr Caporal
  • The House of Cards by Jean-Siméon Chardin, probably 1737
  • “I saw the Prisoner [Samuel Booker] drop a Snuff-colour’d Coat, and a Brown Waistcoat … he threw them out of a blue Apron he had on.” (OBP, December 8, 1742)
  • The Tooth Puller by Pietro Longhi, 1746
  • “I was at Crouch-end the 6th Day of May, these People came down very much frighten’d, the two Women, and said, they were robbed; I said what manner of Person was it that robbed you; they said, he is a Man with a blue grey Coat, a red Cap, and blue Apron.” (OBP, June 4, 1747)
  • “he had a blue apron on, which he said belong’d to his wife, and upon observing it, it appeared to be double and was a bag.” (OBP, September 6, 1753)
  • Canvassing for Votes by William Hogarth, 1754-55
  • Broken Eggs by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1756
  • London Cries: A Fishmonger by Paul Sandby, c. 1759
  • “He told me a gentleman of a middle size, in a light-coloured coat and a blue apron” (OBP, April 13, 1768)
  • “He pointed to him with his bloody hand, and said, That is the man in the blue apron. It being candle light, he said presently after, I beg pardon, Mr. Spinnage, it is the man in a green apron. (The prisoner had a green apron on.) Blue and green are very easily mistaken for each other by candlelight.” (OBP, April 5, 1769)
  • “he had a red waistcoat and blue apron on, and I believe a light coloured coat” (OBP, September 8, 1773)
  • “the prisoner who was before me [William Harrison], had it in a blue apron that was tied before him” (OBP, April 26, 1775)
  • “my neighbours then came up, and some of them searching about found a blue apron near the place where Johnson lay at, with my things in it. I said, if they were my things, they were six shirts and six handkerchiefs; it was opened, and the things were found in it … When he was in the shop before, I observed he had a blue apron tied round him (a blue apron shewn her). It was like that” (OBP, October 18, 1775)
  • A Carpenter by Pehr Hilleström
  • “I am sure the man brought back is the same person that jumped out of the window: he had a brown coat and a blue apron: when he jumped out of the window, he looked up, and I saw his face.” (OBP, September 12, 1781)
  • “I ran after him, and took him with the firkin of butter, and held him till the officer came to assist me; I took him to my master’s house, he rested on a post, he was tying round his blue apron as I suppose to hide it” (OBP, January 9, 1782)
  • “As I was at work for Mr. Dear, my mistress told us to pursue after the great coat, it was taken away. I and another man went towards Newington; I enquired of a man that I met, whether he saw a man, he said no; I was going over the bridge, and saw this man with the great coat wrapped in his blue apron, under his arm” (OBP, January 9, 1782)
  • “I saw the prisoner take one loin of mutton, and part of another loin, two breasts of mutton, two joints of beef, and one pound of suet from the shop, and tied them up in his apron … the meat was tied up as tight as it was possible for a man’s apron to be tied up … I found this meat tied up in a blue apron almost at the parlour-door; he said he did not mean to take it, he put it there to keep it clean; it was tied very tight.” (OBP, February 22, 1786)
  • “I did not particularly notice his face, but I saw he had a blue apron on” (OBP, September 12, 1787)
  • “I saw the prisoner Vandebus come out of Mr. Seabrook’s yard with a bundle in a blue apron, and part of a green skirt hanging out” (OBP, September 12, 1787)
  • “he had a blue coat on, a flannel waistcoat, and a blue apron wrapped round his body” (OBP, October 24, 1787)
  • “he was stopped, and brought back with the clock in his apron; he had a blue apron on.” (OBP, May 7, 1788)

Additional depictions & descriptions of women in blue aprons

H/T to Grymm Grymmsson on this topic and suggested images.