In the old days, women wore aprons at home to cook and clean.

In the era before women wore pants, an apron protected a middle-class woman’s precious few dresses from grease and grime and provided a convenient spot to wipe hands.

Cheryl Mendelson reminisces about aprons in her book, “Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House” (Scribner, 1999), noting that her grandmothers at home wore plain white muslin aprons that went on first thing every morning and came off only at mealtimes, if someone came to the door or when the chores were done.

“Fancy, frilled, and embroidered aprons came out when there was cooking to be done in the presence of company, but even these would be removed for answering the door. Thus the aprons were used to protect a distinction between the private and public part of home life,” Mendelson writes.

For a few decades — the 1970s through the ’90s — habits changed; aprons lost their important spot in home kitchens. But these days, if you put on an apron to cook, you’re hip. They’re back in style and more stylish than ever.

Maybe it’s all the cooking shows and chef contests on television, or maybe it’s all the talk about food and drink that has many of us cooking — and splattering — more. Professional chefs wear aprons for safety and sanitation reasons. It makes sense for the rest of us to do the same.

Shannon Reed is a Boston-based fashion designer who, after 20 years in the clothing business, has shifted to designing utilitarian-but-stylish chef wear.

“I definitely think that aprons and chef jackets are a hot trend. People have picked up on the lack of cool clothing for cooks. It’s very utilitarian, but it doesn’t have to be devoid of style and fashion,” Reed said in a phone interview from her studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reed, 48, sells aprons and chef coats to the general public, as well as to professionals, on her website, www.shannonreed.com.

Chef Mike Isabella, from season six of TV’s “Top Chef,” wears one of Reed’s aprons, notable for its signature gigantic grommets, on the cover of his first cookbook, “Crazy Good Italian.”

Reed’s chef wear is getting buzz in the restaurant and hotel industries for its style details, breathable comfort (100 percent cotton fabrics such as denim and brushed canvas) and fit — especially for women.

“My biggest customers started with women. Most of the chef wear was made for men, and it made women look about 20 pounds heavier. I made my chef jacket’s sleeves smaller, shoulders smaller, and more seaming details for a better fit on women’s bodies, and they actually have a waist in them,” Reed said.

Her fans include chef Suzanne Goin, owner of four restaurants, including Los Angeles’ Lucques and A.O.C., pastry chef and author Gesine Bullock-Prado (sister of Sandra Bullock), chef Geoffrey Zakarian, chef/owner Ana Sortun of Oleana in Cambridge and the chef Reed considers her muse, chef Barbara Lynch of the Barbara Lynch Gruppo in Boston.

“I went to her with my ideas for chef wear that has quality, fashion, function and fit, and she said, ‘Yes!’” Reed said.

Reed specializes in simple yet elegant design solutions for restaurants and hotels and is branching out into tabletop items, including napkins, tea towels and tote bags.

If you think aprons make sense, you’ll find a wide variety in stores and online these days, from Sur La Table’s vintage chic styles, to Williams-Sonoma’s classic, utilitarian bib apron with an adjustable neck strap.

Kitchen Complements on NW Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bend has always carried a good selection of aprons for women, men and children, too. Owner Dianne Bernert told us that aprons have been good sellers for all 30 years that she’s been in business.

Whether you choose a long apron, a shorter “bartender” apron, a waist-down “bistro” style or a chef coat, we hope that wearing the traditional uniform of the kitchen will give you confidence, clean clothes and a dash of style.

— Reporter: ahighberger@mac.com

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