The man was handsome. Rather shy. Slow smile. Strong arms. Skin that was tanned naturally from the sun and wind. That kind of handsome. But what I found most attractive and frankly captivating about him was that he was wearing an apron.
This was a serious apron. It was all leather and pockets. Tools were slipped into loops and slits that weighted both sides of it down from his waist to his heavily booted ankles. The apron was fastened around his legs, as well, so it never got in the way of the work; didn’t catch at him or the horses as he bent to tend to their hooves and shoes. The man was a farrier; his apron a vital part of his craft, evolved from the ancient one of blacksmithing.
From a very young age – at least as long as I can remember – I have found men wearing aprons to be extremely compelling. I think it’s the intentionality of it. The obvious purpose-driven aspect. A man who puts on an apron is going to do something. He also usually rolls up his sleeves, rather like he’s saying: This is going to get messy … and be very “hands-on”… and probably interesting.
He might be going to file the hoof of a horse or bake fresh bread, throw pottery or mend someone’s shoes, cut flowers or cut hair, weld art or wash a dog. Perhaps he’ll clean a fish or act as sous chef for his mate.
I remember my father, together with his grown-men brothers, back in their mother’s kitchen, grabbing flour sack dish towels and tucking them into their belts, wrapping them all around their waists. And they would flip pancakes from skillet to plates in a raucous breakfast ritual. Aprons don’t have to be fancy, that taught me. It’s all about what they represent.
There was a time in history when men wearing aprons were so prevalent that all tradesmen were called “apron men.” And you could tell what trade a man was in by the color or style or pattern of his apron: green, a butler; blue stripes, a butcher; black, a cobbler; checkered, a barber; white, a stone mason. Fish mongers, furniture makers, tailors, jewelers, artists, weavers, even soldiers in the French Foreign Legion, all were men who wore aprons. All had intention. All lived life with a sort of “bring it on” style. And, I’ve observed, men who wear aprons today often still have that same kind of energy about them. That same sense of involvement.
That being said, equally compelling to me – and certainly deserving of equal recognition – are women who wear boots. Most particularly Wellington boots (aka Wellies). And for much the same reasons. I have found that women wearing Wellies are every bit as intriguing, intentional, interesting and involved as apron men.
Historically, Wellies have gone to war, and they have worked for food in the fields. Wellies have been covered in farm muck, but they have also been used in laboratory cleanrooms. They have stepped in to heal, and stepped out to party. Wellington boots were used by miners in South Africa to communicate secretly in code; and they were used by soldiers on horseback in England to stop bullets from crippling them. Wellies have had songs written about them and dances created for them.
Even today, I’ve found that women wearing Wellies tend to walk where there is no path. They will unhesitatingly step on surfaces where there are no footprints. They wade into water that’s murky, and stand with assurance on ground that is unsure. Women wearing Wellies mess about in the most fascinating environments. And they make me want to follow them, to stow away with them, to be one of them.
I suspect that the reason I am drawn to such people is not really the aprons or the boots or the attire at all. I suspect it’s more about the persons wearing them – their energies, their sense of purpose. Living intentional lives. Finding the adventures. Being there for the possibilities.
All the same, men wearing aprons do make me smile. And women wearing Wellies just seem to want to dance.