Approaching the elderly woman standing in her doorway, I asked permission to take her picture. She nodded approval but reached behind her back to tug her apron strings loose.  “NO, NO,” I quickly responded, shaking my head vigorously in protest.  The whole purpose of the photo op was my latest harebrained idea for a story: APRONS.

Salvadoran women seem to wear their aprons in the same way the school children do their uniforms.  The aprons define them.

Professional women and the young girls have their own style of attire that suits their needs, but the middle-aged and elderly ladies seem to be very comfortable as apron fashionistas.

Except for the lovely embroidered ones sold for tourists, you don’t see the aprons being sold. I’m guessing the women make them out of scrap material.  Generally fancy lace edging surrounds a center section made of a different fabric.  I’m not sure if that is by design or if they run out of the main fabric, but it is very decorative and surprisingly elaborate given the durability these ubiquitous smocks must serve.

It amazes me how clean these multi-use garments remain given the harsh conditions under which the women live and work.  Unless they live in the city or village in a cement block home, many women reside in dwellings with hard-packed dirt floors and only three walls erected of sticks/heavy plastic/scraps of corrugated tin and whatever else can be obtained, not an ideal condition for keeping anything clean.

Day in and day out, families need to be fed, along with the chicken plucking, egg gathering, vegetable cleaning, and fruit peeling and cutting of all those fruits I’d never even seen or heard of before that hang from the trees.  Generally they use wood-fueled outdoor fires to prepare meals in large pots and on a griddle for the tortillas. Yet the aprons look pretty darned spotless to me.

Laundry conditions are also less than ideal. But that is another story.

Besides the obvious use for food preparation and cooking, the apron also can be used for wiping sweat off one’s forehead or arms, swatting mosquitoes, and wiping a little one’s tears.  Some women carry a black umbrella when walking in the heat of the day, but then they have one less hand to use for carrying purposes.  One very hot day I spotted an elderly woman walking down the road with her apron folded over her head and face to shade the sun.  She had both hands freed up to hold things.  On another day I watched a woman walking down a muddy path with a live–yes LIVE–chicken wrapped in her apron.  Unbeknownst to Chicken Little, he was headed to the chopping block.

And to think that I wear an apron only one day a year IF I remember to even take it along–the day I join my family gals in our annual Christmas cookie-baking event.


Caroline Sheaffer



    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.