“All growth depends upon activity,” said Calvin Coolidge. “There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”
Effort also means getting your hands dirty, and for some folks – woodworkers, baristas, barkeeps and the like – the apron is an iconic staple of workwear.
Few fabrics hold up as well as waxed canvas, which has been used in sailing cultures for hundreds of years, making it a no-brainer to handle all sorts of dirt, grime and grease.
When we’re out and about, we dig the classic look and feel of waxed canvas backpacks, but when it comes to work, we’re all about the canvas apron.
Here’s a look at 11 of our favorite timeless aprons from some of the best makers and small brands around the country.
The Charles Apron, Sturdy Brothers
Benjamin and Spencer Young started Sturdy Brothers in 2014 to pursue their goal of “rekindling American craftsmanship,” and in the years since, the duo has done just that.
Their line of waxed canvas and leather goods – aprons, tools, bags and more – hearkens to a time when building things was done with pride and the timeless satisfaction that comes with creating something of substance.
The Charles apron is made from 12-ounce nutmeg waxed canvas treated with the company’s blend of local beeswax, paraffin wax and linseed oil, which is melted and brushed on by hand. Pockets made from 9-ounce navy waxed canvas offer organization and options without too much extra weight.
Chestnut-finished leather straps bring a soft contrast to the apron, and the whole thing’s brought together by brass studs and copper rivets that look sharp and age even better. It lives up to the company’s namesake, but it’s light and flexible enough to go unnoticed after hours of work.
What started as a Kickstarter campaign with more than 200 backers is now home to one of the best-looking’ waxed canvas aprons out there, and there are plenty of baristas, woodworkers and barbers to prove it.
“Deep down there is a tugging desire in all men to create, to work hard, to build calluses on their hands,” writes Ben. “A goal to look and see that there has been something made, something built each day.”
Every Sturdy Brothers product is crafted by the team using American materials, and they’ve been featured in Southern Living, Atlanta Magazine, Wonder South and other publications.
Artisan Apron, Artifact
When the editor of Popular Woodworking calls yours the “best apron I’ve owned,” you’re doing something right. Enter: Artifact, started in 2010 by Chris Hughes of Omaha. He’s perfected the shop apron with a slick 14-ounce waxed canvas body and beautiful Horween leather straps. Copper rivets, brass hardware and Mil-Spec thread make this one of the sturdiest aprons out there – and one of the cleanest looking.
Artifact’s aprons are available in three sizes – mediums are ready to ship, while small and large aprons are made to order. Currently available in rust, olive, black and slate, the Artisan Apron is a welcome addition to any workshop, now and years into the future.
“I’m grateful when my designs fall in line with fashion,” says Hughes, “but my focus is always on style and Americana, which is timeless.”
Artifact has been featured in GQ, New York Times, Esquire and countless other publications, and the company has stayed true to their roots for nearly a decade. Everything’s made from their Omaha workshop and Hughes makes a point of using USA-based materials whenever possible.
Slate Waxed Canvas Stock Apron, Stock Mfg. Co.
Many of today’s small brands offer lifetime guarantees on products, but they’re often limited to manufacturing defects, not necessarily the wear and tear that naturally comes with time and use. Not so at Stock Mfg. Co. of Chicago.
They offer a free lifetime guarantee on all repairs, which means when you buy their Stock Apron, you’re investing for life. The slate gray, 7-ounce canvas is much lighter than other aprons, making it ideal for baristas and chefs who don’t need the extra weight. With natural cotton straps and impeccable sewing detail, you likely won’t need to take them up on their repair guarantee, but it’s nice to know its there.
A utility pocket at the chest offers a good amount of organization, and two large pockets below act as a catch-all for everything else. Branding is minimal, but it’s in all the right places, including a custom metal slide that adjusts the neck strap.
Industry Apron, Hardmill
Continuing the trend of companies started by brothers, Hardmill from Seattle specializes in waxed canvas and leather goods of the highest quality. Their Industry Apron is made from a 10.10-ounce waxed canvas available in an assortment of colorways, and it’s adorned with 5-ounce oil-tanned leather straps and accents.
Copper rivets and a classic pocket layout make the Industry Apron a solid choice for those looking to focus on the essentials. There’s nothing crazy here, but it’s also something you’ll have around for decades. It’s handmade in the Pacific Northwest and comes with a lifetime manufacturing guarantee.
Though the Industry Apron is durable enough for nearly any workshop, those with greater needs should check out their Rugged Apron (also available in leather and denim). This apron includes a strong cotton canvas backing that offers extra thickness and strength.
The Journeyman apron from Orem-based Rustico offers a classic feel and aesthetic with enough pockets, clips and tool straps to keep you organized for all your projects. Like the Charles apron, the Journeyman is made of a strong waxed canvas that ages with a fine patina, and the top-grain leather straps are built to last just as long.
With five colorways and the option to personalize your apron, the Journeyman makes an excellent gift for trade workers of all kinds. The tool straps are particularly useful for woodworking, gardening and the like, when quick and continual access to tools is a must.
Each Journeyman apron is handmade to order, so it’ll head out once it’s pulled, cut, sewn and finished. That doesn’t take as long as it might sound, and it’s well worth the wait – especially considering this can be an heirloom-quality product that can take the rigors of work for years and decades to come.
The folks at Rustico call themselves a “family of artists,” and this is more than apparent in the craftsmanship of the Journeyman, as well as their complete line of products.
Shop Apron, Frost River
Duluth-based Frost River may be known for their canoe packs, but their Shop Apron is made with the same material and durable construction, making it one of the toughest aprons out there.
The 18-ounce waxed canvas is heavier than most aprons, but the cotton straps are lighter than leather ones, giving the apron a flexible range of motion that doesn’t feel as constricting as some leather straps.
The apron’s strategically placed pockets – along the bottom hem and the chest – offer more room than many aprons, but enough compartmentalizing to avoid losing your stuff. Choose from two different strap options depending on your needs, and rest easy knowing that Frost River’s lifetime guarantee on hardware and workmanship is there to protect your investment.
Frost River works with materials from companies like SB Foot Tannery and Martini to create their unique products, and their old-world work ethic shines through in their Shop Apron.
Charcoal + Navy Utility Apron, Valentich Goods
Ryan Valentich began sewing bike bags in 2010, and since then, he and his wife Jill have grown their business to include a unique line of other high-quality products, including their utility apron. It’s available in more than 10 colorways, though we’re partial to the dark appeal of their charcoal and navy combination.
The Valentich approach to pockets is different, and we dig it. They offer two pocket options down below – straight or gusseted, depending on your needs – and their signature V sewing divides the pockets into easy-to-use compartments. Rivets keep everything secured more than just sewing alone, making this an ideal apron for workers with heavier tools.
The straps are easy to adjust and comfortable, and grommets at the chest give your neck ample room to move about without feeling constrained. This family-run business out of Denver focuses on combining function and beauty in their products, and the utility apron does just that in a way that’s timeless yet refreshing.
Shop Apron, Iron & Resin
“Choose well and buy less,” is the name of the game over at Iron & Resin, and that mission lives on in their Shop Apron, a Martexin™ waxed canvas beauty that holds up to the rigors of all kinds of craftwork.
It’s available in four colorways and along with standard leather straps and copper rivets, includes details that are unique to the company. Maroon thread brings some subtle but colorful life to the apron, and a small branded rivet on the chest pocket is a nice touch. The apron has enough pockets to keep you on task, but its clean simplicity is what makes it a classic in our book.
It’s made in California and at $80 costs considerably less than many canvas aprons out there, so it’s a great value for workers looking to stretch their budget.
Workman Bib Apron, Jones of Boerum Hill
Made in Manhattan’s Garment District, the Workman Bib Apron from Jones of Boerum Hill is a kitchen-friendly piece that does things a little differently. Instead of using rivets, the team at JoBH uses antique brass grommets to fasten their twill, cross-back style straps, giving the apron more flexibility and movement than stiffer leather-based aprons.
A large double hip pocket and small chest pocket is barebones – in the best way – and because it’s made with 18-ounce waxed canvas, it’ll hold up with the best of them. JoBH was formed in 2012 by husband and wife team Iestyn & Deirdra Jones, and now have a cult-like following of restaurants, chefs and fans worldwide that use their aprons for all kinds of work.
Contra Apron, Tilit
New York-based Tilit is in business to completely change workwear for those in the hospitality industry, and their Contra Apron is the perfect example of their philosophy. Where most canvas aprons are purposefully heavy and not meant to be washed, the Contra is lightweight, though still waxed, and can be washed by hand or machine with ease.
This apron was designed in collaboration with the chefs over at Contra NYC, consistently named one of the city’s best restaurants. The Contra is super simple: two small welted pockets up front and cotton straps are all you get – but for many chefs and cooks, it’s all you need. The shoulder clasp makes it easy to remove the apron quickly, and its light body means it’ll still feel comfortable in the hottest kitchens or longest shifts.
The Contra Apron is available in navy, French blue, olive or charcoal waxed canvas.
Grey Waxed Canvas Apron, Red House
If the Contra Apron’s designed for the fast-pace of New York City kitchens, Red House’s waxed canvas apron is a testament to slow, down-home comfort food.
Its unique Latigo leather cording offers comfortable cross-back support that loops in the front, and antique brass accents compliment the dark leather perfectly. The grey waxed canvas wears well and only gets better with time, as it and the leather develop a beautiful patina – a reminder of all your meals and memories.
Red House, run by husband and wife team Matt and Britt, is based in Shelburne, Vermont and has been featured in publications like Real Simple, Country Living and Epicurious. If you’re not in the market for one of their aprons, they also make beautiful canvas totes and day bags.