Sometimes people just give me aprons. Like single-purpose kitchen gear or novelty cookbooks, they’re one of those gifts people gravitate towards for the friend or family member who makes food. Some of the aprons are floral, others have silly slogans unfit to print, but they all have two things in common: First, the aprons have adjustable straps that tie around the waist, and second, I never wear any of them. Sorry, Mom.
These strappy chef aprons live in a dusty box along with my all-edges brownie tin and Animal Crossing cookbooks (plural), while the task of protecting my outfits from oil splashes and wine stains falls exclusively to my trusty cross-back apron. Sometimes called Japanese-style aprons, these kitchen aprons fit over your clothes like a smock dress. If you’ve ever watched one of BA’s test kitchen videos, they’re favorites of food editors present (Kendra Vaculin and Rachel Gurjar) and past (Claire Saffitz and Molly Baz).
Heavy canvas aprons with straps are clunky and pinchy in all the wrong places, and the knot in the back constantly needs retying, something that frustrates Vaculin during long days of recipe testing. “With a cross-back apron,” she says, “I can just slide it on in the morning and forget about it for hours.” Wearing an apron with cross-back straps feels like wearing clothes. There are no strings to get caught on doorknobs, no heavy leather straps and metal buckles to weigh you down. Saffitz puts it best: “I’m not a butcher, and I’m tired of wearing aprons that make me look like one.”
An apron adds a layer of protection between your outfit and the action, and cross-back aprons are cuter, comfier, and more convenient than their strappy bib apron alternatives. That means that you’ll actually want to put one on when it comes time to cook. Below, find some of our favorites—all machine washable, all cute as heck.
The Affordable Pick
This linen and cotton apron from Amazon is inexpensive, lightweight, and offers plenty of coverage to keep your clothes tidy when making dinner gets messy. I’m a big fan of its deep front pockets, where you’ll usually find my instant-read thermometer and a silicone spatula, and its many color options, which gives you some room to customize your apron to your personal style. The blended cotton-linen construction makes for a soft and airy texture that’s easy to wash and takes on a cute, rustic wrinkle. It’s also so light and comfy that my roommate often has to remind me I’m still wearing it long after I’ve finished baking.
For the Chef Who Wants Options
This cooking apron from Etsy seller Linenia can be purchased in a reversible design, allowing you to mix and match patterns and colors to fit your tastes and wardrobe. Both sides come with large enough pockets to hold chopsticks, a hefty Kunz spoon, and more, and you can use the set of pockets hidden against your body as secret compartments for snacks. The double-layered European linen construction also puts some extra fabric between you and your ingredients while staying entirely breathable.
The Heavy-Duty Hero
If you have zero tolerance for splashes or stains and a little extra to spend, the Minna Utility Apron is your best cross-backed bet for kitchen protection. Of all the aprons I tried, this one absolutely felt the sturdiest. That durable construction is thanks to a high-quality cotton weave handmade by artisans in Guatemala. It also comes with fun, playful stripes, making for an apron that’s got both form and function on lock. Best of all, the cross-back apron style means that, even though the fabric is thicker, there’s still plenty of room for air to circulate, keeping you nice, cool, and clean.
For Taller Cooks
I’m a healthy 5’10” in socks, which is only a bit shorter than the star of the Netflix film Tall Girl. This means that a lot of aprons stop a bit higher on my legs than I’d like. But not the Pinafore Apron from Favor. This long-cut apron reached all the way to my calves, providing plenty of protection down my legs. Between its spacious armholes and A-line drape, it’s an option that’s sure to fit well and look good on a wide range of body types. My one flag in that department is that the pockets are also cut for longer bodies, meaning they might be a bit low for shorter cooks to reach comfortably.
For the Best of Both Worlds
Terrain’s linen one-size apron is more heavy-duty than some of the other options, just as suited for gardening as it is for the kitchen. The straps on this apron, along with its squared-off top, more closely resemble a Western-style tie-around-the-waist apron, while maintaining the criss-cross back design of a Japanese apron. That means a bit less coverage in the shoulders, but a bit more mobility as a trade-off. It also boasts two sets of pockets up front, one vertical and another horizontal, leaving plenty of space to rest your hands and hold your gardening or kitchen tools.
Scoop Neck Chic
Another budget option, this smock from World Market features a scoop neck that some might prefer to the squared-off Amazon option, plus a slightly thicker all-cotton fabric that could provide some extra protection. The pockets on this model are front and center, like a kangaroo pouch, with ample space for a full set of measuring spoons, cell phone, and whatever else you like to keep on hand.