Aprons are an important part of any bartender’s uniform.
From protecting clothing from stains and spills to giving bartenders the ability to quickly store and carry those much-needed bar tools throughout a shift — bartender aprons can make life behind the bar a whole lot easier…
But in today’s world, the cocktail apron is much more than just a piece of attire or utility…
It’s a business card.
Aprons are worn with pride and allow bartenders to show off their personality and style. Plus, a quality bartender’s apron can immediately show off a sense of craftsmanship and professionalism from the eyes of the customer.
But in a world where there are so many different style options, brands, and trends, it can often feel overwhelming for those in need of one. Furthermore, it’s difficult to differentiate the good from the bad.
That’s why, in this guide, we’re going to take a closer look at the entire suite of bartender aprons available to figure out really, what do bartenders wear. We’ll discuss what to look for in a quality cocktail apron, show off all the different styles with pros and cons, where to purchase one, and even hear what some of the experts in the industry have to say.
So whether you’re just starting out in the bartending industry or you’re looking for an upgrade, keep reading for some inspiration!
Table of Contents:
- Do Bartenders Wear Aprons?
- Tips From The Experts: What To Look For In An Apron
- Exploring The Different Types of Aprons (With Pros & Cons)
- Keeping Up With The Trends: What’s Trending in 2022 and Beyond
- Last Minute Purchasing Tips
- Best Places To Buy A Bartending Apron
Do Bartenders Wear Aprons?
While not all bar managers require their employees to wear aprons, the short answer is yes, similar to servers and line cooks, most bartenders do indeed wear aprons.
Bartenders choose to wear aprons for many reasons.
The most obvious reason is to protect their clothes from stains and spills as bartenders come into contact with all sorts of liquids, including alcohol, soda, juice, and coffee. Aprons help to keep these fluids from damaging the fabric of your shirt or pants.
Aprons can also help to keep you clean. In busy bars, it’s not uncommon for bartenders to come into contact with food scraps, cigarette butts, and other unsavory items. Aprons help to keep these things off your clothes and skin.
Aprons can also help bartenders stay organized. For bartenders who must carry several different tools such as bottle openers, pens, spoons, strainers, etc. at once, aprons provide ample storage space for these items so you don’t have to worry about misplacing items, or dropping them while crafting different drinks.
Finally, aprons can also be a great way to show off your personality and style. There are tons of different designs, fabrics, and styles to choose from, many of which we’ll cover below.
But first, let’s explore what makes a bartender’s apron actually good.
Note: Instead of riffing off the standard bartending apron features you can easily find online, we wanted to dive a little deeper and gain insight from the pros.
The following sections feature advice from two of the most successful bartending apron designers in the industry — Fred Rodrigues, Founder of Under NY Sky, and Will Fosdick, Founder of Search & Rescue Denim Co.
What To Look For In A Bartending Apron
Dedicated apron manufacturers and online retailers have different styles, fabrics, linings, and even different angles of the pockets. But not all boast the right features and overall quality.
Here are a few bar apron features that distinguish the good from the bad.
Fabric & Durability
Generally speaking, the sturdier and more durable the cocktail apron fabric is, the better longevity it will have.
Now, most bartenders need an apron that can handle spills on a daily basis. But your choice of fabric will ultimately depend on how often you plan on washing the apron.
Will Fosdick, Founder of Search &Rescue Denim Co. says “The one feature I always try to steer bartenders away from (and this goes for all food service workers) is waxed canvas or denim. The waxed denim look has been really popular, and though it does add some additional waterproofing to the apron, having the waxed fabric means that you can never properly wash the apron as it will typically strip the wax out of the apron. There’s nothing worse than a beer-soaked apron that can never be washed.”
Thus, for bartenders that think they will repeatedly wash their apron, we suggest cotton blended materials such as twill or cotton canvas. Unlike plain cotton, twill and canvas cotton are weaved differently which makes the material more sturdy and durable. By blending cotton with synthetic fibers or complex weaves, these fabrics are more likely to be water-resistant and are still designed for repeated washing. Furthermore, the fabrics’ medium-to-light weight ensures comfort (more breathable) without compromising the apron’s durability in any way.
Conversely, for bartenders who don’t plan on washing their aprons often, wax-coated fabrics such as canvas, denim, or leather are fantastic when it comes to durability.
Fred Rodrigues, Founder of NY Sky says that “choosing an apron with a fabric that you can just wipe off liquids and doesn’t need daily wash is highly recommended. This is why we have our leather apron which is coated giving it water-resistance protection and we also have many other coated aprons in a lighter twill fabric that can offer the same protection.”
To sum it up, if you plan on washing your cocktail apron often, twill or cotton canvas is the way to go. For bartenders who don’t need to wash their aprons often, wax-covered canvas, denim, or leather are all great options that also boast durability.
Double-stitched utility pockets and thick top and bottom hems are also durable features to look for to help further prevent holes and tears.
Look for an apron with various pockets and loops to hold the bartending tools you carry during your shift. While pockets seem like an obvious feature, the size of each pocket is often overlooked. Pocket size preferences, however, will greatly depend on what specific tools you carry on the job. Do you carry an iPad for easy back-of-house ordering? Do you often use your phone? Do you carry larger barkeeping tools such as strainers and lengthy bar spoons at all times? If so, look for pocket sizes that fit your needs.
Apron loops, oftentimes located near the hips, provide great utility for holding polishing rags, standard bar rags, tongs, and so forth.
Fosdick says that “having the addition of a towel loop is extremely useful, as I always hated stuffing a bar towel in my back pocket, or through the back of my belt.” He added that “having a towel loop on the hip of the apron makes it more convenient, and just cleaner and drier overall.”
Fit & Comfort
Aprons come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s important to find one that fits well. The waist (and shoulder for cross-back aprons) straps should be adjustable so you can get a good fit for your body type.
Bartenders should also consider what material the apron is made out of and the type of environment they craft drinks in. Some materials such as wax-coated canvas, denim, or leather are heavier and may make it easier to sweat, which could quickly lead to an uncomfortable shift while working outside or in a crowded bar space.
The color of your apron is perhaps one of the most overlooked features for beginning bartenders.
“It is pretty difficult for a bartender to spend the whole shift without spilling or splattering over his outfit,” says Rodrigues. “So choosing a light color fabric is most certainly not recommended since the professional is risking having an apparent stain on the apron and, depending on the stain, it might make the apron look like a butcher’s apron.“
No matter what kind of person you are, an apron’s style will help bring out your personality and craftsmanship. Whether you purchase an apron for work, or just for the kitchen at home, there is something special about wearing apparel that identifies you as a master of your craft.
A custom-made bartender apron design with details based around color, fabric, design, and more will show off your personality in a big way. What’s better is that custom-made aprons are typically truly unique as no two people have identical tastes when choosing their own personal fashion statement.
Exploring The Different Types Of Bartending Aprons (With Pros and Cons)
There are two main types of bartending aprons: traditional bartender aprons and cross-back bartender aprons.
Traditional vs. Cross-back
Traditional bartenders’ aprons feature one long strap that goes over the neck, similar to a bib or collar on your shirt.
Cross-back (or, cross-body) bartending aprons have two shoulder straps that are worn across the chest, similar to backpacks or bandoliers.
While traditional bartenders’ aprons have been around for decades, cross-back bartending aprons (more details here) are an increasingly popular option for bartenders today.
There is no right answer to which type of bartending apron you should choose as both types provide many bartending bartenders with a functional bartending experience.
What Do Bartenders Wear? Apron Styles, Designs, And Fabrics
As shown below, bartending aprons come in all different shapes, sizes, and fabrics.
Basic Bib Aprons
There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple. The majority of aprons found online rock the basic traditional look — no flashy colors, stitchings, distinct fabrics, and various pockets. While there are downsides to basic bib cotton aprons, this style is great for bartenders who are just starting out in the field and want to keep their costs down.
- Pros: Affordable, good for repeated washing
- Cons: Lacks durability, lack of utility/pockets, not water-resistant, easy to stain, lacks style and personalization
Twill & Canvas Bartender Aprons
Twill and canvas (also called cotton canvas) are cotton fabrics with a unique weave construction that makes the material more durable. While we don’t want to bore you with the discussion of different synthetic weaves, we do want to highlight the big advantages these twill and canvas cotton has over plain cotton.
Twill and canvas bartender aprons typically offer the best of both worlds. Similar to basic bib aprons, the material is light-to-medium weight, making them comfortable to wear. But unlike basic bib aprons, these versatile aprons are more durable. Both twill and canvas don’t allow for much water or other liquids to bleed through the apron and dampen your clothing worn underneath. Furthermore, twill and canvas aprons can be repeatedly washed.
- Pros: higher quality fabric, durable, comfortable, can repeatedly wash, light-to-medium weight
- Cons: Not many cons here! But if we had to choose one, we do find it difficult to quickly brush off grime and oils without going through the wash first
Coated aprons are those that have a vinyl, polish, or coating surrounding the base fabric. For bartenders, the most popular coated apron of choice is waxed canvas or coated leather. Coated aprons are typically resistant to oils, chemicals, grease, and, of course, different types of liquids.
- Pros: water-resistant, stain-resistant, easy to wipe off and spot-clean
- Cons: repeated washing can often damage the coating
Leather Bartender Aprons
Leather aprons are increasingly getting more popular for bartenders thanks to their durability, style, and professional look and feel. The downside to leather aprons is that the material may weigh you down and can sometimes feel clunky. This makes leather aprons a poor choice if you bartend in warmer temperatures or crowded, heat-induced areas. Furthermore, leather aprons are difficult to wash. Otherwise, leather aprons are suitable for just about every occasion.
- Pros: professional look and unique style, easy to wipe off and spot-clean
- Cons: less breathable, heavy-weight, often more expensive, not a good option in warmer environments, not best for repeated washing (no leather should be washed, ever), will absorb the water immediately and get damaged soon after unless leather is coated
Similar to leather, denim aprons are durable, clean-cut, and are suitable in most bar venues. The downsides are the same — denim aprons are sometimes thicker, less breathable, and can feel a bit clunky on the body. Unlike leather aprons, however, denim, just like your Levi jeans at home, can be washed repeatedly.
- Pros: durable, long-lasting, good for repeated washing
- Cons: less breathable, medium to heavyweight, depending on weight denim may not be a good option in warmer environments
Vintage Cocktail Aprons
The classic, vintage, look never goes out of style. Depending on where you work and the types of cocktails you serve, a vintage cocktail uniform/attire may be the perfect match for the venue you bartend in. It’s up to you if you want to wear an actual vintage apron or wear exactly what the old-school cocktail connoisseurs wore in the prohibition era. (Hint: Most didn’t even wear aprons! They wore suits and vests with ties!)
- Pros: Unique style and look, classy, can show off cocktail professionalism
- Cons: Difficult to find online, comfortability, probably not ideal for repeated washing
Half & Short Bartender Aprons
Waist aprons, otherwise known as half aprons, do not protect your shirt from stains and spills as they are only worn below the waist. However, these are more lightweight and give bartenders the ability to show off more of their uniform or outfit while still giving you the convenience of some pockets.
Short bartender aprons, on the other hand, are designed just like a traditional apron. The only difference, of course, is that the length on the apron is shorter. The length of these aprons typically falls anywhere between the knee caps and the upper thigh.
Half and short aprons are perfect for the casual bartender in relaxed venues that don’t require the constant strain of mixing drinks. Half and short aprons are also a popular choice for baristas, hosts, and servers.
- Pros: lightweight, extremely breathable, affordable
- Cons: does not protect your shirt from stains and spills, lack of utility/pockets
Utility aprons are typically heavy-weight, double-stitched, and typically boast a variety of pockets, making them a great choice for bartenders who tend to carry a lot of their bar tools with them at all times. From bartenders and chefs to hairstylists and potters, utility aprons can be used for just about every job that needs one.
- Pros: Extremely durable, provides ample storage space
- Cons: Can often be too thick or can potentially have too many unnecessary pockets
Split-leg aprons are mainly designed for welders, potters, or hairstylists. But that’s not to say bartenders can’t wear them either! The split-leg design, often with extra straps for each leg, offers optimal protection from stains and spills from the chest, all the way down to the toe.
- Pros: optimal chest-to-toe protection
- Cons: added pant-length and protection may not be suitable for bartenders, more difficult to put on or take off easily with extra leg straps
The Hipster Apron
While there’s no real definition of a hipster apron, we like to classify hipster aprons as those with a range of styles, patterns, colors, and designs. Most “hipster” aprons these days come with a cross-back fit, and a combination of industrial designs and fabrics such as leather, canvas, and denim.
- Pros: can show off style and personality, clean and industrial look and feel, unique
- Cons: may be more expensive, might come across as too fancy or pretentious depending on the bartending venue
Custom aprons are all about personalization. Custom apron websites, such as Search & Rescue Denim Co. and Under NY Sky, allow bartenders to build their own apron from scratch by offering all kinds of custom features such as logos, embroidery, stitchings, pocket-size and location, fabrics, design, length, and interchangeable straps, loops, and hooks.
These can often show off a ton of personality and are the complete opposite of a basic apron. They have unique features and designs, and you’ll rarely come across another one like it 🙂
- Pros: extremely unique, allows for custom branding, it’s fun to build your own
- Cons: the extra customization comes with an additional cost
In this article:
Bartending Apron Trends In 2022… And Beyond
In regards to what’s trendy, we wanted to get expert, boots-on-ground industry insight. Without further ado, here’s what the pros had to say.
(Too Long, Didn’t Read? Skip to the bottom to get a quick summary of the trends)
Q: What seems to be the most popular choice for bartenders today in terms of fit (traditional vs. cross-back), fabric, design, or overall style?
A: “Our most popular style of apron would be our medium-weight 100% cotton canvas aprons. They are breathable, protective, durable and can easily be customized and branded. Like the little black dress, we sell a ton of our black canvas bartenders apon, with black leather cross-back straps. Most of our clientele are working professionals, so business logos and branding is often a common addition to the apron.” — Will Fosdick, Founder of Search & Rescue Denim Co.
A: “The popular choice for sure is the cross-back. The traditional bib style with the over-the-neck strap is comfortable and easy to put on and take off, but it takes a toll on the neck after some time wearing it. While the cross-back requires a minute more to put on and adjust it is way more comfortable when you work long hours.” — Fred Rodrigues, Founder of Under NY Sky
Q: Have you noticed any new bartender apron trends and/or designs? For example, what apron styles are going to be trendy over the next few years?
A: “I think that we will continue to move beyond the “leather and denim” original (hipster) apron style, and into a more contemporary, minimalist and sleek aesthetic. We want our aprons to compliment our client’s style whether they’re working fine dining, a high-volume nightclub, or casual pub. Our aprons will always be guided by feedback from our customers, but I think we will continue to move toward a more modern, fashion inspired design. That being said, we’ll always have clients that go with a full-out custom, leather, holographic, embroidered, over-the-top awesome apron that perfectly represents their personality!” — Will Fosdick, Founder of Search & Rescue Denim Co.
A: “I’m always on the lookout for new possibilities, but usually, we get ideas from conversations with our customers. And I have not noticed something very different from what we have in the market. I believe the bartender apron has a lot of room to evolve, but the market needs to grow first so it justifies more investment in research and development.” — Fred Rodrigues, Founder of Under NY Sky
Bartender Apron Trends For 2022:
- Cross-back over the traditional bib fit, especially if you are working long hours and prefer comfortability. Going with a cross-back design takes the weight of the apron off your neck, and puts it onto the shoulders, which is far more comfortable when you’re wearing an apron for an entire shift.
- Canvas cotton fabrics due to breathability, durability, and protection
Bartender Apron Trends Going Forward:
- A move beyond the industrial/hipster “leather and denim” look, and into a more contemporary, minimalist, and sleek aesthetic.
Bartender FAQ on Aprons
Q: What are the common differences between a higher-priced apron compared to a lower-priced affordable apron?
There are a few factors that can generally make your bartending apron purchase more expensive.
- The type of fabric(s)
- Source of production
The first two, fabrics and customization, are relatively easy to understand. A higher quality fabric such as leather, or canvas will generally increase the purchase price. The same goes for customization. The more custom you make your bartender apron (i.e. branding, logos, etc.), the more it will cost.
What’s not so obvious, however, is where your apron was manufactured. An apron manufactured in the U.S. will typically be at least 2 to 3 times more expensive than the ones coming from China.
Generally speaking, the extremely popular (lower-priced; most reviewed) options found on Amazon are manufactured overseas. While these aprons may be cheaper, buyers may have more risk of purchasing lower-grade materials that lack durability.
To sum it up, if the apron you want to buy is more expensive than most, chances are it’s because the materials are sourced from a more reputable and domestic manufacturer.
Q: Do Apron producers provide warranties in case of damages, tears, and defects?
Yes. For those who are willing to make a bigger up-front investment for an apron, many domestic apron manufacturers offer a one-year warranty against defects. Some even offer free lifetime repairs! If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to ask by sending the retailer an email.
Q: Is there a difference between men’s and women’s aprons?
Yes, there is a difference between men’s and women’s aprons… but it depends on the manufacturer. While most manufacturers have unisex designs that are built for both men and women, some manufacturers and online stores do indeed have apron departments for both men and women. Women aprons typically differ from mens by having slimmer side panels and tapered waists. Aprons designed specifically for women also appear to be more stylish with different decorations, brighter colors, and an array of patterns.
From past experiences, we’ve noticed that women can definitely wear aprons designed for men, but men typically don’t wear aprons designed for women.
Q: Do you have any apron recommendations for plus-sized bartenders?
For heavier-set bartenders, we recommend going with lighter fabrics such as cotton canvas, twill, or denim. Unlike leather, the lighter materials are more breathable and will prevent busy bartenders from overheating or sweating. If you do sweat through a lot of your aprons, just make sure you get a non-waxed fabric that you can repeatedly wash. As far as fit, we suggest getting a cross-back instead of a traditional (around the neck) apron to promote better posture. Pro tip: avoid wrapping any apron waist ties or buckles in the front. Instead, wrap it around the back for a more comfortable experience.
Where To Buy Bartending Aprons
In no particular order, we’ve listed a batch of reputable retailers that sell the highest-quality aprons.
- Search & Rescue Denim & Co.
- Under NY Sky
- Hedley & Bennett
- Hudson Durable Goods
- Blue Cut Aprons
- Chef Works
- Apron Warehouse
- Stagger Lee Goods
- Fancy Gents
- Lucio Tailoring Co
- Arawak Brave
- L.C. King
- Medium Rare
- Knife & Flag
Putting It All Together: What Do Bartenders Wear?
We are living in a world where building a personal brand can be a game-changer for the trajectory of a hospitality career.
If we can help people build their brands — with something as simple as a cool or custom apron — we think that’s awesome.
Again, an apron essentially works as a business card these days. So keep it nice and clean and be proud of wearing it.
Furthermore, choose one that goes with your style, try something new, see if it works for you and, if not, try something different. But keep trying.
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