Plain, functional full aprons were de rigueur in the 30's, 40's and 50's for housewives. Before the days of washing machines, women found it a lot easier to hand wash just an apron instead of their whole dress.
The aprons were usually white - and would be reversed when they got soiled and only washed when both sides were dirty.
~image courtesy Catholic Home and Garden~
My great grandmother was born in the late 1800's and lived to be almost 100 years old. I don't think she wore a pair of pants a day in her life; not to butcher chickens, or chase off rabid raccoons, or split wood, or even to milk her goats. I can't picture her in anything but a cotton dress with an apron over it.
By the 1960's, women were going into the workforce and not staying home all day anymore carrying eggs from the barn, collecting apples for a pie or wiping their hands after working in the garden or washing dishes, so full aprons sort of lost some of their appeal, but the half apron emerged around that time - more as a 'hostess' apron than anything.
Aprons actually originated with bakers and butchers, mostly men, centuries earlier. Again, to protect clothing, full aprons were worn in industry. Purely functional, through history aprons have played a key role in the working wardrobes of both men and women. But they haven't generally been thought of as a fashion statement.