As any regular shopper at The Home Depot knows, distinguishing customers from employees is never an issue. The iconic orange apron worn by all associates (with a few exceptions) could not be harder to miss. And in fact, the apron has become so much a part of the company culture and identity that The Home Depot has named their employee-resources app “MyApron.” Their corporate website includes a series of employee profiles titled “Behind the Apron,” and associates are encouraged to personalize their orange aprons with hand-lettered names, badges, buttons and other bling, and even elaborate artwork. And they do. But there are rules, too.
The orange aprons are issued by The Home Depot, but they are carefully controlled by store managers. Associates generally are not allowed to bring the aprons home after their shift, not even for laundering. They may only be worn outside the facility if the associate is working and on the clock. When aprons become soiled or worn, they are turned over to managers for cleaning or disposal. The goal is to prevent the aprons from falling into the hands of non-employees who might use them as a masquerade to gain access to the store’s inventory.
The Home Depot credits their first treasurer and finance chief, Ron Brill, and co-founder, Bernie Marcus, with initiating the bright-orange apron tradition. The first versions included plain white, stitched employee names, but the company soon got rid of these in favor of asking the associates to write their own names on the aprons, and they encouraged them to be creative. Today, you can find evidence of this directive simply by walking through the store nearest you. Aprons adorned with hand-drawn gaming images are common, as are popular cartoon characters and graffiti-like embellishments. “Flair” can include company badges and pins, family photos and a few other limited items. Highly decorated aprons like the one in the photo below are meant for special events and not everyday wear, but on popular websites such as Pinterest you will find hundreds of creatively altered orange aprons displayed and even for sale.
The amount of effort an associate puts into customizing their apron often depends on the department in which they work. If you are assigned to patrol the parking lot or handle the inventory in the nursery/garden section, you’ll likely need to trade in your apron every few days. Spending a couple of hours customizing it won’t bring much return. Indoor aprons, however, can hold up for several months, so customers are more likely to see some examples of over-the-top creativity in the plumbing or paint department. Or, perhaps even on a politician! The Home Depot presented both Barack Obama and George W. Bush with their own customized orange aprons.