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Housekeeping Uniforms Through the Ages

Though the roles, social status and meaning of the term ‘housekeeping staff’ has changed over the past 150 years, there are still many similarities between the original intentions and purposes of the uniforms worn by housekeeping assistants.

Housekeeping attire has evolved from a strict code of petticoats and aprons to a modernized, more gender-equal range of clothing. However, despite the huge changes in the uniform’s appearance, there are many similarities between the vintage housekeeping uniform, and the corporate workwear we see today.

The attire of the Victorian housemaid was designed and dictated with practicality in mind. Easily-washable fabrics and dark colours were usually chosen to ensure that work which may result in the staining or dirtying of the clothing would not render the clothing ruined. The same is true for modern housekeeping uniforms, which are usually crafted from fabrics which can easily be machine-washed to prevent staining and cross-contamination, where applicable.

Many housekeeping uniforms throughout the years have incorporated pockets and loops to assist staff members in carrying important items and keeping their hands free for other tasks. This is especially important today, where housekeeping staff often need to carry identification, keys, pens and other items to assist in their duties.

In stately homes throughout the years, uniforms have differed depending on the role of the individual. With Victorian maids, nursery nurses and housekeepers each having a different code of attire to match their responsibilities and the demands of their job, for example. In modern housekeeping uniforms, the same is true. Various roles within businesses tend to have different styles of workwear to match the demands of the everyday tasks being performed within the role.

Having a different uniform for different roles is necessary due to both the differing demands of the roles and the feeling of belonging a staff member has when provided with recognised clothing for their role.

For centuries, the dress of a house’s staff showed the class, wealth and stature of the family. Whilst modern housekeeping uniforms do not have the same reasoning, a distinctive uniform, which matches the company’s branding will portray the organisation’s reputation and immediately correlate in the customer’s mind with a level of trust and loyalty, depending on the business’ image.

Research has shown that an easily-identifiable, branded uniform can boost the opinion of customers and have a direct effect on customer service feedback. This is mainly due to the uniforms making staff members easier to identify, which means that customers can access the help and information they require with ease. The easier customers find it to access information and receive the service they expect, the better their opinion of the business will be overall.

Uniforms show that an individual belongs with a group or organisation. Within the Victorian era, clothing displayed a lot of information about a person, such as their class, social standing, job role and potentially which family or house they worked in. In modern, corporate housekeeping uniforms, the branding and type of uniform shows an observer where the individual works and which role they perform in.

Alongside this, studies have shown that uniforms increase employee’s self-esteem, lead to better work performance and increase the team dynamic, giving each employee a feeling of belonging and strengthening the drive to work to support the team and business as a whole.

19th century maids’ attire was designed with a removable, wide apron as a top layer. This was so that any jobs which dirtied the clothing would not affect the individual’s ability to present properly in front of guests or when answering the door. If needed, the apron could be removed swiftly and the dress underneath would be pristine and ready to present.

The same practicality is shown in today’s housekeeping uniforms, with overcoats and uniforms being easy to remove and wash. This is not only very practical, but also helps within industries such as healthcare, where cross-contamination is a concern. Similarly, the uniforms of today can easily be removed and washed without affecting the everyday clothing owned by staff members. This saves the employees’ own money and shows that their employers respect their belongings and value their commitment to the job, which can increase performance, morale and customer service levels overall.

Evidently, even though housekeeping uniforms have changed a great deal in appearance, the attention to detail, functionality and practicality has not wavered over the centuries. Of course, with modern technology, staff uniforms have become easier to design, craft, maintain and wash, but a lot of the main considerations when choosing the style and design of housekeeping uniforms are deeply rooted in history.

Housekeeping uniforms of the past 150 years are highly comparable, where vintage uniforms show stature and class, modern uniforms show branding and reputation; whilst both have differing styles for different job roles and profession.