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What is a Lady's Maid?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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A lady's maid is a type of domestic servant who provides personal assistance to the lady of the household. She is comparable to a valet or gentleman's gentleman, and is considered of higher rank than most other domestic servants. This maid should not be confused with a lady's companion, a position for a more well-educated woman who entertains and accompanies her employer. A lady's companion is also a paid position, but she outranks a lady's maid and does not perform the same tasks that she does.

In the past, women of high social rank had elaborate wardrobes and hairstyles which required the services of a professional. A lady's maid initially managed her employer's wardrobe, keeping track of all the garments her employer owned and their condition. As part of this work, she would also undertake light mending, pressing, and other tasks designed to keep her employer's clothing in good condition. She would also assist her mistress with dressing, as many women's garments were quite complex, requiring the assistance of a second person to put them on.

In addition, a lady's maid would style her employer's hair and manage accessories such as jewelry, bags, and fans. She would have been responsible for knowing the location and condition of all of these items. The extensive knowledge of her employer's wardrobe meant that this maid typically packed for trips, and also accompanied her mistress to ensure that she was well turned out in her travels.

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A modern lady's maid does assist her mistress in dressing and getting ready for social events, but she also performs light housekeeping and picking up around her employer's rooms, along with serving light meals such as luncheon and breakfast. Meal service is only done within the rooms of her mistress, typically, although the maid may serve guests of her employer when she hosts intimate gatherings within her rooms. In addition, she usually helps her mistress with small points of social etiquette, and she may help her mistress keep track of names, faces, and appointments.

In recognition of her skills, a lady's maid earns the privilege of being called Miss Last Name, and she also commands a higher salary than many other domestic servants. In the modern era, this maid is more usually called by her first name, except in very traditional households. To work in this position, a women must have an excellent sense of fashion and decorum, along with a willingness to serve in a sometimes challenging position.

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indemnifyme
Post 14

I can understand why some rich women employed a lady's maid in the past. Women's clothing used to be much more complicated, and more complicated hairstyle's were popular also. However, these days, the average person can dress themselves and do their own hair.

Even if your clothes are extremely fashionable, you would probably be able to put them on yourself. And most people can do their hair and makeup for every day events, even if they are wealthy and expected to look impeccable.

SZapper
Post 13

@Monika - That sounds like a good comparison. However, I think some people might still have lady's maids these days. I don't exactly rub elbows with the upper classes, but I know some rich people do have a household staff, so there's no reason why some of them might not have a lady's maid.

Anyway, I find it interesting that being a lady's maid isn't exactly a high-class position, but the lady's maid does need to know about all the latest fashions. I imagine that a lady's maid might be better informed than her employers about some thing like that!

Monika
Post 12
It sounds like the modern equivalent of a lady's maid might be the makeup artists, hairstylists, and personal assistants employed by celebrities these days.

Having a lady's maid and huge household staff isn't the normal thing for most people these days (even people of high social standing) but from what I understand, celebrities have a ton of people to help them pull their look together all the time.

Obviously there are some differences between people employed in these positions and a lady's maid. I imagine most makeup artists and hairstylists go home in the evening. However, I think some of them do travel with their employers.

bagley79
Post 11

@Mykol - I think I could give up a little bit of privacy for all the other benefits a lady's maid would give. It is fun to imagine what it would be like to have a maid to help you not only with household chores, but with your wardrobe and hair.

Keeping track of all my appointments would also be a big plus. I have never personally known anyone who has had this kind of maid service.

I know a few people who hire part time maid services, but this is mostly for coming in and cleaning their house at least once a week.

I did this for a family when I was in college every Friday afternoon. I always thought how nice it would be to come home from a long week of work to a house that had been thoroughly cleaned and put in order.

andee
Post 10

When I was in college I did some babysitting for a family who owned a large chain of hardware stores. The lady of the house had a service maid that had been working for her for many years.

The maid was responsible for keeping the house clean, fixing some of the meals and watching the children from time to time. The girls really cared for their maid, and saw her as part of their family.

She did not live with them, but went home to her own place in the evening. This was the first time I had seen a family who was able to afford a maid like this.

She was treated very well, and I know she enjoyed her job and was thankful to be working for a family who really did appreciate her and how hard she worked.

Mykol
Post 9

I have often wondered what it would be like to hire a maid. I think in most situations today, the duties of a maid are a little different than they were in the past.

Either way, it would certainly be nice to have some extra help. There is one thing that might have bothered me, and that is the idea of how little privacy you would have had.

Even though I think I would love someone to come in my home and do some cleaning and serve some meals, I often wonder if I would feel like my privacy was being somehow invaded.

A lady's maid really spent a lot of time in close proximity with the lady of the house. When I am able to be at home, I like to relax without thinking about someone else being in and out of my room.

julies
Post 8

There are many times when I wish I had a lady's maid. Keeping up with everything I need to do can be overwhelming at times, and I think it would ease a lot of stress by having someone take of some of the mundane details like that.

If I could have some help with cooking and light housework, I imagine my days would go much smoother. I don't really spend much time thinking about it because I know it will never happen, but sometimes it is fun to imagine how it could be.

OeKc05
Post 7

@Perdido - I think that the cooking was taken care of by the chef and the kitchen maid. Sometimes, the kitchen maid would be the one to serve the food, instead of the lady’s maid.

I once read about the life of a kitchen maid. She would have to get up early in the morning to do breakfast, and though she would get time off between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, she would have to work until after 9 p.m. That just sounds excessive.

In modern times, a kitchen maid might not have quite such long hours. However, a lady’s maid would have it much easier than someone who has to slave away in the kitchen all day.

Perdido
Post 6

This sounds like a type of maid employment that might not be quite as bad as the regular kind. I doubt a lady’s maid would have to spend her time scrubbing toilets.

I worked as a maid at a hotel for about a year, and it was no fun at all. I had to clean up utterly disgusting messes left behind by juveniles, and I was so relieved when I left that job.

I wouldn’t mind being a lady’s maid, though. I like picking out clothing and doing hair. I wouldn’t mind serving her food, as long as I didn’t have to be the one to cook it.

Does anyone know if lady’s maids are expected to cook the food that they serve? I would think that would be the job of the kitchen staff, and perhaps the maid would just bring it out to her.

wavy58
Post 5

Being a lady’s maid sounds like a high profile position. After all, you would gain access to areas that you probably never would have found yourself in otherwise.

However, I would imagine that someone wealthy enough to hire a lady’s maid might be a little hard to please. It would be very difficult to work for someone who is always bossing you around and even berates you at times.

I could not work in a position where I would not be appreciated. I cannot tolerate being talked down to, and that seems like what might happen to a lady’s maid.

ElizaBennett
Post 4

You can also get a good idea of what a lady's maid's job duties were like and her position in the household from the TV show Downton Abbey. O'Brien (actually usually just called by her last name alone) is the lady's maid for Lady Crawley.

She outranks the other maids, who are called by their first names, but does not have as much authority as Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper (who is actually not married, but apparently housekeepers and cooks were always called "Mrs.).

An interesting angle is that a lady's maid was considered a "lady," even though she was not born one. For a girl born into the serving classes, it was really quite a boost.

serenesurface
Post 3

@turquoise-- If you are interested in learning more about what lady's maids used to do, I recommend that you read the memoir by Rosina Harrison. She was a lady's maid her whole life and describes what her duties were.

I've read it and I learned a lot about what different types of maids and other domestic help were required to do. The position of a lady's maid is actually the best position to have for a maid. They had much less work to do than the rest of the maids and domestic help. And depending on their relationship with their lady, they had additional perks and of course a higher salary.

Many lady's maids were also confidants for their ladies and the best lady's maid is said to be one who kept secrets and spoke little. I don't think being a lady's maid was bad at all!

turquoise
Post 2

I wish I had lived in a time of aristocracy where I had my own personal maid. I find it absolutely fascinating the way that people of high hierarchy lived and dressed in past centuries. I'm sure that working as a lady's maid was not all that fun, but having a lady's maid at your service all the time must have been a wonderful thing.

I can't even imagine having someone to help me dress in the morning, tidy my room and go to places with me, attending to all my needs. There are house maids available that come to the house once a week or more for cleaning, but that's something completely different.

I don't know if

I would be able to maintain the needed distance with my lady's maid if I had one though. I think I would be over-friendly and completely spoil my maid since I'm not used to having one. After all, lady's maids are employees and they get paid for what they do.
candyquilt
Post 1

I've never seen a lady's maid in real life, I've only seen them in period films which portray life in early America or Britain. In these films, they often show lady's maids helping their lady to put on dresses. These dresses usually have a corset and very large, voluminous skirts. And the lady's maid helps by tightening the corset's ties to prevent it from falling off and to help the lady get out of it at the end of the night.

I think the closest thing I've seen to a lady's maid in today's television is in the TV serial Gossip Girl. In this show, Blair Waldorf has a maid who is practically her right hand when it comes

to everyday affairs. Blair calls her maid of Polish origin by her name, Dorota.

I'm not sure if Dorota would be considered a lady's maid in the traditional sense. She is definitely responsible for things like wardrobe, breakfast, tidying-up and the like. But she is also very involved with Blair's personal life and sometimes advises Blair like a mother figure. She might be a combination of a lady's maid and a lady's companion.

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