A Tip for Spring Cleaning – The Servant’s Directory, Improved, 1762


For those of you who are scrubbing floors this weekend and taking down cobwebs from those hard to reach places, a morsel of knowledge from Hannah Glasse’s The Servants Directory, Improved, 1762:


The House-Maid.

Be up very early in a morning, as indeed you are first wanted; lace on your stays, and pin your things very tight about you, or you never can do work well. Be sure always to have very clean feet, that you may not dirty your rooms, and learn to walk softly, that you may not disturb the family. (p. 11)



Lacing on a reproduction pair of 18th century stays.

As a costume historian, I find this passage revealing about the dress of working class women working in English households. It notes the possible tendency towards slovenliness on the part of the house-maid early in the morning. Her first duty was to clean the hearths and lay the fires, which was not a very clean job. But it also indicates that servant women were more likely to own and wear stays than not. It does not entreat the servant to procure stays, but assumes she already has stays and maybe she leaves them off for her early chores.

So, as you go about your spring cleaning men and women, be sure to dress properly. What, you don’t own stays?

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.