Household Staff Dress Code
Household staff are often very visible members of a domestic home. It is quite common therefore for either a formal (or less so) uniform or a dress code to be implemented amongst them. After all, they’ll be seen by and will interact with not only members of the principal family, but their guests, business associates and other visitors. Their appearance is therefore of paramount importance, as it speaks to the sense of style, organisation, social standing and affluence of the home and its owners. We’ve touched on this subject before, when we wrote about butlers’ uniforms, but it’s worthy of a wider look.
A staff uniform might have practical considerations too – perhaps protecting the wearer from the elements or products they come into contact with in the course of their daily work. If the staff members in question are engaged in physical work – for example cleaning, housekeeping or gardening – their clothes will need to be hardwearing, easily cleaned and comfortable enough that they can carry out their jobs unimpeded. Their uniforms might vary with the seasons too – for example, a gardener in Europe will want different clothes in summer and winter.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has brought PPE to the forefront of many people’s minds, and it has in some cases become a notable feature of staff attire even post-covid, most notably the use of masks and gloves when working in public areas of the residence.
Naturally, some principals and some homes are more formal than others, and this is often reflected in the sartorial requirements of the household staff. A more formal home would likely have a strict uniform policy, whereas a less formal one might prefer a simpler uniform, or opt for guidelines in the form of a dress code instead. It’s also true that different cultures around the world impose different standards – not just of style, but of modesty in line with religious or cultural requirements. The uniforms in homes in different countries or territories, or indeed belonging to principals of those regions, will therefore reflect these needs.
If cultural norms do not dictate a standard of dress, then it’s up to the household to decide upon the requirements. While the principals would of course dictate their wishes as to the level of formality they prefer, it will often fall to the household manager, estate manager or butler to interpret and flesh these out. Whether a formal uniform or a dress code is to be implemented, it’s important that the requirements are clearly set out from the start so that there’s no room for error, particularly in a more traditionally attired home.
A dress code is usually less strict than a uniform, and allows for members of staff to choose and wear their own clothes. Guidelines might be simple, for example asking staff to dress all in black, or simply to wear clean, ironed clothes suitable for their tasks, or there might be more restrictive covenants, for example on the style or brand of clothing. In some households, there might be a straightforward dress code on “normal” days, and a more formal uniform to be worn when special events or important visitors are afoot.
In addition to the clothes dictated by a dress code or uniform, guidelines or stricter rules can apply to accessories too. For example, stud earrings instead of dangly ones (which can be a practical consideration as well as aesthetic), no heavy makeup, suitable footwear and neatly trimmed nails of a natural colour.
Nannies and maternity nurses will often be found sporting scrubs-style garments, which are comfortable and easy to wash, hardwearing and practical. These might be washed in a special detergent to take into account children with sensitive skin.
Somewhat more formal than a dress code which relates simply to staff wearing their own clothes, a step up might involve everyday polo or long-sleeved shirts and blouses with a monogram, family crest or logo embroidered to give cohesion and a sense of brand loyalty. Other, more traditional, families might prefer to have a complete set of uniforms tailored to their exacting requirements, and dress either the most guest-facing members of staff (such as the butler and chauffer) to the nines, or indeed, do so for the entire household.