Charles Dickens is a famous English writer, he is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Most well-educated people have read his novels, but have you ever wondered how his characters looked like? What did they wear? How did they tend to their bodies and clothing? Let’s have a look at the day-to-day attire of a maidservant from 1853 and find out her usual dressing routine.
A washable cotton chemise was worn next to the skin. It had short sleeves and helped protect the outer garments from perspiration.
Warm wool stockings were vital in winter. Garter ribbons held them in place beneath the knee, and the stockings were often folded down to make them extra secure when active or working.
Open-leg drawers consisted of two separate legs attached to a waistband. In order to use the lavatory, petticoats would be gathered up and the drawers drawn out of the way.
Sturdy, flat-heeled, leather ankle boots were perfect for hard-working women.
The front-fastening busk was invented in 1848 and proved so successful that, after 1850, virtually all corsets were made with it. A servant or lady could now dress unaided.
The metal eyelets, through which the lacing at the back was threaded, allowed the wearer to pull the lacing tight, creating the perfect fit.
Many petticoats were worn to create a fashionable silhouette. Sometimes up to 6 – far too many for a maid to afford, but 2 petticoats with tucks at the hem created a pretty form and enough layers for colder weather.
Petticoats could be made from cotton, linen, or wool and would be encouraged to sit just below the waist.
A simple front-fastening gown of subdued color and cotton or wool fabric was practical and tidy attire for a maid. The bodice – and often sleeves too – were lined with cotton.
To keep the waist small and trim, the bulk of fabric from the skirts was pleated or cartridge pleated and then sewn unto the completed bodice. Tucks at the hem preserved fabric within the garment for later alterations in length and style.
A pocket is concealed within the folds of the skirt.
A white cotton apron and cap were worn for cooking, and a more serviceable apron worn for messier work.
All varieties of hand-knitted gloves and mitts were worn, but fingerless ones were practical for working women.
A stout woolen shawl was as much protection as a maidservant could afford.
And a simple bonnet, which had to serve her all seasons, would cover her hair.