Friday, April 12, 2013

Thrifty Acres: At Your Service

Hello! Did you ever fantasize about what it would be like to have a staff of household servants at your disposal? Someone to prepare all your meals, to do all your cleaning, to drive you around, to do all the repairs around the place - sounds pretty good! 

I don't know what it's like to have such a staff on hand, but I do know what it was like to have household servants - or, should I say, the ideal servants - in 1930, thanks to this book:

I got this on Monday at the local college library's used book sale, but haven't had a chance to read it all the way through yet. However, I did note that the foreward wastes no time in extolling the wonders of "domestic service" while at the same time decrying those who are more satisfied with factory or retail shop work. "An ignorant, ill-educated girl, living in the most unpleasant surroundings, worn down by the hard hours of shop work, may be fool enough to plume herself upon not being a housemaid, - well-fed, cared for, better paid, and of far better mentality." Ouch! You tell 'em, Vogue! 

So it sounds like a no-brainer, right? Everyone should aspire to a household staff position! But on the very next page begins the chapter "Demeanor And Character"; many do's and don'ts are discussed, like the "smart way" to open a door for visitors. Then there's the reminder for the servant to rise and stand when the master, mistress or other family member enters the room. Ha! That servant probably needed to rest his or her feet more than their employers ever did. Numerous rules about serving meals were also commented on in this chapter, including comportment during parties. Naturally the servant is to remain quiet, attentive, pleasant and polite at all times. 

Whew! I would have had a hard time being so meek and obedient, but what do I know? Anyway,"Demeanor And Character" is followed by several chapters, each describing a particular servant's position and what it entails. 

The butler is mentioned first. I found the daily routine list fascinating; here's a list for Monday: Wakes Master (say 7:30). Takes away clothes for pressing and shoes for cleaning. Prepares trays for breakfast or sets breakfast table. Presses clothes - cleans Dining Room. Serves lunch. Makes Sandwiches and prepares Tea-tray (I liked that one; the thought of a butler bringing me a Tea-tray sounds very nice!). Lays Dinner-table. Lays out Master's clothes. Serves apertifs and appetizers (another nice touch!). Serves dinner. Off-duty after dinner say 8:30 alternating day with parlour-maid. 

On other days, the butler is supposed to clean silver and knives and do paintwork. There are actually four days listed during which silver was supposed to be cleaned. Silver cleaning was obviously a very important task; the last chapter of this book is devoted solely to this job. 

The book has specific ideas on how each servant is supposed to be dressed for the job:

The waitress, in her "cool grey dress of crepe de Chine", which is from the Shop of B. Altman and Company.

The caption reads: "The parlour-maid, in neat crepe de Chine, waits at the door for a slow guest. Her expression testifies to her perfect propriety of conduct, as well as costume; maids' clothes and accessories from Saks-Fifth Avenue."

Well, yeah, it wouldn't do to have the parlour-maid at the door, screeching at that slow guest: "Will you hurry it up! It's ten below out here!" 

Caption: "Here the butler is dressed correctly for the afternoon. He is checking off his list the names of those who have accepted, at the telephone, for dinner." 

"This chaffeur's undress clothes, not for real overhauling of motors, but for the usual, inevitable tinkering, looking exceedingly trim and serviceable." Yes indeed!

"The nurse shown in this sketch is in the warm double cape and very good-looking felt hat that Madame Joseph recommends for wear in ordinary cold weather". Reminds me a bit of Mary Poppins!

Hmmm - B. Altman, Saks-Fifth Avenue, very good-looking felt hats, that nattily-dressed butler and trim chaffeur - these servants dressed better than I do today! But of course they did - they have several pages of rules of what to wear - and of course, what NOT to wear: "No butler ever wears livery. A man in livery is a footman. This never changes". 

Sorry, Vogue, a LOT has changed, especially this way of thinking: "The old-fashioned motherly "mammy" with her apron, kerchief and bright bandana is a delightful figure and would never be out of any picture. She has her eternal place". Oh really? Even the Aunt Jemima pancake box doesn't have the "mammy" look going for it anymore!

I've just scratched the surface of this book, but I will show one last photo:

"For tea, toast, fruit and scrambled egg, or some such light dish, this tray has been prepared". Ah yes - breakfast in bed! Much has changed since Vogue's Book Of Smart Service was published, but to my way of thinking, breakfast in bed will always be a good idea!

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