Duties of Valet

The valet's duty is to wait upon his master. In the morning he attends to the lighting of the fire and warming of his master's bedroom. He then cleans his boots and shoes, and brushes his clothing, which he arranges on a table or chair. He prepares the master's bath, and if it is wished, hands garments to him as he dresses. He is sometimes expected to shave his master. Later he puts the dressing room in order, brushes clothes before putting them away, cleans combs and brushes, and is at his master's orders whenever required.

Valeting is often done by the butler and footmen or second men. The latter take turns in valeting guests.

There should be a room set aside for the valet in which to press, brush, and care for his master's clothes. If a specific room for this use is impossible, he must do the best he can in the laundry or the front basement.

Mrs. Seely's Cook Book & Manual on Domestic Servants, By Mrs. L. Seely, 1902

The Valet

Attendants on the person. The valet and waiting-maid are placed near the persons of the master and mistress, receiving orders only from them, dressing them, accompanying them in all their journeys, the confidants and agents of their most unguarded moments, of their most secret habits. All that can be expected from such servants is polite manners, modest demeanour, and a respectful reserve, which are indispensable.

His and the lady's-maid's day commences by seeing that their employer's dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before the master or mistress is expected, they will do well to throw up the sash to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to recover the temperature which they know is preferred. It is their duty to air the body linen before the fire; to lay out the clothes intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned. All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use. A valet often accompanies his master when shooting, when he would carry the extra gun and load for him.
Mrs. Beeton's Household Management, 1861, 1907

A valet should be prepared to shave his master if required; and he should, besides, be a good hairdresser. Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the style preferred. Every fortnight, or three weeks at the utmost, the hair should be cut, and the whiskers trimmed as often as required. A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; the body linen, necktie, which he will put on, if required, and afterwards, waistcoat, coat and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished. Having thus seen his master dressed, if he is about to go out, the valet will hand him his cane, gloves and hat, the latter well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handkerchief, respectfully attend him to the door, open it for him, and receive his last orders for the day. He now proceeds to put everything in order in the dressing-room, cleans the combs and brushes, and brushes and folds up any clothes that may be left about the room, and puts them away in the drawers.

is one of the most important parts of the lady's-maid's office. Lessons in hairdressing may be obtained, and at not an unreasonable charge, and a lady's-maid should initiate herself in the mysteries of hairdressing before entering on her duties. If a mistress finds her maid handy, and willing to learn, she will not mind the expense of a few lessons, which are almost necessary, as the fashion and mode of dressing the hair is continually changing. Brushes and combs should be kept scrupulously clean, by washing them about twice a week; to do this oftener spoils the brushes, as very frequent washing makes them so very soft.

Care of Linen.
On its return from the wash, it is very necessary to examine every piece separately, so that all missing buttons be supplied, and only articles properly washed and in perfect repair passed into the wardrobe.

The Wardrobe.
It is the valet's and lady's-maid's duty, where it is permitted, to select from the wardrobe such things as are suitable for the occasion, to see that their employer's wardrobe is in thorough repair, and to make him or her acquainted with the fact if they see that any additions to it are required.

A lady's-maid should possess a thorough knowledge of dressmaking and repairing and restoring clothes.

Dresses of tweed, and other woollen materials may be laid out on a table and brushed all over; but in general, even in woollen fabrics, the lightness of the issues renders brushing unsuitable to dresses, and it is better to remove the dust from the folds by beating them lightly with a handkerchief or thin cloth. Silk dresses should never be brushed, but rubbed with a piece of merino, or other soft material, of a similar colour, kept for the purpose. Summer dresses of barege, muslin, mohair, and other light materials, simply require shaking; but if the muslin be tumbled, it must be ironed afterwards.

If feathers have suffered from damp, they should be held near the fire for a few minutes, and restored to their natural state by the hand or a soft brush, or re-curled with a blunt knife, dipped in very hot water. Satin boots or shoes should be dusted with a soft brush, or wiped with a cloth. Kid or varnished leather should have the mud wiped off with a sponge charged with milk, which preserves its softness and polish. Furs, feathers and woollens require the constant care of the waiting-maid. Furs and feathers not in constant use should be wrapped up in linen washed in lye. From May to September they are subject to being made the depository of the moth-eggs.

The valet's and lady's-maid's attire should, in its way, be as irreproachable as their employer's on all occasions, and there being no hard or heavy work for them to perform, this is not difficult to manage.

The valet has his meals served in the housekeeper's or steward's room, he and the lady's-maid taking, after the two here mentioned, precedence of the other servants.

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to add that it is their duty to be in waiting when the master or mistress returns home to dress for dinner, or for any other occasion, and to have all things prepared for their second dressing: Previous to this, they bring under notice the cards of visitors who may have called, deliver the messages they may have received, and otherwise acquit themselves of the morning's commissions, and receive orders for the remainder of the day. The routine of evening duty is to have the dressing-room and study, where there is a separate one, arranged comfortably, the fires lighted, candles prepared, slippers in their place, and aired, and everything in order that is required for their employer's comfort.

The valet and the lady's-maid should have a good knowledge of packing, and on them devolves the task of getting tickets, looking out routes, securing seats, carriages and berths, as the case may be: while they are also responsible for the luggage.

When travelling by rail, unless they occupy the same carriage as their master or mistress, they should, when the train stops for any length of time, be in attendance in case anything should be required. A knowledge of foreign languages is a most useful qualification.

General Observations.
The valet and lady's-maid, from their supposed influence with their master and mistress, are exposed to some temptations to which other servants are less subjected. They are probably in communication with the tradespeople who supply articles for the toilet; such as hatters, tailors, dressmakers, and perfumers. The conduct of waiting-maid and valet to these people should be civil but independent, making reasonable allowance for want of exact punctuality if any such can be made; they should represent any inconvenience respectfully, and if an excuse seems unreasonable, put the matter fairly to master or mistress, leaving it to them to notice it further, if they think it necessary. No expectations of a personal character should influence them one way or the other. Deference to a master and mistress, and to their friends and visitors, is one of the implied terms of their engagement; and this deference must apply even to what may be considered their whims.
The Book of Household Management, by Mrs. Isabella Beeton, 1907

A VALET, whose business it is to wait exclusively upon his master as a body servant, takes no part in the general house work. His duties are to keep his employer's wardrobe in order, lay out his clothes whenever he makes a toilet, draw his bath water, and pack and unpack his trunks and satchels, and keep his dressing-table tidy. A valet may be required to shave his master, and very often to travel with him; but he is not expected to sweep or dust his employer's room or make his bed. Sometimes an obliging and accomplished valet is, when accidents occur, pressed into service as a butler, and then he assumes butler's dress. In the house, a valet wears, during the evening as well as by day, dark gray trousers, a high-buttoned black waistcoat, a plain black swallow-tail coat, or one cut short like a gentleman's dinner jacket, white linen, a dark tie, and soundless shoes of dull leather. Watch-chains, pins, rings, etc., are not permitted. In the street and when traveling with his master, he wears a sacque suit of inconspicuous tweeds, dark gloves, and a derby hat.

A LADY'S maid's duties are to care for her mistress' wardrobe and assist her at her toilets, draw her bath, lay forth the clothes she elects to wear, and keep her room tidy; but the lady's maid neither makes the bed nor sweeps and dusts the room. She takes no part in the general housework; but sews, runs errands for and generally waits upon her mistress only. The lady's maid does not wear a print gown. Her regular livery in winter is a simple black dress with small white cap and small ornamental apron, that may have a bib, but no shoulder straps. In hot summer weather, a black skirt and print waist seem the appropriate costume for the American lady's maid; and she also very frequently dispenses with her cap, though it should be a part of her livery.
A Book of Manners for Everyday Use, by Emily Holt


The valet proper, like the lady's-maid usually serves but one person. True it is, that when either of them happens to be engaged in a household where there is a keen eye to economy, he or she may have to serve more than one; but even then there is always one who demands special attention. It is needless to say which one, or why. Valets of this sort we are not now considering. Our valet, the simon pure specimen, serves but one master, and is usually designated by his employer as "my man". His occupation might, by some, be thought monotonous, were it not for the fact that one who can afford to keep a valet usually leads a life far removed from monotony. He may be a man of affairs, varied interests and occupations keeping him often on the wing. If so, his valet's life will not be dull. When his master is journeying he goes along and bears the drudgery that attends travelling. It is he who packs and unpacks, buys tickets, secures conveyances, hotel and other accommodations, and acts as avant-courier when desired to go in advance of his employer.

Incidentally he may manage to secure some crumbs of comfort or even a pretty good time for himself. He commands deference because of what he represents in the way of possible expenditure of cash on his master's behalf. The valet sees everybody with whom he deals, his master included, from points of view and contact individually his. These points of view and contact are not always elevating, nor are they calculated to create in him a feeling of profound respect for mankind in general, or for his employer in particular. This, however, will not make his manner less deferential to the one from whom he receives his wages. He knows his place and business too well to allow personal opinions to interfere with his interests. He does not forget the side on which his bread is buttered. Often master and man, though perhaps widely apart as to educational advantages, are on one and the same moral plane. When this is so, a certain harmony otherwise impossible will characterize their relation.

The valet in his master's house and the valet abroad in the land present apparent incongruities of demeanor. His self-importance grows apace when household status and rules cease to bear upon him. He escapes when abroad and staying at hotels sundry duties falling to his lot in a private mansion. He quickly discovers every opportunity to evade distasteful work, and becomes an accomplished shirk when there is any one else upon whom he can drop his own burden. At home he may have so to demean himself as even to black his master's boots. Abroad he cheerfully bestows that privilege upon somebody else at every opportunity.

Finely planned modern houses have a room devoted to valet's work. It is finished with conveniences for brushing and pressing clothes, as it is the valet's business to keep his employer's raiment above the suspicion of not having just arrived from the tailor. He is an expert at pressing. The fold in his own trousers, as well as that in his master's, is always clearly defined — one mark of a well-groomed man. A speedy and accomplished packer, he can fold a coat as well as the tailor who made it. An array of boots and shoes of all styles and colors in vogue he must keep in shape over lasts molded after a model — the shoemaker's ideal foot. He may not allow them to assume the contour of the wearer's feet. That would be unpardonable negligence, and bad form in a double sense.

Among his fellows the valet speaks familiarly of "dressing" his master. The uninitiated would naturally suppose the latter to be an infant or a helpless invalid, instead of a sizable man in health. "I have to go now and dress A. B. P.," said a valet, with reference to that duty, which he was in the habit of performing for a stout able-bodied man in whose service he was engaged. In speaking of his patron he always used initial letters requiring no explanation. It economized time and respect.

The valet carries away his employer's laid-off clothes at each change. They are not returned until they have been brushed and freshened — equal to the tailor's latest effort.

The master must needs be an embodiment of caution — unfailingly guarded — if he would avoid sharing his private affairs with one so constantly in attendance upon him as "his man." There may be cases where the terms master and "his man" would more accurately express the truth were their respective titles reversed.

Curiosity is not confined to the daughters of Eve. Masculine descendants of that allegorical character prove their maternal ancestry. The valet is nothing loth to keep en rapport with his master's secrets generally, his love affairs in particular, and his transactions as a whole. Naturally he feels a deep interest in the concerns of the man with whom he is in close tonch. Thirst for varied information is commendable, and information itself may prove ttsefnl in many ways; what wonder if he embrace every favorable occasion to go through the pockets of garments under his daily care? In this direction no one can accuse him of wasted opportunities. And what a store of gossip this masculine Eve ever has ready to impart! He is the newsmonger of the house.

The valet keeps in the good graces of ladies'-maids wherever he goes. Now and then they can do him a good turn with their thimbles, needle, and thread. For, alas! it must be confessed that in the useful art of sewing, the education of most boys and men — rich and poor alike — is sadly neglected. The average man with thread and needle, is about as skilful as an elephant would be with a fine camel's-hair paint-brush. An otherwise dauntless man, when confronted by a loose button or a little rip, becomes abjectly helpless, and must either beg or pay for aid. As ladies'-maids are generally willing to help him out, the valet does not feel his dependence, but enjoys a chance to air some of his stock of information (?) as he watches and waits for their handiwork. This he finds more congenial than attending, sentinel-like, outside the dressing-room door, until his master calls him in. Like clock-work, at certain hours, he awaits the behest of the man who pays his wages.

In the morning he prepares the bath, lays out desired clothes, and then tranquilly waits the pleasure of his master. The morning toilet depends, of course, upon the mode of life followed by the man to be dressed. A fashionable society man of leisure retires and rises late, sometimes breakfasting in bed, like any delicate woman. His valet follows suit, with the exception of his breakfasting place. To any one assuming the care of a fashionable man's wardrobe, it means attention and work that admit of no shirking. It may be stated without fear of contradiction that "Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these tailor-made men". The raiment deemed necessary for a fashionable man in society's whirl, occupies incomparably more space than is required by a good solid business, or professional man's wardrobe. The man of fashion has a dressing-room and suite of apartments as luxurious as many of those devoted to feminine uses.

Of the woman's boudoir and dressing-room we may say around it hangs ever the scent of fresh roses; of the man's suite with all its costly splendor, the scent of tobacco will hang round it still.

When "his man" opens the wardrobe devoted to shirts, they may be seen laid out on sliding trestles, tier above tier, shirts white and colored, for all times and seasons, one never interfering with another, dozens upon dozens, and ample room for all. A small shop could be stocked with this one man's store. Everything else is in proportion. A valet of the same size and figure could wear his master's clothes and they would never be missed by their owner.

Another closet looks like a boot and shoe shop— not so varied in color, nor so beautiful and dainty as the foot-gear of a fashionable woman, but numberless, and the array here displayed is as varied as the sex of the owner will permit. Our hero's master has coats, vests, and trousers beyond counting, neckties, too, their name is legion; jewelry also, enough to allure a weak brother to his ruin.

The fashionable man of to-day likes to be daintily clothed when he woos sleep. His valet, before he leaves the room for the night, lays out for him a white silk nightgown, hemstitched and embroidered with the owner's monogram.

A moderate amount of brains, some executive ability in every-day affairs, with manual training for the greater portion of his work, constitute the valet's essential equipment. He should also know how and when to put up winter clothing moth-proof. Like the typical butler, when on duty he must keep an impassive countenance, unless encouraged to smile by his master. As the major part of his duties are mechanical they vary little from day to day when his life is not enlivened by journeying. He is apt to be hurried at one time, and have overmuch leisure at another. Idly waiting near to be on hand when needed is not delightful. An employer should remember the tediousness of weary waiting when inclined to think that "his man" hasn't enough to do. A book worth reading put into the valet's hands might be the means of transforming his life. Masters could, if only they would, become home missionaries of a most useful type, and find the reflex influence upon themselves vastly improving. Some day in the dim future they will think of this.

If quite sure that his master's bell will not ring for a few hours the valet breathes more freely. He times his own outings in accordance with those of his emloyer. After "dressing" him for dinner, the opera, or a ball — or perhaps for all three — and having seen him depart, the man knows that he too may sally forth for recreation so long as he is careful to be in attendance when his master is ready to retire.

Among the traits a valet sometimes finds himself expected to cultivate — when in the service of a man of the world — is expertness in fabricating figures of speech, deluding to others, when occasion or the convenience of his master seem to demand it. On his own account this would be unpardonable mendacity. To his master he must be ever the embodiment of truth. For him — well that depends. Mendacionsness in one instance may be cleverness in the next, according to a certain code. "Joseph, if any one calls to see me this afternoon, say that I am out; I do not wish to be disturbed". "Yes, sir." A decent man "down on his luck" may be obliged to take a valet's place. He will keep it just long enough to get upon his feet again. But no industrious, ambitious, self-respecting fellow will ever choose the situation nor remain in it longer than, seemingly, compelled by circumstances.

If it be true that no man is a hero in the estimation of his valet, the reverse is also true. A valet, by choice, to a man of fashion, inspires little regard in those who understand that vocation. Servility, combined with undue curiosity, not to mention the untruthfulness expected of him, constitute an ignoble life for any man. After one has studied a few of the valet species, a blended air of serf and dude may be detected in each and all of them.

A valet performs one office, unique and serviceable, whenever he accompanies his master on visits at house parties. Upon these occasions he is expected to make himself useful in the pantry. Behold him, then, after doffing his coat and borrowing one of the men's aprons, wiping dishes for the pantry-maid, or polishing silver with the men, performing acceptable service where it is much needed.

Should either pantry- or parlor-maid be pretty, and something of a coquette, he will not be at all backward in meeting her more than half way in a flirtation. Serious results may follow, especially if, like the quality folk in the adjoining dining-room, he thinks that "When he's away from the lips that he loves, He has but to make love to the lips that are near."

Millionaire Households, By Mary Elizabeth Carter, 1903, New York, USA
Early Edwardian Era
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