During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, women working as household servants very rarely wore any type of specific uniform. Instead, they were dressed in neat, unfussy gowns, often in a printed fabric, at first linen, then invariably after 1800, cotton. Their resses were hard-wearing and could be easily washed, and they were relatively easily distinguished from the more ornate and fashionable outfits of their mistresses. Floral printed cottons, often simple, two-colour designs were usual by the later nineteenth century, blues, browns and pinks predominating. At Christmas, a housemaid or kitchen servant was often presented with fabric sufficient in length for a new dress, which she had then to made up herself.
During the 1870s and 1880s, outfits for domestic servants became more formalised and incorporated a distinctive white cotton bib-apron, and cap. Such articles could be home-made, or easily bought in the larger department stores, or even by mail order. Surviving photographs show servants like parlourmaids, housemaids, cooks and governesses wearing a variety of different outfits, depending on the family with which they worked. Punch caricatured the manner that servants adopted any new fashionable style, even articles like the bulky crinoline, which might be decidedly unhelpful to their work.
Full item descriptions:
"day dress" [2002.44]
"servant's dress" [1947.2465]
"maid's dress" [1962.198]
"maid's dress" [1937.62]
"servant's dress" [1971.73]
"cook's dress & blouse & skirt" [1986.213]