Outfits

  • Thread starter Janneke Peijnenborgh
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Janneke Peijnenborgh

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I was wondering if anyone knows what the stewardesses were wearing when working on the ship. Did they have an uniform or could they self choose what to wear?

I have tried to find some pictures, but didn't succeed.

I would be very, very pleased with some information, especially about Katherine Walsh. Thank you very much for any response!
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Hallo Janneke, and welcome. The stewardesses wore a very functional uniform of the type that was common also to nurses and housemaids, and many outfitters sold standard items which would suit any of these roles. The basic outfit was a hard-wearing, dark coloured dress with detachable starched collar and cuffs, plus a starched apron and cap (the latter not always worn). The wearer might be equipped with only one dress, but would need to travel with a small supply of freshly-laundered aprons, cuffs etc in order to appear well-groomed at all times. There was nothing about any of these items which was specific to the White Star Line, but the stewardesses might have been required to wear a numbered metal badge of the type issued to all stewards. There are photographs of stewardesses arriving back in England weeks after the disaster which suggest that some were still wearing their uniforms under their topcoats, but others had chosen to dress in their best 'civvies' before making for the boats. If you need a visual reference, the costumes worn by actresses playing the role in films like Titanic and A Night to Remember are authentic for the period.

In common with many of the rank & file crew members, not much is known about Katherine Walsh. She was 32 years old (relatively young for a stewardess), possibly married, and a native of County Tipperary, Ireland. On Titanic she served the 2nd Class passengers on F deck, and several later described her as kind and attentive. She was one of three stewardesses who died in the sinking. Nothing is known with certainty about how and why Katherine died while most of her colleagues survived, but if you look around the other threads in this section of the forum you may find speculations posted by myself and others.
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Janneke Peijnenborgh

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Thank you so much for this answer!
I assume that the cuffs, collar and apron usually were white?

And what were the differences between the clothes of the stewardesses and the maids of first class passengers?
 

Bob Godfrey

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Yes, the starched items were white. I'm not sure about the dress colour. Dark blue, black or grey were common choices for working clothes of this type.

If the First Class passengers were accompanied by house servants, these were generally booked into 2nd Class, had no contact with their employers during the voyage, and would have been dressed in street clothes like other passengers. Personal maids travelling in 1st Class with their employers were often as much a companion as a servant, and there was no practical reason for them to wear a housemaid's uniform especially on board ship. One of the reasons for the provision of a separate dining room for maids and valets was so that 'real' 1st Class passengers would not make the social gaff of mistaking a lady's maid for a lady. or a 'gentleman's gentleman' for a gentleman!
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Janneke Peijnenborgh

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So if I understand you correctly: the only persons on board in the uniform described here were the stewardesses. Am I right?

Thanks for your answers, they really are very helpful!

(I'm sorry for mistakes in my grammar, I'm not a native English speaker...)
 

Bob Godfrey

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No need to apologise for mistakes in your English grammar, Janneke - there are no mistakes!

With hundreds of passengers on board, it's not possible to know for sure how they all chose to dress, or were required to dress if they were employed by other passengers as maids or nurses. So there could have been some passengers who were dressed in a style very similar to the stewardesses.

The 'stewardess' uniform in the Branson photograph (see Robert's link above) gives a general idea of the type of uniform in question, but it differs in several respects from photographs of real White Star stewardesses of the period. These show the top of the apron skirt to be much wider, with the two sides almost meeting at the back. The top of the apron is higher, coming almost to the neck, and the collar is a tightly-buttoned cylinder around the neck, like the high collar on a man's shirt of the period.
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Trevor Powell

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Aug 22, 2005
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What exactly did the stewardess uniforms look like during the 1910s or 1920s period? Violet Jessop describes them as ankle-high and dark colored. Are there any original white star stewardess uniforms extant?

[Moderator's Note: This message, originally placed in another topic, has been moved to this thread, where a similar subject has previously been addressed. MAB]
 
Feb 21, 2013
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nothing about any of these items which was specific to the White Star Line [...] the costumes worn by actresses playing the role in films like Titanic and A Night to Remember are authentic for the period.
In fact I remember noticing that in Titanic the straps on the back (that would hold the aprons) of the maids were of different width... So that's why! They didn't wear a White Star Line uniform, but just the regular maid uniform which could of course have some small differences.

If the First Class passengers were accompanied by house servants, these were generally booked into 2nd Class, had no contact with their employers during the voyage, and would have been dressed in street clothes like other passengers
I have to differ with you on this. Judging by the crew lists on the ET website (many servant's cabins are still unknown, but it's listed the class they were traveling in), there were no house servants that were accompanying their "masters" in the second class (*see exception below). 20 personal maids, 10 servants, 2 secretaries, 2 governesses, and a clerk were all in first class cabins, some times very close to their employers, sometimes not so close (even few decks below).

Personal maids travelling in 1st Class with their employers were often as much a companion as a servant
Actually the only exception to what I stated above was Mr Carter's chauffeur who was indeed in Second Class, while the rest of the Carters' house staff (a servant and a personal maid) were traveling in First Class. This may prove that household staff were still required to work while on the ship offering personal assistance besides that of the crew members (the chauffeur being of no use during such a trip). I find it hard to believe that a wealthy family would carry around during trips (and paying expensive tickets in the process) members of the household without "using" them to the full. Rich ladies would be used to being dressed by maids, it would be a "waste" to have your maid hidden away in Second Class (I'm sure stewardesses didn't provide this kind of service, or maybe just in a very special occasion!).

They had different eating spaces because it would have been unthinkable to eat in the same room as your staff! Especially with the strict standards of the time. The house staff brought by regular first class passengers also had a neat reduction on the ticket prize... They were traveling First Class but they didn't enjoy all of their privileges.
 

Bob Godfrey

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In Edwardian England the term 'house servant' meant those who served the household rather than the personal needs of a particular member of the family, and there were as always plenty of those traveling in 2nd Class. I'm talking about housemaids, cooks and chauffeurs - people who would have no role to play on the ship but would resume their duties at the destination. The servants who traveled in 1st Class were personal servants - ladies' maids, valets and nursemaids - whose services were required during the voyage. For example, the Allisons in 1st Class had two personal servants booked into 1st Class. These were Mrs Allison's personal maid and the childrens' nurse. Two more servants 'not wanted on voyage' (their cook and chauffeur) were travelling in 2nd Class and probably had no contact with the Allisons during the voyage. That was the normal arrangement back then. The lady's maid and valet generally didn't wear uniforms and regarded themselves as 'a cut above' the house servants. Nursemaids generally did wear a uniform, if only for practical reasons!