I was watching Downton Abbey recently and noticed that Anna and Gwen have different maids' apron designs.

L to R: Gwen, Anna

Does their apron design indicate rank in some way? I know they are maids for differently-ranked ladies of the house, but Miss O'Brien (who serves Cora Crawley, Lady Grantham) wears no apron at all, and Mrs. Hughes is also dressed in all-black.

2 Answers 2


It's not likely that the apron corresponds directly to rank. In a Masterpiece photo gallery thing, The World of Downton Abbey author Jessica Fellowes notes:

The maids had to make their own uniforms of two dresses: a print dress with a plain apron for cleaning in the morning, changing into a black dress with a more decorative pinny for the afternoons and evenings. This could be expensive: in 1890 the price of the fabric could eat up six months' [sic] of a scullery maid's wages. In many houses, a bolt of cloth was given to the maids at Christmas so they had only the work, but not the cost, of the dress.

So it seems that the differences between the maids' uniforms are based on what materials are available to each maid and on her dressmaking skills. (In that way, they might be indirectly indicative of the maid's rank, since more experienced maids are probably paid more and can probably produce more decorative or ornate pieces for themselves.)


It also indicates how long they've been in service, because they would have made their aprons when they started working, and followed the fashions of that time. Look at Anna, who's head housemaid. Her apron is older, and therefore more old-fashioned (it looks like something from the very turn of the century rather than 1912), because she's been working there longer, so she made her apron earlier than Gwen made hers. The design of Gwen's apron only looks a few years old.

O'Brien doesn't wear an apron because she's a lady's maid, and lady's maids didn't do any kind of work that required an apron to keep clean. They dressed the lady they worked for, did her hair, altered and mended her clothing, and sometimes made simple pieces (especially underwear, for some reason).

Mrs. Hughes doesn't wear an apron because she's the housekeeper, which is a management role. So she's not scrubbing pots or dusting the sitting room. Housekeepers directed the housemaids, consulted with the lady of the house about events (guests, dinners, etc.), hired and fired female staff, and kept household accounts. She might have donned an apron to make jams, cordials, and herbal medicines (for the staff) a few times a year , but she didn't wear one as part of her day-to-day wardrobe.

Check out my blog (www.bloodonthetongue.blogspot.com) for more Downton Abbey costuming notes and analysis!

  • I don't remember, but did Anna stop wearing the apron when she became Lady Mary's maid? Mar 19, 2013 at 19:42
  • @SystemDown Yes, she did. Jul 27, 2015 at 7:06

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