“Dear Mr. Woodley” is the column of Estate Managers Coalition resident butler, Crispin Woodley, who will answer your questions about all things “butler-esque.”
From proper introductions to thieving guests – to handling undermining children – to how to let Madam know that her outfit is simply inappropriate, Mr. Woodley advises with the knowledge and flare of European etiquette and protocol which only a fine butler understands.
Edited by guest estate manager Martha Lockie.
Dear Mr. Woodley,
I have a butler/estate manager friend who works on a large property in Beverly Hills. I saw her out and about town the other day and assumed it was her day off given the attire she donned. She was wearing a white, off-the-shoulder concert tee-shirt, black jeans with holes at the knees, short black biker boots…and….ahhh…she wreaked of Patchouli oil!
I said hello, asked how she had been and what she was up to. All was well; she was doing some quick errands for her principal who was back at the estate.
I was shocked – she dressed as if she was about to go to a Gwen Stefani concert at the Forum and she smelled like a hippie at Woodstock.
Mr. Woodley, please help me understand what she must be thinking and what type of principal she works for, who let’s her dress this way!?
Confused from the valley.
This is an interesting question and the answer has many different components. The true art of butler service in a home is founded on discretion, and a reputable estate manager will follow the same guidelines. “Discretion,” makes service professionals to think of being close-mouthed about the details of their principal’s home and personal life. Yes, this is a fraction of butler service, but how a butler dresses; their manners and the boundaries they establish are a part of discretion as well.
The Mr. and Mrs. are at the apex of the home’s hierarchy, thus none of their staff should outshine them. This means that no butler takes any attention away from him or her, whether it is positive or negative.
Practicing restraint requires a hefty dose of self-esteem, an inner resource of character and wisdom. A well-trained butler has a solid sense of self without needing or seeking acknowledgment on a job well done or a compliment on their appearance (neither a reprimand). A high-quality butler is practiced at the art of being inconspicuous yet at the same time, indispensable.
The butler and estate manager are representatives of the family, often the first person an outsider comes into contact with before meeting the principals. Because one never gets a second chance to make a first impression, it is always important to look one’s best. Here are some guidelines for establishing a positive presence in the home so that no unnecessary attention is given:
- Depending on the formality of the home – wear a suit or business casual attire. This means a classic look, understated and definitely no holes (get classic style here).
- Women, please never wear perfume and men no cologne (but do be freshly bathed)!! This includes using very strongly scented shampoo, conditioner, deodorant or lotion. Nothing should take away from Madame’s perfume or Mister’s cologne, as they are the kings and queens of the castle. Also, scent is such a personal taste and your employer may not like your perfume or worse, they may be allergic to it. It is best not to aggravate them.
- Leave the jewelry at home and wear it on your day off; simple earrings, a dainty necklace or a watch or are fine. But big bling-bling chains, rings, fancy diamonds that scream, “Look at me,” or anything nicer than what your employer’s wear is far too “conspicuous.”
- Plain face, light makeup and hair pulled back is tastefully appropriate for women. Clean-shaven and hair trimmed to a conservative (yet fashionable) length is suitable for men.
- Nothing too revealing, too short, too exposing (women) or too tight (women and men).
The butler is one of the few remaining gentilities we have left in the reputable home.
Even if your principal behaves casually and allows you to dress in a very casual manner, don’t do it! It will come back to haunt you, I promise. Sooner or later your employer will feel his or her generosity has been taken for granted and you’ve given them a reason to dismiss you. A butler lives by a code of integrity and discretion; aggravating, inciting jealousy or being obsequious has no place in the world of private service.