As you know, I have been trying (for a long time) to lift my game on cleaning house. Aside from clothes that are loose, with elbow length sleeves I haven’t thought about a Signature Wardrobe House Cleaning Outfit to wear while doing it.
However, in the course of my researches for my new book Holistic Personal Finance, I have been reading another book by Christine Frederick . She suggests that as you have a particular outfit for sports such as tennis, and as housework is a very physical activity, why shouldn’t you have a special outfit for that? And I thought that couldn’t be a bad thing as once you have finished your “game” you can shower and change and do something more enjoyable. Happily, she suggests a pre-game slather of cold cream on your hands before pulling on your gloves, followed by an astringent water rinse when you take them off, so she might also have recommended a shower as well if she had reliable plumbed hot water.
Mrs Frederick suggests something light, that isn’t tight enough to restrict movement, and good comfortable shoes purchased with the cleaning in mind. She recommends a two piece outfit consisting of a short plain gored skirt (going by the illustrations this was just above the ankle, though she would have been around 40 when she wrote this book and may not have approved of calf length) and a middy blouse (which you would recognise as a boxy sailor top) as these allow the greatest freedom of movement. Ideally, this would be in a nice durable fabric like seersucker or chambray. And your comfortable shoe, something like an athletic or nurses shoe, will have a broad low heel and rubber sole so that you are less likely to slip or turn an ankle. You also need a cap, partly to keep your hair in place, and partly to keep it clean. On top of this, you need a large apron and a set of gloves including rubber for wet work, white cotton for sweeping, dusting and mopping, and a thick oilskin for heavy work.
She asks you to bear it in mind that if you dress attractively and professionally, you will feel more efficient and do a better quality of work than if you dress unattractively and feel like a slave forced to undertake household drudgery. As I mentioned in my ergonomics post, she also acknowledges that housework is hard and unpleasant work, you might as well approach it with a business-like efficiency mindset to get it over and done with as quickly as possible.
So with that in mind, I thought I’d take a quick run through the process I outline in Build Your Signature Wardrobe to see what we can come up with. The process is designed to result in what you might think of as a small collection of planned outfits that are appropriate and stylish, each with a theme or purpose. So just as you have your tennis togs, we now see that you can have a cleaning costume too, though depending on you, how you like to dress and what you do, they might share components.
- Your home is probably climate controlled, but there will be summer/winter variations in the temperature.
- Mrs Frederick suggests that your average household clean will consist of sweeping, wiping or dusting as well as preparing and cooking food and cleaning up after you’ve eaten. Today that would be vacuuming, mopping and dusting, and there will be elements of lifting, carrying, stepping, lunging, and wiping. You will probably so some stooping for vacuuming and/or mopping, reaching for dusting, and a lot of standing and walking. It is still a wide range of movement that isn’t significantly impacted by modern technology. Modern fuels are much cleaner so you might, for example, just do a daily tidy with a vacuum and clean every other day.
There is still a need for loose (or stretchy) clothing that permits a full range of movement. It can’t be too warm or you might overheat once you get moving. And given that you burn more calories when you work harder, you might like to build up some speed and do more work in a shorter time.
Practical and plain are probably best; a good quality sports bra if you are planning on the intense house clean.
Comfortable and practical, with some protection. It looks like athletic and nurses are still in here.
Most modern women wash their hair daily so the cap is probably not necessary, but the gloves really are. Depending on your morning ablutions, the intensity of your household work-out and your desire to shower when you finish, you might prefer to wear an apron and just take it off when you are done.
And for a professional feel, a spritz of sweet perfume and some small jewellery that isn’t going to get caught up in your equipment and injure you,
I usually go barefoot, wearing track pants and a skanky old t-shirt when I am cleaning, and I am beginning to feel that this may be contributing to my problem. I mentioned to Katy that when I wear dresses, I also feel more inclined to wear shoes and seem to be more productive when I do, so perhaps dressing up with a pretty apron rather than daggying down will help.
Now that Mrs Fredericks has explained it, I like the idea of a cap, but I doubt I am going to wear one (unless I have a hair treatment on and am not planning to open the front door). But I really should get some gloves for dishwashing if nothing else.
 Frederick, Christine. 1923. Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. Chicago: American School of Home Economics.
Thank you so much for this post! You answer a question that I had actually posed in a FaceBook group without receiving an answer that really resonated with me. This one does! I’m actually excited about getting dressed for “home tending” as I call it.
Happy to help! For me, the best thing about a “home tending” outfit is you get to take it off when the work is done. And that makes a natural break before you get onto other more fun things.
Normally, my “home-tending” outfit is a pair of leggings and a tee. This blog is really helpful tho!
Thanks! Mrs Fredericks was the very soul of efficiency, and almost 100 yers on, I feel she’d probably wear the same.