A lady's maid is a type of domestic servant who provides personal assistance to the lady of the household. She is comparable to a valet or gentleman's gentleman, and is considered of higher rank than most other domestic servants. This maid should not be confused with a lady's companion, a position for a more well-educated woman who entertains and accompanies her employer. A lady's companion is also a paid position, but she outranks a lady's maid and does not perform the same tasks that she does.
In the past, women of high social rank had elaborate wardrobes and hairstyles which required the services of a professional. A lady's maid initially managed her employer's wardrobe, keeping track of all the garments her employer owned and their condition. As part of this work, she would also undertake light mending, pressing, and other tasks designed to keep her employer's clothing in good condition. She would also assist her mistress with dressing, as many women's garments were quite complex, requiring the assistance of a second person to put them on.
In addition, a lady's maid would style her employer's hair and manage accessories such as jewelry, bags, and fans. She would have been responsible for knowing the location and condition of all of these items. The extensive knowledge of her employer's wardrobe meant that this maid typically packed for trips, and also accompanied her mistress to ensure that she was well turned out in her travels.
A modern lady's maid does assist her mistress in dressing and getting ready for social events, but she also performs light housekeeping and picking up around her employer's rooms, along with serving light meals such as luncheon and breakfast. Meal service is only done within the rooms of her mistress, typically, although the maid may serve guests of her employer when she hosts intimate gatherings within her rooms. In addition, she usually helps her mistress with small points of social etiquette, and she may help her mistress keep track of names, faces, and appointments.
In recognition of her skills, a lady's maid earns the privilege of being called Miss Last Name, and she also commands a higher salary than many other domestic servants. In the modern era, this maid is more usually called by her first name, except in very traditional households. To work in this position, a women must have an excellent sense of fashion and decorum, along with a willingness to serve in a sometimes challenging position.