In this four-part series dealing with the horrors of having house guests, the question of valet services has come up - that is, whether or not we have to unpack and repack their luggage?
Right up front I'll just say that we certainly don't go out of our way to offer this service. I mean, this is not a luxury hotel or royal palace, right? Unpacking a guest's wardrobe is a dangerous Pandora's Box that invites requests for laundry, pressing, stain removal, shoe polishing, sewing on a missing button, we've even been asked if we can lift a hem.
If someone indeed needs our help, then that's another story and we jump right in. There's a wonderful old Grand Dame who comes here two or three times a year and, bless her heart, her arthritic shoulders don't allow her to reach up to the hangers in the closet. I'm always delighted to help her out, and in exchange she regales me with stories about her glory days at the Metropolitan Opera.
Valet knowledge is a tediously taught subject in any good butler school, and if you're in private service you might very well be called upon to utilize theses skills from time to time. The truth is, although boring as all get out, it's not really all that hard once you have the knack.
For unpacking you simply hang everything up on garment-appropriate hangers and save all the guest's tissue paper for repacking (which we pray will be soon). Unmentionables and socks go into the empty bureau drawers, set aside especially for guests. The bag of toiletries and medications is placed on the bathroom vanity, without opening or touching anything inside.
Now as for repacking, do you know how to fold men's and women's garments, stuff them into a suitcase, and get them to their destination wrinkle free? It's not entirely simple but there's specific folds for each and every garment and procedures to pack the suitcase just right so that things don't shift around during transportation. There's some great folding diagrams in Cheryl Mendelson's amazing and invaluable book Home Comforts.
As already mentioned there's lots of tissue paper involved to put between the folds which minimizes the wrinkles - not unlike a new garment you buy at a department store. You also need to know how to stuff the tissue into the arms and shoulders of a man's suit before shoving it into a suitcase.
Not just any tissue like for gift wrapping, but acid-free archival tissue which can cost you a pretty penny. But if you're folding a $30,000 haute-couture cocktail dress, you bet you're going to use acid-free tissue. You can buy it online or if there's a Container Store near you anywhere, they always have a ready supply.
You'll put shoes and heavy stuff on the bottom of the suitcase of course, then lay in the folded slacks, shirts, dresses and blouses in the space above that. Socks and unmentionables are tightly stuffed in around all the edges to keep the carefully-folded garments from shifting. And that's it. Simple enough, right?
It just so happens (to my insanely good luck) that the Mister likes to pack his own suitcases himself without our help. He just throws stuff in without any tissue folds, and I pity the receiving end at the hotel where he's headed. Lots of pressing no doubt, but it saves me a lot of tedious labor and headaches on this end.
Thanks for stopping by tonight,
PS: I should mention that while we don't readily offer valet services around here, Ester the upstairs maid has reported some handsome tips when guests occasionally ask for her help.