Since the 1800s, tea parties have been notable social occasions where people gather together and enjoy each other’s company.
While most modern tea parties follow a formal or semi-formal dress code, many still enjoy dressing up for the occasion in vintage outfits. This perfectly matches the look and feel of traditional tea parties that are often characterized by lace tablecloths, dainty teacups, and flowering vases.
Indeed, it’s a fun way to recreate and celebrate the charm of a bygone era. If you’re planning to host or attend a tea party and would like to incorporate or match a certain dress theme, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll tell you more about tea party outfits, some accessories that you can use, and give you a rundown of how tea party outfits have changed throughout the years.
What Are Tea Party Outfits?
Tea party outfits are usually semi-formal and smart casual attire that is worn to tea parties. At traditional tea parties, women wear pastel-hued outfits or bright and vibrant, spring and summer-themed dresses with patterns that fit the season.
The outfit is generally accompanied by wrist-length gloves, a fascinator, and comfortable footwear like ballet flats or stacked heels. Black is not usually considered an appropriate color for tea parties.
However, there are no hard and fast rules on what to wear to a tea party unless a theme is mentioned in the invite.
How Tea Party Outfits Began
Tea parties started in England as a fashionable, mid-afternoon social event. Back then, people generally had two meals a day — a lavish breakfast and a late evening supper. Thus, tea parties served as a welcome respite for the upper class when they felt hungry in between these two meals.
These gatherings full of light treats, teapots, and intimate crowds soon became a popular practice among people. They also provided a nice opportunity for showcasing one's precious Chinaware and other newly bought items.
By the late nineteenth century, tea parties had turned into informal events for entertaining friends and acquaintances. Most importantly, they were an excuse to wear pretty dresses and jewelry.
It wasn’t long before people from the middle and upper classes began hosting tea parties with simple menus and guests wearing pretty outfits.
History of the Tea Dress or Tea Gown
Unlike dinner parties where women adorned themselves in extravagant clothes, tea parties had guests dressed in light and loose-fitting house gowns or dresses. This became the staple attire for such affairs.
Tea party dresses were formal gowns that were dressy enough for intimate gatherings but not for dinner parties. These gowns served as an articulation of a woman’s artistic abilities where the parlor room decor often coordinated with her clothes.
During the Victorian era, loose-fitting tea robes with light fabrics and delicate details became a regular part of a woman’s wardrobe outside of her home as well. These robes usually had floral patterns, pastel hues, and were full of lace and embroidery.
Characteristics of Tea Party Outfits
Are you looking forward to a tea party and are wondering what to wear? Here’s a fashion rundown from head to toe, including accessories and footwear.
Tea Hat or Fascinator
In the 1900s, a woman rarely attended social events like weddings and formal luncheons without a hat. Outfits were considered incomplete without one. That tradition has continued to this day, and a tea hat or a fascinator is now an integral part of a tea party outfit.
Fascinators are fancy hats, typically attached to a hair clip or headband. Besides adding glamor to your tea party outfit, it also allows friends to discuss the designs, patterns, and colors of each other’s tea hats.
Whether it’s a quiet garden party at a friend’s place or a lavish celebration at a historic mansion or an upscale hotel, jewelry is a must-have in tea party attire. The jewelry you wear must complement your look while matching the setup and location of your tea party.
The best way to honor this 180-year-old tradition is by wearing vintage earrings or family heirlooms. Dangly bracelets are best avoided since tea parties are packed with finger foods. You wouldn’t want to spoil them by accidentally dipping them in a bowl of soup!
If you don’t own vintage jewelry, you can find unique antique pieces at garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. Glittery, clip-on earrings make great statement pieces for modern tea parties.
Gloves used to be an indicator of the wearer’s upper social status. It was also a way to maintain the hands’ unsullied appearance and delicacy.
For working women, gloves were a way to conceal tanned, rough hands and to look like they belonged to a higher social class.
Tea fashion etiquette dictates the removal of gloves during tea service. Gloves must be placed on your lap with a napkin on top to cover them.
Today, you can find all kinds of gloves in different lengths and fabrics, from stylish elbow-length satin ones for formal dresses to breathable wrist-length lacy gloves for summer months.
Ideally, tea party dresses are somewhat traditional and conservative. Colorful, floral printed, vibrant dresses that are light and flowy are usually the top choice for this occasion.
You can also wear a dress or a skirt with a knee-length or longer hemline and wear a cardigan or a sweater for coverage if your dress has a low neckline. A pair of wedges or sandals paired with a matching bag is deemed a classy outfit.
For vintage dresses and accessories, shop in thrift stores or online shops like Wardrobe Shop.
Parasols were plain and austere at the start of Queen Victoria’s rule, but they eventually became more ostentatious as the years passed. Sometimes parasols with frills and tassels were favored by women while other times parasols adorned with prints and patterns that matched their dresses were preferred.
Based on their income and the occasion, ladies chose parasols for their tea parties, churches, or afternoon strolls.
Although using parasols is a matter of taste and preference, you can choose luxurious parasols to go with your outfit. If it’s for a garden tea party on a sunny day, pick a delicate-colored parasol to add a finishing touch to your ensemble. Nowadays, you can choose from a wide variety of parasol styles from patterned fabrics, plain paper to lacey satin as long as it complements your attire.
Well-known Vintage-inspired Tea Party Outfits
Let’s take a look at some of the popular vintage-inspired tea party outfits.
The roaring twenties were the golden years of fashion. Its legacy lasts to this day.
1920s dresses were characterized by flowing gowns and drop-waist dresses made of lightweight fabrics like organdy, silk, cotton, and linen. Its flattering silhouettes and exquisite lace trappings have been the inspiration for many movies and TV series whether it's the opulence of The Great Gatsby or the gritty realism of BBC’s Peaky Blinders.
While delicate season-inspired hues were acceptable colors for tea parties, white was the most prominent and sought-after shade. Elaborate lace embroidery around the sleeves, neckline, belt, and hems were popular and fancy ways to decorate clothes for tea parties.
As the name suggests, Titanic dresses refer to the outfits inspired by the legendary movie Titanic. While this movie is fondly remembered for its romance and tragedy, the movie’s contribution to fashion is immense.
Titanic dresses feature extravagant attires with multiple layers. They exude the breathtaking elegance, glamor, and refinement of early 20th-century fashion. If you want an example, think of Rose’s luxurious, stunning, black and red-embroidered gown.
In addition, embroidered coats, evening gowns with crystals sewn in, flowery tea gowns with square, low-cut necklines, and an empire waist are other memorable fashion trends featured in this film.
Downton Abbey Dresses
Inspired by the popular miniseries and movie Downtown Abbey, Downton Abbey Dresses feature fringed, beaded, and lacey dresses that are perfect for tea parties and dinner celebrations.
Besides the beauty and refinement of the Edwardian Era, Downtown Abbey outfits feature shimmering embellishments and rich details that suit vintage-inspired tea parties and weddings. Empire waistlines, elbow-length gloves, lacy embroidery, waist-hugging jackets, fur stoles, and bouffant trousers are some of the noteworthy styles of this TV show.
Victorian era fashion was quite extreme. If we had to define it in simple terms, it would be prim and proper. Characterized by restrictive elements like tight corsets, the Victorian period often had an exaggerated, ostentatious look.
Gigantic hoop skirts, outrageous bustles, hourglass silhouettes, skirts with copious amounts of fabric in bright, wild colors, and highly ornamental fashion accessories like ruffles, lace, and draping characterizes the aesthetics of this era.
Gatsby dresses are outfits inspired by the movie The Great Gatsby. Taking place during the roaring twenties, Gatsby dress fabrics include silk, wool, cotton, and rayon featuring simple geometric, polka dot, stripe, and floral prints. Think silver sequined flapper dresses, V-neck beaded dresses, faux fur shawls, fingerless lace gloves, and gorgeous maxi dresses.
Flapper dresses were all the rage during the roaring twenties and their influence in fashion continues to this day.
Knee-length, drop-waist dresses with uneven split hems and handkerchief points that are longer at the back are some of the characteristic features of flapper dresses.
You’ll also recognize them by their seam embellishments, Egyptian-inspired patterns, pleated panels, trimmed asymmetric necklines, spaghetti straps, and low-cut back and necklines. No wonder this iconic fashion style has become a staple in vintage-themed parties.
Fashion from the Edwardian era featured evening dresses with silk satin fabrics, empire waistlines, column silhouettes, and slim skirts.
Outfits often exhibited flair by combining more relaxed lines with minimal design, embroidery, and beading.
A typical Edwardian blouse had full-length sleeves with dainty cuffs, a high collar, and lace embroidery near the collarbone. This was also the time when S-shaped silhouettes, beaded bodices, deep necklines, and tailored suits were popular expressions of elegance and sophistication.
While tea parties are great for catching up with friends and family, choosing the right outfit and the opportunity to dress up is part of the excitement. If you’ve been looking forward to attending a tea party, this list of vintage-inspired tea party outfits can help you stand out among your friends and family. From Gatsby and Titanic dresses to dresses that are influenced by the Victorian and Edwardian eras, you have several options to pick from and be inspired by.