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Time for Tea: The Tea Dress




We all know us British love a good old cup of tea; it has become a miracle elixir prescribed by every English person in every conceivable circumstance that you could think of, curing anything from a bump on the head to a broken heart. So, with this in mind it is no wonder that an entire culture developed around tea, which was embraced whole-heartedly by our nation of tea-lovers and is still, in some form part of our culture today!


The origins of the Tea Dress is inextricably linked to the fashion of Afternoon Tea, which was a tradition believed to have been started by Anna Maria Stanhope, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1841. At the time, lunch was served at midday and dinner was then served at 8 or 9o’clock at night, so the clearly starving Duchess began having tea and other nice little titbits brought to her private chambers at about 4o’clock.



When Anna’s habit became public knowledge the craze of taking Afternoon Tea spread like wildfire throughout the upper classes in England and soon ladies across the land would dress up in their finery and visit each other’s houses to have a good old natter over a cuppa (not at all different to today!).


Well, with a new social craze, a new wardrobe was essential – hence the Tea Dress! Any excuse to enlarge our wardrobes! Etiquette books at the time contained entire chapters devoted to the proper etiquette of Afternoon Tea and the Tea Dress was created to be worn at such events.


The Tea Dress started life as a garment made solely for informal entertaining within the home. The main characteristics of the Tea Dress were unstructured lines and light fabrics that was easy to put on, creating a comfortable dress that was easy to manoeuvre in. Originally, Tea Dresses were inspired by the Orient and Asian clothing and the kimono was a primary source of inspiration for the design. The dresses were not worn with corsets, and so were a form of liberation for the women of the time with the beginnings of a slightly more relaxed style of women’s clothing.


Clearly, Afternoon Tea became a setting for the new freedom advancing both women’s clothing and their place in society.


Afternoon Tea slowly began to take on some rather raunchier connotations as the French christened it ‘le fif-ó-clock’ or ‘four to five’, becoming an acceptable time in which a lady could entertain her lover in the knowledge that her husband would agree not to enter the drawing room in that hour. Oh la la.


The Tea Dress became an essential part of any self-respecting, fashionable woman’s wardrobe and became a way for a lady to express her tastes. They were luxurious, loose and floaty often accessorised with parasols, fans, fur, handbags and jewels, to fully portray status and wealth to any observers.


Tea dresses have of course altered slightly during the course of history to become shorter, however the loose skirt and fitted bust harkens back to the original Victorian style. 


Here at Playful Promises, we think that Tea Dresses are too gorgeous to only be worn indoors! So strut your stuff in our offerings of the Abstract Print Tea Dress and the Vintage Floral Tea Dress and show us how you accessorize to entertain ;)