Tea Time Fashions

The concept of tea time fashions has changed a lot over the 5,000 or more years that mankind has been drinking tea. In recent years, the subject has gotten rather contentious, with some advocating the very dressed up look to those that think anything goes. All of this is, naturally, up to your personal choice, but nevertheless we present some rather appealing options, and a few that are… uh, well… read on and you’ll get the idea.

The Dressy Approach

Flowing dresses, wide-brimmed straw hats with silk flowers and brightly colored ribbons, and even wrist-length white cotton gloves are signs that women dressing for tea is back in style. Men are even getting into the act, wearing suits and ties. What’s this all about?

At the increasingly popular fancy tea times promoted at hotels and tea rooms these days, drinking the delicate tea blends from bone china cups and saucers just seems to go naturally with garments of silk, rayon, and taffeta (yes, it’s back!). Accessorizing with scarves, jewelry, and the aforementioned hats and gloves is part of the process.

Millinery is on the rise again, especially for tea time, with designers’ sites popping up online, such as Tea Hats at MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS®. One famous person who made hat-wearing fashionable again was the late Princess Diana of the UK (see this gallery of her hats). In fact, her sense of style influenced designers and tea time imbibers alike. Hat designers such as Prudence are flourishing there, according to this article. Then, there is the Red Hat Society, so named because they all wear red hats, with various chapters popping up not only in the Southern U.S. but across the nation.

Sometimes, dress-up teas are given to commemorate special occasions. Such was the First Ladies Victorian Tea in Artesia, California, where the event notice stated: “Ladies are invited to wear hats and gloves if they’d like.” Another one was “Tea and Crumpets” hosted by Janneu & The Great Wall of Tea and the Roswell Garden Club members in Alpharetta, Georgia. Attendees were encouraged to “wear your favorite hat” and enjoy the tea.

Spring and Summer seem to be the best times for such events, since the hats, gloves, and dresses tend to be a bit on the light side and therefore not very good at staving off blizzardy snow and wind. Torrential rain and chilly temps tend to render these apparel items rather pathetic, also.

Of course, the male attendees often dress in well-tailored suits and silk ties. Some even shave and comb their hair! Tea time and dressing for tea is definitely not just for women after all. Men, too, need that “time out” that taking tea brings from the stresses of life. They can enjoy socializing, too, while munching on some of the heartier tea time fare available these days and drinking a range of teas.

Even children can enjoy dressing for tea, sort of like putting on some grown-up’s clothes from an old trunk or some of mommy and daddy’s things from their closet. In short, the whole family can get into the act.

Whether at a fancy tearoom or your own home, you can dress up for tea. I often do and can attest that it really does make the tea taste better. Not to mention the pies and cakes!

Beyond the Fancy Dress

Move over, all you fancy tea time dressers, your tea time fashion is about to get a tad…uh…unexpected! Set aside those flower-patterned dresses, white cotton gloves, and wide-brimmed hats with lace veils. Set aside, too, those neckties, you guys, and those business suits. A very different approach is needed here, as shown in these photos:

You’re seeing the trend here, I’m sure. Be yourself and let the tea be the key focus. You might even want to pair your tea to your fashion.

More formal teas:

  • Buckingham Palace Garden Party — Said to be the same blend used at the annual tea party held at Buckingham Palace (outdoors in the gardens). But the truth of that claim is like a lot of stories about tea these days. Blends high-grown Ceylon with Earl of Bergamot added, a touch of jasmine, some Borengajuli Assam, and Kenyan black tea.
  • Taylors of Harrogate China Rose Petal — A long-time tea vendor selling what the Chinese call “rose congou” (usually a lower grade Orange Pekoe black tea scented with rose petals that are stirred in among the tea leaves as they dry).

More casual teas:

  • Darjeeling Tea — There are 87 (or 88) gardens in India that are officially Darjeeling gardens. And there are 3 or 4 flushes (times of growth and harvest) per year. Plus some of the better gardens are producing their own versions of a classic white tea called “Silver Needle” as well as various green tea versions in addition to the classic black tea styles. So you have quite a choice! The Spring (1st) flush is lighter and more delicate. Summer is considered the best (but that depends on the garden and the weather). And Autumn is for many a more fruity and pleasing cup.
  • Lapsang Souchong — A distinctive flavor and the heady aroma of a smoky camp fire. Depending upon one’s palate the taste can be light and intriguing or heavy and overpowering. A good choice for those who like a little milk and sweetener in their tea.

Teas for that workday break:

  • Irish Breakfast — Delivers a good, strong cuppa! Created from malty Assam teas from North Eastern India, and commonly mixed with a little milk and sugar.
  • Matcha — One of the most famous teas in the world and used in the Japanese tea ceremony for centuries. This tea is a high quality Japanese Matcha grown in the Izu peninsula near Tokyo.

Whatever you’re doing, no matter what you’re wearing, stop! It’s tea time!

Going Offbeat with Your Tea Time Fashion

You can go offbeat with your tea time fashion. Just think outside the ordinary. Don’t reach for the standard attire, and try out something else instead.

Do you avoid tea time because you think you need to dress up in frills and lace and suits and neckties? (I’m trying to cover both genders here.) Afternoon Tea was begun by the aristocracy in Europe (the story goes that it was the Duchess of Bedford, a lady-in-waiting for Queen Victoria, who began the tradition to tide her over between lunch and a fashionably late dinner), which makes all this “gussying up” at tea time come naturally to mind. The Red Hat Ladies have also done their share of conveying this idea. I, however, beg to differ. I’m happy to tell you that there are plenty of alternatives out there. Here are a few:

My Carhartt hoody is great for tea time. But you needn’t stop there. You can just stick with what you wear every day. Denim jeans, T-shirts, Dockers®, sweat shirts and pants, shorts, tank tops, or whatever you find comfortable around the house (including pink fluffy bedroom slippers) can also be fine for tea time. Juxtaposing types of apparel can add even more personal style to your appearance. Maybe a black leather jacket with a lacy-collared blouse and a pair of those painters pants with all the voluminous pockets would be good. Guys and gals, you could sport a tea-themed shirt with your hoody or even a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches.

Just as the pendulum of the clock swings from “tick” to “tock,” so can your fashion for tea time swing from casual to formal, including tuxedos and bright red formal gowns. There are also a number of designers who had their women’s wear, suitable for tea time, modeled on the runway for the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week. Yes, the nation that is the 2nd largest grower and exporter of tea in the world is going offbeat and leaving the saree behind, at least for those seeking something new.

Just bear in mind that if you’re seeing red at tea time, it may not be that tea in your cup; it could be that tea time guest in a little red dress, a red hat, or a pair of red high-heeled shoes.

© 2016-2020 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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