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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Proper Attire for a Tea Party and Other Occasions

The one things that seems to be predominant throughout all of America is that people do not know how to dress up for occasions anymore.  I have been to the ballet and the opera and have seen people come in jeans.  I am appalled.  What is acceptable at a movie is not acceptable at the Metropolitan Opera.  I have not been to Europe, but from some friends that have been, I understand that at least in some countries people wear gowns and tuxedos to these concerts, and rightfully so for they are formal affairs.  Just as Americans have lost all respect for each other in the way of courtesy, manners, and etiquette, so we too have lost all sense of appropriate attire.  That should not be surprising, I suppose, as the two really do go hand in hand.

As one of the main subjects of this blog is Tea Parties, I will mainly address this area of attire.  Much of your decision as to what to wear should come from common sense as to what you will be encountering in the type of event you are attending.  There tend to be a few different categories of Tea Parties - Formal, informal, business, and outdoor.

"Formal" Afternoon Teas (in tea rooms, for showers, etc.) would require dressier types of clothes.  For men a suit is the proper attire. For women a dress is definitely preferred, but it must not be a miniskirt.  The idea is to strive for elegance.  Knee length to ankles are the style dresses that are acceptable.  A dressy pantsuit (not business style) is also acceptable, but you are also striving for femininity, so dresses are more appealing for that purpose.  Hats are not only a nice touch, they really are indispensable for having the real Tea experience, and essential for garden teas.  Some tea rooms have hats which they keep for guests to wear, but personally I do not care to put a hat on my head that has been on dozens or possibly hundreds of other women's heads. 

At this juncture I need to take a moment to address the inevitable groan which I hear coming out of a great many of your mouths.  I know exactly what you are saying, as I have heard this time and again from all of my friends over the years.  The excuses go something like this, "I look terrible in hats" (this despite the fact that they probably have never had one on and have no idea how they look in a hat), or "It will mess up my hair" (That's the beauty of a hat.  It covers a bad hair day, as you do not have to take it off.)  The truth is, every woman looks good in a hat, but the caveat is, it has to be a design that flatters her facial shape and hair length.  That takes trying a number of different styles on until you find one that suits you.  The one style that I have found will flatter almost every woman's face and hair length is the picture hat.  You really cannot go wrong if you wear a picture hat.  And as an added bonus, I have found that many men are attracted to women that wear hats.  They make a woman seem more feminine, and that is attractive to a real gentleman.  I have received compliments from perfect strangers, who have come up to me in stores (I wear hats frequently) and say how much they like it.  If you want to be noticed, hats are the way to go.  And they are an essential part of the Afternoon Tea.

This next item is an old-fashioned one that is not presently in use, but I think should be resurrected and that is gloves.  While they make a nice addition to finish an outfit, in this day and age they are far more than that, as they can also prevent the spread of disease.  I am guessing that back in the old days when people wore gloves, it prevented many people from getting sick when they might otherwise have caught a contagious disease.  As they did not have the medicines we have now, those gloves were probably a life-saver in many occasions.  Personally I think we ought to bring this item of clothing back as part of our fashion simply as a health preservative.  How do you feel about that?  Do you want to join my crusade?

When it comes to footwear, the most formal footwear is closed-toe shoes, not sandals.  While high-heeled sandals can be very pretty and even elegant, they still are not formal the way closed-toe shoes are.  The shoe you wear would depend upon how formal your formal Tea is going to be. While I should not even have to mention this, after hearing of a young girl who met the President of the United States wearing flip-flops, as that currently seems to be the fashionable footwear of the younger generation, it is completely unacceptable to wear flip-flops anywhere except in your own home or at the beach.  The shoes should be appropriately matched in style to the outfit you are wearing. (No combat boots or sneakers, please, even though they are closed-toe. :-) )  This should not need to be mentioned either, but having seen how younger women dress these days, I feel compelled to also add, do not show cleavage.  Cleavage is strictly for nighttime viewing only.  It does not belong at any other time of the day.  It is also only for dress up occasions when wearing a gown or cocktail dress.  It does not belong in school, business, and never at an Afternoon Tea.

For Business Teas a business suit is the appropriate attire for men and women. Women may also choose to wear business styled dresses or dressy pantsuits. No low cut blouses.  Cleavage is totally inappropriate in any business situation.  High-heels should be moderate height pumps, not stilettos.  

Garden Teas can come in two forms - formal and casual. For formal the attire is the same as for Afternoon Tea except that women should wear shoes that have low or chunky heels so as not to sink into the ground and trip themselves. (No sandals for formal teas - ever, even if it is outdoors.) For more casual Teas men can wear business casual with a jacket on hand if it gets cool.  For women, one should try to wear flowing, feminine (and flowery is a nice touch) sundresses or similar style with shawls (or jackets) to prevent sunburn or if it gets cool.  A nice pantsuit with a flowery blouse, or a matching pants/tunic blouse is fine, but just a pair of slacks with a blouse is not quite the thing, and capris are definitely out. Hats are essential, even with a pantsuit (picture hats are best for Garden Teas). In this case, sandals are permissible if the party is very casual, as they are appropriate to wear with sundresses.

Other kinds of Teas, which are strictly casual between friends, do not require any particular dress code.  That is between you and your friends as to how dressy you want to get. Also a Victorian era (or any other era for that matter) Tea would call for era appropriate attire.

As for what is the appropriate attire for other places, here are some suggestions.

Church - "Sunday" dress.  Suits for men, dresses or suits for women.  I prefer that a woman not wear a pantsuit, but if it at least has a jacket, it is more acceptable.  Jeans and sweatsuits are not acceptable at all.  Hats for women would be nice.

Concerts - It depends on the concert.  For a local amateur group or school concert, business casual is acceptable (this includes slacks with an appropriate top for women - climate will dictate some of this as jackets may be too hot in some cases). No jeans or sweatsuits. For the symphony, ballet, or opera men should wear suits, women should wear dressy dresses.  I hope one day tuxedos and gowns will make a comeback, but for now I will settle for suits and dressy dresses.

Dinner in a restaurant - depending on the class of restaurant (we're not talking McDonald's or the local diner here) anything from business casual to dressy attire (suits for men, dresses or dressy pantsuits for women).

Movies - depending on whether you are on a date and want to impress your escort or just going to a movie with your kids, it may alter what you wear.  Nice jeans (no ripped, faded please) to business casual is acceptable.  I think the days when people dressed up to go to the movies is long gone. Unfortunately.

Using this as your guide, use common sense to decide what is appropriate for other places.  The only place a sweatsuit is appropriate is if you are exercising.


  1. Love this blog site!!! I totally agree, lets bring back appropriate attire. Going out to buy my hat and gloves for the Tea on Friday. Thanks!

    1. Thank you! I've taken a long break from writing more, but hope to get back to it. Glad you like it.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Very helpful thankyou. :) I wish I knew someone with a beautiful garden where I could host a tea there.. Minus mosquitos lol

  7. Great informative blog. Loved reading information that you have shared with us. Well these days I am also busy in planning a tea party at Los Angeles event venues. Its party of my friend and I am helping her in all arrangements. I am done with my dress and now just need to book a photographer for the day.