The Art of Dressing for Afternoon Tea

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A tea party is a great excuse to bring together your friends and get dressed up in the afternoon! Your fabulous tea party will attract even more interest when you tell your guests that there will be Superlife Infusions Mocktail Teas as prizes for the most distinguished outfit.

Whether you prefer a semi-formal event or choose to go ‘over the top’ with guests dressing more extravagantly, there are many fashion options available to help you feel comfortable and look your best. First, though, let’s find out how this quaint custom started.

The origins of Afternoon Tea

The practice of drinking tea can be traced back to China in the third millennium BCE. Many centuries later tea was introduced into England by King Charles II and his wife, the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza, in the 1660s.

The actual idea of ‘afternoon tea’, however, did not become popular until the 1840s when Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford and lifetime friend of Queen Victoria, created the English tradition as a result of feeling hungry in the late afternoon. As supper was not eaten in her household until 8.00 pm, Anna became accustomed to taking a brief afternoon tea break between 4:00 and 5:00 pm in her private living quarters, to keep her hunger at bay. Eventually, she took to inviting her lady friends to join her for afternoon tea in the parlour.

Dressing up for tea

Needless to say, these pleasant afternoon get-togethers soon gained popularity and by the 1880s had become stylish social gatherings, with upper-class and society women dressing to the nines in long satin gowns, lace or velvet gloves, and pretty bonnets. In this elegant attire they would chat over tea that was served with finger sandwiches, pastries and scones with clotted cream and jam.

Do dress codes still matter?

These days few places will expect you to dress formally, with the possible exception of London’s grandest hotels and those whimsical tearooms in the English countryside that serve ‘proper’ afternoon teas. For your own event, though, it might be a good idea to make clear that guests should dress reasonably conservatively – you don’t want them turning up in jogging pants, trainers, or flip-flops.

The general rule for gentlemen is they should at least manage to sport a collared shirt, tie, jacket and trousers. Female fashionistas, on the other hand, may be expected to turn things up a notch and dress in more elegant and sophisticated outfits, while making sure dresses and skirts are knee-length and below.

A colourful tea hat or a unique fascinator, elegant elbow-length satin gloves, vintage jewellery such as pearls, bangles, brooches and statement earrings, a decorative hair claw and a frilly lace parasol will all add a touch of glitz and glamour to the occasion, especially if you are holding your afternoon tea outside on a sunny day. After all, isn’t afternoon tea just like a high-fashion picnic, where exclusive fine dining tea is served alongside appetisers and hors d’oeuvres?

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