Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tea Jackets, Tea Length Dresses & Tea Gowns

In 2003, while attending the Take Me 2 Tea Expo [now called World Tea Expo] in Las Vegas, Nevada, my son asked me to get him a replica of the Egyptian pyramid shaped, Luxor Hotel, and I happily obliged.

While browsing in a Luxor boutique, I spotted a beautiful garment that was labeled "tea jacket," and long story short, it came home with me!  I've worn it to several tea events over the years, in multiple ways.

In the same boutique I found a velvet, fringed shawl, which I also bought.

When my son married in 2004, I found a jacket/floor-length dress ensemble by the same designer [Spenser Alexis] as my tea jacket, so I bought it to wear as my mother-of-the-groom dress.

After the wedding I had the dress altered to tea length, so I could wear it again to tea events.

Description of tea length:  A length appropriate for tea time with a hemline that falls around the calf or shin.  This type of hemline tends to skim the hips, then gradually billows out softly at the bottom.  It is typically a slightly more relaxed and casual alternative to a floor-length skirt or gown.

The first tea length hems were worn mostly by women in England and the United States in the late 19th century, and were considered a more casual alternative to full-length dresses. They tended to be made out of light-weight fabrics, and were generally considered too casual to be worn out in public.

During the 1920's, when women started wearing shorter skirts and slacks, tea length dresses were no longer considered too casual to wear outside the home, especially when fashion designers began making them out of formal fabrics such as satin. Tea length dresses and skirts were commonly worn through the early 1960's. When mini-skirts and pantsuits became popular, tea length dresses waned in fashion.

They're popular again for evening wear and special occasions, such as weddings, being advertised as "effortlessly elegant."

At a women's expo I bought a velvet, fringed, dress-length coat to wear to tea events. Though difficult to see in the photo, it has burgundy and pink flowers on it.

More recently, velvet, fringed ponchos have become a popular boutique item.  Though not necessarily for tea time, I wear it for those occasions.

Tea Gowns:  The earliest tea gowns date to the mid 1870's, and the latest to the 1930's.  One source said the gowns probably would have survived beyond that had it not been for the second world war, and the societal changes brought about by the war years.

A tea gown was a long, loose-fitting [lacking a defined waistline], decorative gown for wear at home when informally entertaining guests [generally close friends and family] for afternoon tea.  It was usually made of soft flowing fabric, designed to look like a robe worn over a dress.

The tea gown was a compromise between a wrapper [bathrobe] and a ball gown, with the end result being an elegant dressing gown.  It could be put on without the assistance of a maid, and since it was worn without a corset, it was very popular.  

Distinctions between a wrapper and a tea gown were made by the fabrics used.  Simple fabrics indicated a wrapper, while gorgeous materials were tea gowns.  

Though tea gowns were initially for afternoon tea in the boudoir, their role widened over time. By the late 1870's they became an acceptable garment for the drawing room.  By the 1900's they moved beyond afternoon tea, to evening dinner, and women began wearing them out of their homes to events at family and close friends' homes. 

Tea gowns for afternoon wear had high necklines, and those for evening had lower necklines. They didn't always have a train, but nearly always had long, flowing sleeves.  They were a very luxurious, and costly wardrobe item.

A Google search provides a lot of information, and many images of tea gowns.  Below is an Internet photo of an 1880's tea gown.

I don't own a tea gown, but beautiful reproductions are available for purchase.  One source is Victorian Trading Company.   Below are three gowns currently available at their website.   These gowns are all tea length.  [If you're a talented seamstress you can make your own.] 

~Edwardian Tea Gown~

~Vintage Tea Gown~

~Ivory Tea Gown~

Do you like to wear tea fashions when you go to Afternoon Tea?  I usually wear current fashion apparel, but it's fun to go in costume occasionally.


  1. I have never tried tea jackets or tea gowns, but yours look like great fun! I especially like the jackets and wraps. It is fun to dress up for special occasions, especially when the "dress up" clothes are comfortable, too!

  2. Very informative, thank you!

  3. Hi Phyllis,
    Your post is so interesting! Love your tea jacket and shawl! I've seen the tea dresses in the Victorian Secret catalog and really like them, but can't justify buying one when I would rarely wear it! Sure wish there were places to go to tea in my area! Have a wonderful weekend! It is suppose to be a warm one here!

  4. This was fun to read, and I learned much from what you shared. I like the tea jackets and dress you now have - it's nice to get dressed up for tea.

  5. What lovely fashions! I wear tea-themed tops and jackets to tea, but I don't (currently) own a tea gown. But I do have a pattern for one, if I ever acquire the skills to make it!

  6. The tea jackets and shawl are all just beautiful. How fun to have in your wardrobe. I love the history of the tea clothing. I have one tea dress, but I wore it to my daughters wedding and now she is divorced. I have a hard time wearing it now, but it hangs in my closet for just the right tea event to come along.


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