Tea parties are a celebration of culture — throwbacks to a gentler time when food and fashion were the ultimate entertainment.
But if it’s probably been a while since you’ve put on your best to sip a good cuppa with friends and finger sandwiches, so you’ll want to know what to wear.
A proper tea party attire is usually smart casual. But you should ask your host what is expected because some parties might have a special theme or call for a more formal attire.
Sometimes the dress code for tea parties is only slightly less intimidating than it is for royal weddings, but we’ve got the advice you can count on. Just follow our lead!
What to Wear to a Tea Party
Usually, women would wear a dress or a pantsuit to a tea party while men can have a collared shirt and neat chinos or a pair of dark-colored jeans. But there is definitely some room in adjusting your outfit to suit your personality.
Where daily tea time is customary, it’s a relatively casual event — a time to sit back and relax with a nosh between meals. But a tea party is a special occasion. A social celebration with a rich history, proper attire is part of the tradition.
Before we go into more specific tea party outfit ideas, let’s take a look at the basics:
Tea Party Attire for Women
Tea party attires for women range from Friday casual to Sunday best depending on the setting. For women, dresses prevail, but upscale pantsuits or elegant separates are welcomed.
Colors, fabrics, and lengths are seasonal, but modesty is a must, and neutrals are the rule. Standing out is measured by how well you blend in, so save the short skirts, big jewelry, and plunging necklines for cocktail parties.
Tea Party Attire for Men
Trousers with a dress shirt, coat, and tie are the safest bet for gentlemen’s tea party attire. Suits aren’t necessary except for the most formal occasions.
Young men can push the boundaries of casual with a pressed collared shirt sans tie, especially if the look is smartly accessorized. When attending with a partner, your outfits should blend.
Tea Party Accessories
Tea parties are a good excuse to trot out your favorite accessories.
For ladies, hats and parasols are as practical as they are pretty, deflecting the hot garden sun. Fascinators are the headwear of choice, but a derby or pillbox hat can be equally daring.
Gloves are not required but are appreciated by senior hosts. A vintage pair with lace or bows adds intrigue to modern attire.
Classic jewelry is preferred — think pearls or a dainty necklace. But hoop earrings or a chunky bracelet can be the focal point of an otherwise unpretentious outfit. Just don’t go overboard.
Bling on a clutch bag is a less showy way than bold jewelry to make a statement at a formal tea party. At an outdoor event, a plain satin or embroidered clutch pulls in floral colors.
For men, a dress wristwatch or a pocket watch and chain are always appropriate. Adding a patterned pocket square or hat is a simple way to make casual outfits feel more polished.
Popular tea party hats include timeless choices like fedoras and tweed caps. A Panama hat with a fine weave is both refined and breathable.
What Not to Wear
Follow the advice below and you should be safe from wearing anything inappropriate:
- T-shirts: T-shirts are discouraged for women except as an underlayer. But young men can pull off a solid tee beneath a blazer or wool cardigan. Wearing loud tees with logos or pockets is in poor taste. Quality counts.
- Shorts: Dressy Bermudas pass muster when the weather is hot, but don’t push your luck. If your hosts wouldn’t wear shorts, you probably shouldn’t either — go for dress pants instead.
- Shoes: Semi-formal sandals and ballet flats are ideal for ladies at outdoor parties since you’ll want to be comfortable moving around. Indoors, a chunky heel or pump looks sharp, but leave the stilettos at home. As a general rule, flip-flops and sneakers are a no-no regardless of age or gender. Men, stick to shined dress shoes or an upscale casual loafer.
- Athletic or Sportswear: Athletic clothes, pajamas, and sportswear, including jeans, sweatshirts, and workout apparel have no place at a tea party — ever.
High Tea Versus Afternoon Tea Attire
High tea and afternoon tea are two distinct events with two unique dress codes.
If high tea evokes visions of scones and tea cakes, think again. Traditionally, high tea is more substantive than fancy, including a light meal that passes for an early supper.
Served between 5-7 pm, high tea was once an informal occasion to fill one’s stomach while waiting for the late evening meal. Today, the dress code is smart casual — high tea attire is often quite similar to what you would wear to an office job.
Afternoon tea is so named because it’s served on a cart or coffee table rather than a dinner table. It’s the fancier of the two occasions.
Food is limited but decadent, including sandwiches, spreads, and tea party desserts. Dressy attire is the norm.
Tea Party Outfit Ideas
Here are some ideas on what to wear to a different types of tea parties:
Classy Tea Party Outfits
A certain level of sophistication is expected for special occasions or in the presence of distinguished guests. When in doubt, neutral colors are timeless and easy to accessorize.
Pieces should be form-fitting without being overly tight. Keep hemlines modest.
Choose fine jewelry over costume jewelry and quality fabrics, such as silk, cashmere, or linen, over polyester. The goal is to look put together but not overdone.
Summer Tea Party Attire
Summer tea party attire can be fun or formal. In warm weather, you’ll want to be comfortable.
For ladies, we recommend light midi or maxi dresses in pastel colors or floral prints. It’s the season for color, so there’s no need to limit yourself to beiges. Think pinks, yellows, blues, and greens.
For gentlemen, a lightweight blazer or sport coat with linen trousers and a short-sleeved dress shirt is both cool and classy. Men of all ages can pass on the cravat at a tea party picnic or a garden party, and jackets can come off once you’ve made an entrance.
English Tea Party Attire
When amongst royals, dress like royalty. At an English tea party, tradition matters more than the latest fashion. Let the quintessential floral-on-white teacup be your inspiration.
Ladies, choose a single focal point of color for your outfit and accessorize with a matching fascinator or gloves. Keep it elegant.
We recommend dress trousers, jackets, and ties for men — it’s not the time to be edgy.
Modern Tea Party Attire
Rules go from black and white to shades of gray for modern tea parties. It’s not unusual to see a blend of traditional and trendy attire.
Styles for ladies are a little flashier — hemlines are shorter, necklines are deeper and bold colors blend in. The usual guidelines still stand, but there’s more room for personal expression.
Among men, attire is more relaxed. Ties are less common, and chinos won’t get you kicked out. But jackets are always a good choice.
A comfortable yet classic look impresses guests of all ages without feeling stuffy. Trendy accessories from sunglasses to bowties modernize the look.
Vintage Tea Party Attire
Vintage tea parties are a blast from the past. An opportunity to experience the flavors and fashions of bygone eras, the clothes make the event. Invitations specify the dress code, so it’s easy to fit in.
Not everyone, of course, has vintage clothing in their closets. But the feel of your outfit matters more than the details.
You could see a costumer, but many modern classics are inspired by other times. For women, any long, lacy dress works for a Victorian tea party. For men, suspenders and a bowler hat make any suit look the part.
Black Tea Party Attire
Black matches everything, but it’s not welcomed everywhere. It’s often considered too formal and heavy for tea parties.
A splash of noir is welcomed to make a monochromatic look pop, but keep it to a minimum. It should be an accent and never a primary color.
Final Thoughts on Proper Tea Party Attire
Tea party attire is as aspirational as it is inspirational. A window to the past and a vision of the future, it carries our traditions forward.
After choosing your outfit, here are a few things to know about tea party etiquette:
- Avoid using your phone and keep your purse, phone, and accessories off the table.
- No need to stick your pinky out while drinking tea.
- Avoid slurping, gulping, and making any other loud noises.
- Be nice and helpful and serve others before yourself.
Now you are all set up and ready to mingle.
Enjoy your tea party!
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