What to Wear to Afternoon Tea: Dressing the Part

Afternoon tea is a beloved British tradition adopted and celebrated worldwide. Originating in the early 19th century, this mid-afternoon ritual offers individuals a chance to come together and enjoy a sumptuous spread of sandwiches, pastries, cakes, and tea.

Beyond the culinary delights, attending an afternoon tea is as much about the social aspect as the food. As such, dressing appropriately is vital.

But what exactly does one wear to afternoon tea? Here, we’ll guide you through the essentials, ensuring you arrive in style.

Understand the Venue

Venue for Tea Party

The setting of your afternoon tea plays a pivotal role in determining attire. If you’re attending tea in a traditional setting, such as a lavish hotel or a venerable mansion brimming with history, anticipate an air of formality. Women should lean towards elegant knee-length dresses or a harmonious pairing of skirts and blouses.

Conversely, men can don dapper slacks paired with collared shirts, and a blazer can always be good. However, the dress code relaxes in more casual spots, modern cafes that have adapted the tea tradition to a laid-back vibe. Smart-casual ensembles dominate, with stylish blouses, contemporary trousers, and refined denim taking center stage.

Classic is Best

Traditional styles serve as trusty compasses when navigating the sartorial waters of afternoon tea. Women can seldom go wrong with the ageless allure of an A-line dress. It becomes the epitome of tea-time elegance, complemented by ballet flats or modest heels and adorned in florals, pastels, or subdued hues.

The power of a crisply ironed collared shirt, bathed in neutrals or gentle pastels, remains unmatched for men. Paired with tailored trousers and loafers, it exudes grace. To ratchet up the formality, ties or waistcoats can be considered.

Comfort Matters

While fashion takes center stage, comfort plays an equally important role. Afternoon teas aren’t a swift affair; they’re prolonged sessions of conversation, sipping, and savoring delicacies. Clothing that hinders movement or feels restrictive can mar the experience. Choose attire that resonates with style but allows you to fully engage with the tea experience.

Women should choose breathable fabrics like cotton or silk for warm weather while opting for comfortable knits or cashmere during colder months. In contrast, men can go lightweight with linen or breathable cotton, perfect for warmer months. In colder weather, soft wool or blends can be stylish and comfortable.

Footwear Choices

Much like your clothes, your shoes are influenced by the venue’s character. When gracing upscale venues, women should opt for the elegance of closed-toe heels or the understated charm of ballet flats.

Casual venues, however, open the door to stylish sandals and even luxe sneakers. The timeless appeal of leather shoes, spanning loafers to lace-ups, is universally apt for men. But when the setting is relaxed, a pristine pair of leather sneakers can strike the right chord.

Accessorize Thoughtfully

The right accessories can transform your tea attire from ordinary to extraordinary. Women can channel bygone eras with chic hats or fascinators, which add flair while paying homage to tea traditions.

Instead of cumbersome bags, sleek clutches or petite handbags meld better with the tea setting. For men, the subtle luxury of a classic watch, the shimmer of cufflinks, or the color pop of a pocket square can be the perfect finishing touch.

Mind the Season

Nature’s palette and temperament greatly influence tea-time fashion. In the refreshing embrace of spring/summer, embrace lighter fabrics like breathable linen, soft cotton, or luxurious silk. The season’s spirit is best captured in floral prints and vibrant colors.

When the leaves turn in autumn/winter, the coziness of wool or cashmere becomes a favored choice, with the season’s mood mirrored in rich shades like deep reds, forest greens, and sophisticated navies.

When in Doubt, Overdress

The uncertainty of dress codes can be daunting. However, when in doubt, skew towards formality. Being the embodiment of elegance in a room holds its charm, and it’s infinitely better than the discomfort of feeling underdressed. The respect you show to the tradition by dressing up can enhance your experience and those around you.

Why Dressing Appropriately for Afternoon Tea Matters?

For many, the question might arise: “It’s just tea, so why all the fuss about dressing?” The ritual of afternoon tea goes beyond simply sipping a brew and munching on scones. It encapsulates a cultural, social, and historical experience that deserves respect and appreciation.

While the tea and delicacies are undeniably the stars of the show, the attire worn by attendees plays a significant role in making afternoon tea a cherished and timeless tradition. So, dressing appropriately will add value to the overall experience, ensuring the tradition remains alive and well-respected.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to wear a hat to afternoon tea?

While women historically wore hats or fascinators during afternoon tea, they are not a strict requirement today. If you enjoy the classic aesthetic, feel free to wear one. However, ensure you’re not overshadowing others or obstructing views at the table.

Are jeans acceptable for afternoon tea?

A pair of neat, upscale jeans can be appropriate for a stylish top or blouse in more casual settings or modern cafes. However, it’s best to opt for slacks or dresses for traditional venues like high-end hotels or historic mansions.

What shoes should I avoid for afternoon tea?

While there’s a wide range of acceptable footwear, it’s generally best to avoid overly casual options like flip-flops, rugged boots, or athletic sneakers. They can appear out of place in the refined setting of afternoon tea.

Do men need to wear a tie for afternoon tea?

While a tie can add a touch of formality, it isn’t mandatory for most afternoon tea settings. However, it’s wise to wear one if the tea is at a notably upscale location or an event with a stricter dress code.

Can I wear sleeveless dresses or tops?

Yes, sleeveless dresses or tops are perfectly acceptable for afternoon tea, especially during warmer months. However, ensure they are tasteful and not overly revealing for the setting.