Tea parties come with centuries worth of etiquette rules, including tea party attire. What to wear to a formal tea party and a casual one has a big difference. Whether it's high tea in a fancy restaurant or an afternoon garden party, it's important guests come appropriately dressed to impress.
In this guide to tea party attire, we'll break down exactly what to wear (and what fashion faux-pas to avoid). While it should offer plenty of guidance, don't hesitate to ask the host or a trusted attendee for insight into the event's dress code.
What Is The Proper Tea Party Attire?
While it varies from party to party, the tea party dress code customarily falls somewhere between smart casual and business casual. Typically held outdoors during the daytime, these social events are an excellent place to show off your superior style.
Don't be afraid to wear bold, bright colors and floral prints. The only color that's off-limits is black, as it comes across as too formal for the storied social event. If you're headed to a bridal party, you'll also need to leave your white dress behind.
High Tea vs. Afternoon Tea
Popularized by British royalty, tea party attire, and etiquette can feel quite foreign to the average American. But, don't be intimidated if your tea party invitation specifies it's an afternoon tea or high tea, and both require the same semi-formal attire.
Afternoon tea is served between 3-5 pm. It's often held in a more laid-back indoor or garden setting, where tea is consumed on coffee tables and lounge chairs instead of at a formal dining table. Expect scones, finger sandwiches, and other bite-sized treats and sweets to be served.
High tea takes place between 5-7 pm. Traditionally served at a dinner table, it's often accompanied by heartier foods to keep guests satisfied as dinnertime approaches. Expect small entrees instead of finger sandwiches.
Women's Tea Party Attire
The quintessential tea party outfit is a semi-formal dress styled with gloves, heels, and a hat or fascinator. If you're not the dress type, go with a blouse or collared shirt and dress pants. Look to Kate Middleton, the Queen of England, and other British royalty for color and print inspiration.
What to Wear
When it comes to tea party dresses, stick with something vintage (or at least vintage-inspired). It's the perfect excuse to wear something you wouldn't in your everyday life. Stick with midi dresses in timeless silhouettes that feel feminine without being overtly sexy.
Hats & Fascinators
Throughout all of history, women have sported their finest hats to afternoon tea. Leave the sports attire at home and opt for a fancy fascinator, derby hat, or cloche instead. It's okay to leave it on throughout the entire event, even while you're at the table. Though most events don't require a hat, it's best to double-check the invitation for specific attire requirements.
Tea parties are often hosted in outdoor settings, so it's important to wear practical footwear that's up for the task. You'll want the freedom to walk around comfortably as you mingle with fellow tea party guests. Stick with comfortable kittens heels or flats, and avoid wearing tall stiletto heels that may sink into the grass.
Want to feel fancy? Stick with tradition and sport a stylish pair of gloves to the tea party. Just be sure to take them off before the tea service begins. Wearing gloves while you eat or drink is a major tea party faux-pas. Opt for a pair of lace or satin wrist-length gloves that compliment your dress and hat.
What Not to Wear
Save your LBD for a cocktail party, and opt for a bright, bold color scheme instead. Black often comes off as too formal and too serious for a lively daytime event. Pinks, blues, greens, and other floral hues feel much more fitting.
Overly Sexy Dresses
Tea parties are known for being classy events. Leave low-cut V-necklines, body-con dresses, and short skirts at home to avoid showing too much skin. Instead, find subtler ways to bring a bit of sexiness to your look. Swipe on your favorite red lipstick, or try a chic off-the-shoulder neckline instead.
Men's Tea Party Attire
For men, tea party outfits consist of a dress shirt and slacks. Should the weather require another layer, stick with a classic blazer. While it's important to wear the proper semi-formal footwear, you can leave your tie at home.
What to Wear
A collared shirt is an absolute must for any tea party outfit. Try preppy pastels and dainty floral prints that feel fitting for the garden setting. While a tie is unnecessary, you may want to bring a sports coat to keep you comfortable on a chilly spring afternoon or in an overly air-conditioned tea room.
There's no room for jeans, chinos, or casual pants at a tea party. Tuck your collared shirt into a pair of put-together dress pants. Instead of boring black, opt for a smart navy or chocolate brown instead. Wear something light-colored and breathable on a hot summer day, like a pair of tan linen slacks.
What Not to Wear
While sneakers may be okay for the office, you'll still need a pair of loafers or dress shoes for a tea party. Steer clear of any shoes with an athletic vibe.
While it may sound appealing to wear shorts on a hot summer day, it's important to stick with full-length pants. Opt for lightweight cotton or linen to keep cool and comfortable no matter the weather.
What Is Tea Party Etiquette?
Heading to your first tea party? Follow these easy etiquette tips to impress your fellow party guests.
Savory Then Sweet
Afternoon tea is traditionally served on a three-tiered tray. Start with finger sandwiches and other savory bites. Then, move on to scones topped with clotted cream and jam. Consider the bite-size sweets to be a final dessert course.
Stir Your Tea the Right Way
Spoons are to be used for mixing in milk and sugar, not eating. Stir gently to avoid hitting the sides. Making noise is a sign of ill manners. Once you've finished stirring, place your spoon directly on the saucer. Don't leave it in your teacup while you drink.
Eat With Your Best Manners
Tea parties are known for being posh, so it's important to stay on your best behavior at the dinner table. Break your scone into small bites, and never dunk it into your tea (at least not while anyone is watching). Try your best not to slurp your tea either.
Sticking Your Pinky Out
Contrary to popular belief, there's no need to stick your pinky finger out while sipping tea. Yep. Proper etiquette dictates you drink pinky-down. With that being said, no one will judge you for striking that quintessential pinky-out pose for a picture or two.
Phones At The Table
Like any dinner party, it's frowned upon to use your phone at the table. Put your cell on silent mode and tuck it away in your purse to avoid distractions. After taking a few outfit pictures, that is.