The History Of The Tea Dress

The History Of The Tea Dress

The tea dress is back, shaking off its frumpy reputation to become the go-to dress of the season. We look back on this wardrobe classic through the eras.



Traditionally, a tea dress was worn to a late afternoon or early evening event, typically with dancing, live music and where tea might be served. A classic tea dress would have a hemline length above the ankle and below the knee, although more modern styles allow above the knee. Let's take a look back at the history of the tea dress...

The 1930s Tea Dress

A mainstay of the 1930s, the tea dress reinstated the waist to its natural position (following the drop-waist flapper styling of the 20s). Draping and bias cut designs dominated the era, with modest necklines, wide or cape effect sleeves, cinched or belted waistlines and soft flowing skirt, usually in a midi length between knee and calf. Detailed necklines, pussy bows and embroidered collars, layered with faux fur wrap and gloves. 

1930’s Tea dress heroines – Wallace Simpson, Greta Garbo.

floral tea dress
The Anne Dress

The Classic 1940s Tea Dress

The iconic 1940s tea dress would typically be made in a pretty floral pattern, a polka dot or pastel colour. With frills, puffed cap sleeves and sweetheart necklines. Often featuring ruching, or shirring to pull into shape, a slightly shorter, finishing just above the knee length, teamed with seamed stockings and lashings of orange hued lipstick and victory rolls. Variations included the shirt-waister dress and the playsuit.

1940’s Tea dress heroines – Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Esther Williams

polka dot vintage tea dress
January Dress 

1990s Grunge Does 1940s Revival

The 1990s saw a 1940s tea dress revival with grunge adopting the style. This time the tea dress was styled with fishnet tights and boots, with singers like Gwen Stefani rocking the look. An ode to Ms Stefani, we’ve spent the last twenty something years trying to find THE dress from the 1995 No Doubt, Don’t speak video. Our Gwen Navy polka button through tea dress complete with pearl drop buttons fits the bill, just add 1940s finger waved hair and red lipstick.

1990’s Tea dress heroines - Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, Pearl Lowe, Kate Moss, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder

polka dot tea dress
Gwen Dress

Our latest collection features a range of tea dresses from classic vintage-inspired pussy bow neckline dresses to the grunge inspired Gwen Stefani classic! Shop our Tea Dress Edit!

Joanie x