Time for Tea: What is a Tea Dress?
Tea dresses are back! Shaking off their frumpy reputation to become the go-to dress of the season. But what is a tea dress anyway? We look back on this wardrobe classic through the eras and celebrate this vintage style staple.
What is a Tea Dress?
Noun: tea dress (plural tea dresses)
- (early 20thcentury) A dress worn to a late afternoon or early evening event, typically with dancing, live music and where tea maybe served.
- (dated) A vintage dress length above the ankle and below the knee, although more modern styles allow above the knee.
- An informal dress made of a lightweight fabric, rayon or viscose.
Talk ‘30s to Me…
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 skirts, usually in a midi length between the knee and calf. The quintessential ‘30s style tea dress featured detailed necklines, pussy bows and embroidered collars - and was, of course, paired with gloves.
- 1930s Tea Dress Heroines – Wallace Simpson, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich
During the war, fashion took a back seat. Many leading fashion houses closed, rationing on dress fabrics and trims, which led to women learning to ‘make do and mend’ - expertly altering and updating fabric and clothing to the latest styles.
1940s Style Dress – The Design Classic
The iconic 1940s style dress was often represented as a pretty floral tea dress, a polka dot tea dress or a delicate pastel colour tea dress - boasting frills, puffed cap sleeves and sweetheart necklines. Often featuring ruching or shirring to pull into shape, the ‘40s style had a slightly shorter finishing, just above the knee in length, teamed with seamed stockings, lashings of orange hued lipstick and victory rolls. Variations included the shirt-waisted dress and the playsuit.
With the upcoming VE Day 2020 celebrations marking the 75thanniversary of VE Day, there’s never been a better time to explore 1940s styles.
- 1940s Tea Dress Heroines – Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Esther Williams, Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) in The Notebook
1990s - Grunge Does ‘40s Revival
An ode to Ms. Stefani, we’ve spent the last twenty-something years trying to find THE dress from the No Doubt’s 1995 ‘Don’t Speak’ video. This Navy polka dot button-through tea dress, complete with pearl drop buttons fits the bill - just add 1940s finger-waved hair and red lipstick.
- 1940s Tea Dress Heroines - Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, Pearl Lowe, Kate Moss, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder
Modern Day - If It’s Good Enough for Fleabag…
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag wasn’t an obvious fashion icon, but the styling reignited our love of a flirty tea dress (especially a red tea dress) and flat pump combination. Just add a denim jacket and a pair of 10 denier sheer black tights for that French girl style glamour.
Click here to see all Joanie’s Tea Dresses.