Time for Tea: What is a Tea Dress?

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)

  1. (early 20thcentury) A dress worn to a late afternoon or early evening event, typically with dancing, live music and where tea maybe served.
  2. (dated) A vintage dress length above the ankle and below the knee, although more modern styles allow above the knee.
  3. 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


1930s Tea Dresses

Babs Dress, January White Dress, Alexis Green Dress


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


1940s Tea Dresses

Joyce Dress, Birdie Dress, Karlie Cherry print Dress


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


1940s Tea Dresses

Bessie Dress, Gwen Dress, January Black Dress


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.


Tea Dresses

Lotta Blue Dress, Alexis Red Dress, Elspeth Cath print Dress


Click here to see all Joanie’s Tea Dresses.