Afternoon tea is a symbol of British culture. Tea was brought to England in the 17th century from Asia. It was drunk only by aristocrats, as it was an expensive drink.
According to legend, Anna, Duchess of Bedford, in 1830s, not wanting to suffer from hunger until a late supper, asked a maid to bring her a kettle of tea and light snacks to her boudoir. She liked this snack and began to repeat it from day to day. Then she began to invite her friends to such tea parties. Afternoon tea became fashionable among aristocrats, and then completely developed into a national tradition.
This tradition is almost 200 years old, so serving snacks even have their own rules. They are served on a three-tier stand in a well-defined order: the bottom plate contains finger sandwiches with cucumber, egg, chicken, or smoked salmon, the middle plate contains warm scones with butter and jam, and the top plate contains sweet pastries and cakes.
The afternoon tea tradition has spawned many baking recipes and a trendy new garment, the tea dress.
The tea dress is a hybrid of a robe and a ball gown. It has a loose straight or semi-fitted cut, usually with a train, long sleeves, and a high collar.
The tea dress by fashion House Worth (1900):
Sometimes it could have a small cutout, slightly opening the neck.
A tea dress was put on without the maids' help. It was sewn of soft fabrics, decorated with lace.
Sometimes the colour of the dress was matched to the interior of the dining room to make the process of drinking tea more elegant.
The appearance of tea dresses was influenced by Japanese kimonos (loose fit), dresses from the Rococo era (pastel shades, ruffles, lace) and Watteau dresses with folds on the back, popular in 18th century.
The tea dress appeared in 1870s when women exhausted by tight corsets began to listen to doctors who spoke about the corset's harm to a body. Tea drinking with girlfriends was a time when women needed to feel comfortable, but at the same time look fashionable and attractive.
Until the beginning of 20th century, the tea dress was strictly for wearing at home and was associated with underwear.
In 1884, there was opened a department for the dresses' design and production in the Liberty & Co department store (London), where tea dresses were sewn. The department store is known for its range of luxurious silks and rare oriental fabrics.
The tea dress by Liberty&Co (1885):
At the beginning of the 20th century, women began to spend time in tea dresses not only at home but also during walking, picnic or travelling.
Kate Winslet in a tea dress in Titanic (1997):
Sometimes the dress was called the lawn dress. In the summer, the ladies loved to drink hot tea in the garden, so tea dresses were sewn from soft fabrics, usually from batiste and cotton.
It has become permissible to appear in a tea dress at non-festive evening events with friends.
Fashion designer Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon was one of the first to abandon the corset and put the tea dress in the category of weekend and streetwear. In 1894 she opened the Maison Lucile in London, where she organized the first theatrical shows with her models, with live music and champagne. Her clients included members of the British aristocracy and Hollywood actresses. She also designed clothing for many theatrical productions.
Fashion designer C.F. Worth, the father of high fashion, also made many tea dresses for the aristocrats and American tycoons' wives. This dress of Worth fashion House was worn by the wife of the American banker J.P. Morgan (junior).:
In the United States, the tea dress became fashionable by Jessie Franklin Turner. She created her tea dresses of antique fabrics according to oriental patterns, based on a rectangle, and richly decorated with embroidery.
In 1920s, when the position of women in society changed, fashion also changed, and the tea dress became less popular. The styles did not differ much from casual dresses.
The tea dress by Callot Soeurs (1920s):
Traditional tea dress existed in narrow circles until the Second World War.