How to Dress for a Proper Tea Party

I LOVE a good party. And I don’t mean at a nightclub. Give me garden parties, theme parties and TEA parties please! And, since you’ve found yourself here (on a wicker bag blog no less my loveable little lemming), I’m guessing you share a similar sentiment. 

SO LET’S TALK TEA PARTIES. 

There is something extra fabulous about a tea party. They are fancy, flouncy, grand bits of fun - just like you. 

Tea parties are just such an elegant way to celebrate. And whether you are going to a tea party at the home of a friend, or attending an event at a cafe, it’s important to impress all those attending with the appropriate dress.

I frequent high tea with my friends. Quite frequently. So if you’re wondering how to dress for a proper tea party, I will make sure you are draped in veritable tea party SPLENDOUR. 

I’m going to give you all my top tips for dressing up dashingly - including clothing, hat, and shoe recommendations - and why wicker bags should be your go-to accessory. 

But first, I want to make sure you know which event you’re going to, because the terminology for tea parties these days can be just a bit baffling. 

High tea vs afternoon tea - what’s the difference? 

My darling fluff nugget, I’m sure we can agree that there is nothing worse than misinterpreting the dress code. 

And this can be especially problematic when invited to a tea party. What kind of tea party is it?

Is it high tea?

Is it afternoon tea?

Is it fancy? Is it casual? Is it THEMED!?

And, I don’t mean to freak you out, but high tea can actually mean two (almost opposite) things. 

How on this swiftly-spinning Earth do you know what to dress for!?

Deep breath. 

In Australia and the US, we often refer to a fancy tea party as “high tea.”

WE ARE WRONG. 

High tea originated in the UK, took place around dinnertime, and was meant to replace supper. The word “high” does not denote fancy, but the height of the dinner table (aka higher than the coffee table).

High tea does not involve lovely tiered trays of tea sandwiches. Oh no, you are getting ENTREES.

What we refer to as high tea today is actually afternoon tea.

A superfluous multiple course affair of fun consisting of small finger foods and ridiculously frilly outfits.

But, today, we use the two terms synonymously in many places. Depending on where you are attending your tea party, and who is doing the hosting, “high tea” can mean very different things.

Moral of the story: It’s best to ask the host about the dress code for your tea party! 

8 tips for proper tea party attire 

Today we will be discussing the fancy side of tea party attire (because I’m fairly sure you don’t need advice on casual looks). Here are my top tips for rocking the socks of the tea party attendees. 

1. Show up with the perfect statement bag

Of course, I’m a bit biased, but my all-time favourite accessory for a tea party is a wicker bag. And not just any wicker bag. A unique, figural one - particularly if we are talking a wicker animal bag. 

There is just something so timeless and whimsical about a wicker bag. And, those are two adjectives that describe a tea party perfectly, so naturally, wicker bags and tea parties go together like two peas in a retro pod! 

Of course, there are plenty of other occasions to dress up and wear our designer wicker handbags, but quite a few of them seem destined for tea parties in particular. 

A summer-y wicker bag like a wicker watermelon purse or pink flamingo purse will go especially well with your ruffley, pastel tea party dress, but really any wicker bag will do. 

Just make sure you stand out - because a tea party is one of my favourite excuses to be a little extra. 

Any of the unique wicker bags from Wicker Darling will be just the ticket. You’ll stand out in the middle of the crowd with one of our hand-painted purses

Plus, just think of how cute your animal handbag will look in your tea party photoshoot. You can even pretend it is indulging in the fabulous 3-tiered tray of treats. 

If you have never worn wicker before, don’t worry! We have all the tips you could possibly need (and more) for how to wear wicker.

You will be all set to simply AMAZE with your wicker bag at your next tea party. 

2. Keep it classy 

Tea party attire is usually smart casual. Which is somewhere between casual and business-casual.

If you’re already confused, fear not my roly poly cherub! I’m going to break it down for you. 

Since tea parties are usually about class and finery, it’s best to class up your look a little too. Think higher necklines, lower hems, and flattering cuts. 

If you wouldn’t wear it to impress your new boo’s parents, maybe rethink the outfit. 

We want you to be the picture of perfection with your wacky wicker bag. 

This is not to say you need to be conservative, nor that you need to dress like you’re going to church. Striking the balance between appropriate and comfortable is what smart casual is all about. 

Smart casual gives you a lot of freedom and flexibility with your outfit. You can be as loud or demure as you please, as masculine or feminine as you fancy. 

Think a work party - only not nearly so stuffy. 

In general, it’s best to skip the color black in large doses (too somber for this whimsy affair) and to leave the sneakers, t-shirts, shorts and sportswear at home. 

Now that I’ve probably confused you with what NOT to wear, let’s talk about what you absolutely SHOULD wear to a tea party with your wicker bag in tow. 

3. Try a tea dress 

If you want an effortless outfit to wear with your wicker bag, a dress is one of the best ways to go.

In fact, there is even a style called a tea dress, and this is the first thing I would gravitate to. Tea dresses are the perfect fit and flare number. The hem falls above the ankle and below the knee, and you can often find a high-cut bodice as well - the picture of prim and proper.

In general, when choosing a dress, look for one that fits you well, flatters your shape, and is effortlessly feminine. Think ruffles, timeless silhouettes and any fun print or pattern you can find! I also recommend light and bright colours for your tea party.

If you are having afternoon tea in a warmer season, maybe opt for a cotton or linen dress. If it’s cold where you are, then maybe velvet or tweed will be more appropriate. 

4. Bottoms up 

If you’re not wearing a dress, sometimes it’s better to focus on the bottom half of your outfit for a tea party.

The general rule is to make sure that your skirt sits at the knee or below the knee for it to be tea-party appropriate.

You can try a fitted pencil skirt, a flowing maxi skirt or a skirt with a flared hem. Tailored trousers can also work exceedingly well for a tea party, but pay close attention to fabric and fit.

As for the top, you can pair any of these looks with a blouse, button down or simple black shirt. If your skirt or pants are a solid colour, you might opt for a bright or printed blouse, and if your bottom is more busy, then adding a neutral top can help refine your look. 

5. Snatch a sweater

If you want to add a little class (or warmth) to your tea party look, then a cardigan sweater is always a good idea! You can also try a pale sweater vest over a collared shirt for a more masculine look. 

This is then the perfect opportunity to plop a vintage brooch on your bosom, particularly one that matches your wicker bag. 

Peacock purse? Peacock brooch.

Cat purse? Cat, fish or bird brooch.

I’m sure you get the picture - you’re a smart cookie. 

6. Put on some fancy footwear

When flouncing into a tea party, it’s best to leave the sneakers at home. But there are plenty of fancy options you can try. 

If your tea party is semi-casual then nice sandals, flats or boat shoes will do. A fancier affair might call for some brogues or closed-toed pumps like Mary Janes. Look for a shorter, stockier heel as opposed to a stiletto.

And for goodness sake, have FUN with your shoes. Try a bold pop of colour or match a print to your wicker bag. 

7. Fascinate with your...fascinator  

An extra-fabulous tea hat or fascinators is one of the easiest ways to make a grand entrance to your tea party.

If you are attending a garden party, go for big, floppy and ridiculous. 

If it's a more intimate indoor affair, maybe opt for a small, artistic fascinator.

And, if you’re trying to stick to a masculine look, a fedora or Panama hat could be just the ticket. 

8. Add more accessories

Your tea party outfit is simply not complete without some baubles.

Grab some vintage jewelry like a thick, chunky necklace or attention-grabbing ring. This is the perfect event for taking your family heirlooms out for a spin. 

If you’re attending an outdoor event, then maybe you want to have a frilly parasol!

Or, if you're going for an elegant look, then long gloves will always elevate the situation. That being said, you will want to remove them before the actual tea service begins for best manners.

When it comes to tea party accessories, anything goes - except dangly bracelets. (If you are anything like me, they will just end up in your food.)

Pinkies up and wicker bags out! 

My toasty strudel-muffins, you are all set for the best tea party of the season. With these outfit suggestions, and a vintage wicker purse on your arm, you’ll steal the spotlight while sipping that caffeinated leaf water we all love. 

No matter how fancy the occasion, remember to have fun with it! Tea parties should never be taken TOO seriously - and neither should most things in life. Of course, if you have a figural wicker bag on your arm, no one could possibly accuse you of being stuffy.

You and your wicker bag will be the life of the tea party my dear. 

July 09, 2021 — The Wicker Darling Team