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If the age old ritual of taking afternoon tea still conjures up images of polite, white-gloved ladies engaging in polite chit-chat over cups of fragrant tea then you might want to reconsider your opinion, as afternoon tea has an altogether naughtier side. Indeed what started in the Regency period as a secret boudoir snack progressed throughout the century as cosmopolitan and aristocratic circles enthusiastically embraced the ritual of the afternoon tea and it wasn’t long before the prim and proper afternoon tea started to be associated with more erotic elements, in the guise of the tea dress.

The tea dress is also known as a “tea gown”, “robe d’interieur”, or as fashionable Edwardian women christened it the, “teagie”.  Essentially tea gowns were an indoor dress and a close cousin to the dressing gown and the peignoir, they were created in the 1870s, when both day and evening dresses were tight fitting affairs  that did not lend themselves to comfortable lounging. The tea gown offered the period lady a chance to relax from the bustles and corsets of the day in the company of her female companions. It was inevitable that the garment’s relative ease of fastening and connotations of liberation would become the natural setting for seduction. Afternoon tea then transformed into what the French called “le cinq à sept”: the accepted time when a lady could entertain her lover with the wordless permission of her husband. It was an unspoken rule that a ladies husband would not enter the drawing room at that hour (perhaps because he was enjoying extra marital frivolities himself ), and with the collusion of inconspicuous maids, the lady of the house would announce herself “at home” solely for the benefit of her gentleman caller.  So it seems afternoon tea time and the dresses that accompany are more seductive than stuffy.

baytreeWith its saucy connotations the tea gown soon became a necessary part of a stylish lady’s wardrobe.  Combining comfort and style the gown moved seamlessly into the evening and became a dinner tea gown, this version was lower at the décolletage and made more elaborately with seductively, decorative embellishments. The Edwardian style was already to wear chiffon and lace to titillate the male fancy and the soft flowing dinner tea gown continued in this mode, making the very most of the feminine form.   These tempting gown were intended to be worn at  small informal dinners hosted at home and were made even more rousing because they were not meant to be worn  outside of one’s own home.

Attired in her tea-gown made of  soft satin, light chiffon or fine silk, trimmed  with fine lace and generally free from the confines of corsetry, the hostess must have been a greatly alluring to male guests. These comfortable gowns afforded such femininity that whilst fashions changed and hemlines rose and fell the tea-gown, which had appeared in England from 1875 enjoyed popularity into the 1920’s.

So when dressing to take tea disregard fitted dresses and stop thinking about hemline lengths, because historically dressing for afternoon tea was all about trend setting and new found freedom in women’s attire.  Remember lots of soft, free-flowing fabrics that flow across your feminine form and give the promise of easy undressing are the key to correct tea apparel.   Ooh la la