The second longest reigning monarch of England – Queen Victoria, marks her 197th birthday on 24 May 2016. Nearly 200 years old, the Victorian Era stays etched on our minds and mimicked in our manners to this day. Etiquettes and fashion are synonymous to the era and were known to breed fastidious quality among its followers. Even today Victorian fashion is symbolised by transforming bustle shapes, whimsical designs, embroidery, lace work and hats adorned by the aristocratic or wealthy ladies. The tradition of Afternoon Tea in late 1840’s was quite a game-changer in the era when the Duchess of Bedford made it a society event to invite ladies over for a light snack and tea. This particular tradition paved the way for the ‘tea gown’ fashion soon after the dressing gown caught the fancy of the English elite.
Tea time Fashion : Tea gowns emerged in both England and France in the 1870s well after the Afternoon Tea tradition had made its permanent place in the long list of Victorian traditions and etiquettes. The earliest evidence of the dressing down being labeled as ‘tea gown’ appears in 1878 in the British periodical, The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper. The ladies of the Victorian era were expected to dress conservatively according to the social code of Victorian etiquettes. The tea gown enabled upper-class women to express their creative and whimsical fantasies through designs on the gown. Since the gown was an attire solely to be worn among ladies and inside the house the whimsical patterns did take liberties albeit well within the framework of the social norms.
Tea Time Trends : There are influences from the past era and the 16th & 17th century that are seen on the designs of the tea gown. Bows and lace at the front opening did show the influence of the previous century. Necklines would range from a square shape to the heart shape with decorative borders and laces. The loose open robe with plastron and Watteau pleats at the back was one of the patterns of the tea gown that saw its end during the last decade of the 19th century. The high neckline and Watteau pleats with an open robe that covered an underdress takes it inspiration from the French monarchy and one of these gowns were even named after Louis XV suggesting the inspiration behind the design. In the early 1890s, the tea gown hues got brighter and the materials kept getting richer. Tea gowns were also cut as a tea-jacket and skirt and morphed into a dinner dress in the 1890s. Victorian fashion trends could be distinguished by the size of the bustle and the sleeves. The sleeves of tea gowns transformed as the patterns of the gown itself. During the early years of the trend the gowns had long close-fitting sleeves or at elbow length. However towards the end of the century, the sleeves grew larger and fuller literally wearing one’s social standing on your sleeve.
Social Standard : Tea time by then had grown into a prestigious and daunting event where not just the attire but the hostess’ home was on the display for her guests to talk about among themselves. It was now customary to reciprocate your invitation and host a tea party which only meant an unchained reaction to one up your guests in every aspect including the tea gown. The end of 19th-century saw the peak of the tea gown fashion with every esteemed designer such as Worth offered their very intricate and best designs to aristocrats and monarchs for the special tea party event at one of England or France’s enviable residence.
If you are keen to learn more about Victorian fashion we recommend English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century and blogs like Victoriana.com, fashion-era.com