How Did Tea Give Birth to a Fashion Statement? - Rivertea Blog
Carmen Rotaru | On 15, May 2013
Have you ever regarded tea as a trend setter? Believe it or not tea gave birth not only to ceremonies, recipes, customs, culture and so on, but also to bold fashion statements as it was the case of the English tea gown. Discover how the tea gowns looked like in their early days and what made them so controversial back then.
The classic understanding of taking tea in the afternoon, between four to five o clock, usually brings in everybody’s minds the images of polite, white-gloves, elegant ladies, chitchatting to each other over cups of steaming Oolong or Darjeeling.
The atmosphere is serene and if the season permits it the ladies are surrounded by colorful flowers in the special designed tea gardens. But the atmosphere wasn’t that peaceful at all as tea gowns were first born, giving way to erotic and seductive games between the ladies and their male visitors.
The Birth of the Tea Gown
The afternoon tea custom gave birth not only to numerous delicious sandwiches, cakes, bakery recipes, but also to a new fashion trend with an erotic twist, especially in the Edwardian era (1901-1910): the tea gown.
Tea gowns are long, loosely fitted dresses highly popular among Edwardian ladies as they could finally be free of the corset. The first role of the tea gown was that of a homey dress, fit to wear only in the private headquarters or retreat of a lady, but soon became highly popular outside the intimacy of the drawing room.
The tea gowns remained in trend until late 1930s, being considered an informal and leisurely garment for the ladies of that era. The tea gowns usually had an unbroken line over the waist, long and tight leaves at the beginning which evolved in long and flowing leaves towards the 1920s and a sense of ease rendering the corset totally useless.
Sometimes the more extravagant ladies would add to their tea gown elements of exotic touch like Indian, Chinese or Japanese details, or those who would be nostalgic about old times would add to their tea gown elements of medieval fashion. Strong floral and natural motifs were also a must have especially for the ladies who wanted to keep up with the Art Nouveau movement, between 1890 and 1910.
The Tea Gown: A Bold Fashion Statement
The tea gown was most certainly a twist from the old ways into a new era of fashion, a bold twist as the gown didn’t need a corset and could be put on and taken off without the usual help of a maid. This gave the tea gown a more eccentric glow and also an erotic touch. The tea gown enabled the Edwardian ladies to escape at last from the tightly fitted evening dresses and the bustles of the corsets.
What gave the tea gown an erotic and naughty touch was the fact that it was easy to take it off and put on, which made it a devoted adjutant of the seduction games played by the ladies of the day. What is more, afternoon tea during Edwardian period was known as the only time of the day when a decent lady could entertain her lover with the permission of her husband who was probably doing the same. The tea gown was perfect for such short, but passionate encounters between love birds.
The tea gown wasn’t at all approved by all eyes of society. For instance, a writer from 1879 was shocked and disgusted with the increasing popularity of the tea gown and with its more and more erotic appearance.
“Ladies who a few years ago would have considered the idea appalling, calmly array themselves in the glorified dressing-robe known as the ‘tea gown’ and proceed to display themselves to the eyes of their admirers… At their first beginning the tea gowns only put in an appearance when the beverage from which they take their name was dispensed in the ladies boudoir, and only a rare and favoured specimen of the opposite sex was admitted on sufferance. But such old-fashioned prudery has long been thrown aside…the tea gown have descended to the drawing room and the hall…”
Tea Gowns and Social Life
Despite its naughty connotations, the tea gown soon became a must-have in a lady’s wardrobe. The fashion writers of the day would not consider complete the wardrobe of a respectable lady without the bold tea gown in it. At the beginning of the tea gown fashion, a lady would consider proper to dress herself with one, only in the intimacy of her own drawing room or boudoir and in the sole company of her most intimate friends and family, often her lover.
A decent lady wouldn’t have left home dressed in a tea gown. After the tea gowns gained more and more in popularity, ladies started to wear them more often and soon began visiting their friends and family dressed in the leisurely garments.
As the gown was both stylish and comfortable, it was soon transformed into a dinner tea gown. This new version was lower at the décolletage and had a more elaborate design, as the train was longer and the sleeves shorter. However, the tea gown was still consider not proper for official dinners or for leaving one’s home in it.
Fashion was always a method through which women would state their own piece of mind or used as discreet seduction weapon and the tea gown in this case doesn’t make an exception. Do you think that tea gowns were indeed as “indecent” as fashion writers of the time claimed or can they be regarded as a storm in a glass of water?
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