Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Milk no sugar

Mostly when I read mainstream fashion magazines I'm pointedly ignoring the text and poring over the pictures. Even with this level of sifting I find it hard to avoid references to tea dresses.

Before every fashion writer started banging on about tea dresses I had a very fixed idea of what they were: light vaporous dresses in gelato shades and floral prints, trimmed with wisps of lace and smelling faintly of violets.  Julia Ryder wore them in Brideshead Revisited, the Mitford sisters would have had dozens between them. You can wear them with hats and gloves, or bare feet and uncombed hair, and either way look enchanting.

Now it seems any kind of dress made from any old fabric in any variation of a floral or even abstract print is a tea dress.  Certainly this is what I am learning from the magazines.

This is my tea dress. It's second hand and the shape and details suggest it dates back to the late seventies (it has draw string shoulders and tiers). I gave an obliging young man thirty dollars for it at the Surry Hills Market five years ago.

It's made by Simona Couture, a division of an Australian label. I understand the dress would be made from a pattern but to the specific measurements of the buyer. The fabric is marked as Swiss cotton and the colour can't help but improve your mood.

Regrettably no one ever invites me for tea but my tea dress still gets lots of outings every Summer. This year I wore it for Christmas dinner, with neither gloves nor bare feet but a vintage Gucci belt:

If you have a tea dress or a tea dress anecdote, or a view to what actually constitutes a tea dress, I'd be very interested to know.


  1. That's a gorgeous dress.

    I'd invite you over for tea, buddy.

  2. I adore that print.

    I thought tea dresses referred to the length? As in "tea-length," which back in the olden days used to mean midcalf. It was a term used to describe, say, bridal gowns that weren't floor length. It was a way to distinguish "afternoon" dresses from evening dresses, back in the even more olden days--you'd wear the dress to tea, but not to dinner.

  3. I don't know about inviting you to "tea"... that's not really the thing here. How about Sunday brunch with mimosas?

  4. Shybiker, I'd be there in my yellow dress with an armful of cakes in a flash!

    Charlotte, I don't know the origin or dates of the usage, but your explanation sounds absolutely right. It would make sense that the tea dress wold be less formal - a day dress, as it were, and worn for light refreshments rather than a sit down meal (which of course you'd have at night). I do know that I'd love to live in a time wear I could wear different dresses for different parts of the days. Well, I would sometimes.

    Lawyerdoll, I'll bring the champagne!