Monday, November 5, 2018

DAY 78: Tea Dresses!!! The Third Change of the Day

American, 1880,
Those of us raised on BBC heritage productions think of Tea--the meal, not the drink--as a hallowed British tradition, but it dates from only the mid-1800s. Princess Alix, slim and possessed of a high metabolism that sometimes caused her to faint between meals, supposedly made Afternoon Tea her bulwark against the late English dinner hour. Which meant that Afternoon Tea became a fashionable social occasion. Requiring, of course, Tea Dresses. Imagine Jennie and Princess Alix dressed in some of these, playing the dual pianos in Alix's private boudoir, the African Grey Parrot ruling them both.

The tea gown at left, I purloined for Connie, Countess of Mandeville, when she receives Jennie at home in THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN. The champagne satin with black ruffles is almost edible, it's so divine.

House of Worth, 1905,
A lady who had worn her riding habit in the morning, then donned a day dress to receive callers, write her letters, or walk out for exercise...then changed into a Carriage Dress to hurry across Town to Parliament where her husband was rising to make a speech...might receive her friends in her boudoir later that afternoon for tea, with her corsets removed and her gown completely unstructured. In such moments she wore slippers and a Tea Gown. The purple one at right, fashioned of sheer silk and velvet, was obviously for winter.

The point was to relax--in the comfort of one's home--
surrounded by one's friends, to take tea, nibble sandwiches or cakes, recruit one's strength, and gossip. Time enough later to reassume the corset and an Evening Dress for the political dinner one was hosting or attending, or a Ball Gown for a debutante's Coming Out that would begin well after dinner or the theatre, and last until dawn (more about those occasions later.) Tea was an intimate and much more casual affair. But elegance was, as always, critical. As a result, tea gowns were fashioned by the loftiest couturiers in London and Paris. 

Here are a few more, because who can resist? One, for the summer months, suitably lightweight and pretty; another, with fabulous crewel work, in wool;
Wool tea gown, English, 1880s
Liberty & Co., 1885

And finally, a stunner of a number from the Edwardian Era, when Bertie was finally crowned King Edward VII and Europe breathed a sigh before committing collective suicide in World War I. This gown was designed in 1910 by Charles Frederick Worth's son, Jean Philippe, who took over the business at his father's death.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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