A popular trend among women in the past few years is to host a Victorian Tea Party as if it was 1867. These events—lavishly decorated, handwritten invites, hoop-skirt optional—are used as bridal showers, fifth birthday parties, charity events, baby showers, and more. Really, anytime there will be a gathering of more than three women, it has the potential to be a tea party. However, what was it really like to host a Victorian Tea Party? In reality, they were much more formal had many more rules, and if the wrong etiquette was used during one, it could end a woman’s social life.
From The Home Manual: Everybody’s Guide in Social, Domestic, & Business Life, 1889, we learn the afternoon tea is among the most informal events one can host, that only light refreshments should be served, and no wine of any variety should appear. In the Victorian Era, calling cards were used to communicate among neighbors and friends, and the type of calling card one used denoted the formality of the event. Because the type of calling card used is so vital to knowing how formal an event was, a simple “visiting card” would have been used for tea (The Home Manual).
To hold your tea, a tea urn would be most ideal. Tea should be made in bulk in the kitchen and then placed in the urn for heating, then served in antique flowered tea-sets. If you don’t happen to own a flowery tea set, don’t fear! A common pastime for Victorian ladies was hand-painting china, and you could create your own lovely china and have it be just as authentic (Victoriana). As for food, scones served with jam, curds, and clotted cream are the most traditional option for tea parties (Tea Laden). Along with light sandwiches, nothing more was expected.
Throughout the Victorian era, we can see the beginnings of women’s liberation through ladies’ fashion. Although the era ended with restricting corsets and bustles, they were much improved from the thick petticoats and steel hoops of the 1830’s. Day dresses of the late 1800’s “show that women were leading rather more active lives,” but that does not mean that they were not restrictive in their own way (Victoria and Albert Museum). Many corsets had bone and steel linings, and the hemlines of dresses did not allow for free flowing movement. To hold a completely authentic tea party, your dress will no doubt be uncomfortable, maybe even painful.
While there are countless other rules and formalities, our world seems to be obsessed with going back in time to experience the days of the Victorian era. Hosting tea parties brings us back to more elegant, more refined times. Perhaps the next special occasion you host, be it a gathering of old friends or a birthday for your family, a tea party may be just the right fit.