TEA TRAVELS (TM) - The Afternoon Tea Gown and LaBelle Epoque

TEA TRAVELS (TM) - The Afternoon Tea Gown and LaBelle Epoque
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To understand the grandeur of the LaBelle Epoque's influence on the Afternoon Tea gown, one must first know the gown's origins.
The Afternoon Tea Gown was first introduced, in the 1840s, by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. The gowns were fashioned on the styles and times of the day.

Undress: worn in the morning, inside a ladies boudoir or 'deshabille robe de chambre' were of nightgown quality.

Half Dress: worn in the afternoon for visiting and receptions, in or out of the home.

Full Dress: worn in the evening, low neck lines, no sleeves and fanciful fabrics.

LaBelle Epoque,1880-1914,"the beautiful era" as known to the French, was a gilded age, bringing with it great opulence coinciding with the demise of the old fashioned aristocracy and traditional ways.

Dominated by a society indulging in the refinements of luxurious elegance, the era was defined by women unburdened with financial constraints who were able to gratify themselves with extravagant home entertaining and fin-de-siecle esthetics. The arts, in turn, captured glimpses of these vignettes, depicting fashionable women of the day on canvas.

The salons, with artists like Tissot,Boldini and Tanoux showcased the great couturiers Charles Frederick Worth and Jacques Douccet's wondrous jacquard woven silks, moires, satins, laces and velvets along with the sophisticated Paul Poiret's brilliant colors. With the Eiffel Tower, Marcel Proust, automobiles and airplanes, and Ravel and Debussy echoing in the grand concert halls, it was an age being drawn to new heights and new freedoms. Afternoon Tea provided the perfect setting to demonstrate the new freedom advancing in women's dress for the sophisticated elite.

Tea gowns were constructed in several segments, allowing the hostess to change from the lingerie-inspired overtops to the more revealing off-the-shoulder, lower cut silhouette for the evening hours. Fabrics ranged from elaborate gowns with fanciful hand work of embroidery, beading and smocking to the delicate white handkerchief linens accented with pastels.

Since Afternoon Teas were mostly attended by family and close friends, the hostess' tea gown was often uncorseted for the first time in centuries, introducing the casual form of dress our society has adopted to the present day.

Supported by the popularity of Afternoon Tea, tearooms began to flourish across two continents. The Ritz in London, England was the first establishment to allow ladies to enter unescorted by men to indulge in Afternoon Tea.

The fashions complimented the Victorian era from which they were born. The gowns were accessorized with magnificently embellished gloves, parasols, fabulous hats and small handbags.

Fortunately, some of these beautiful gowns and accessories have been preserved by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. With increasing difficulty, more can be found at vintage fairs and shops throughout the United States.

Wishing You Happy TEA TRAVELS(TM) ! Ellen Easton

More of Ellen's Articles:

Planning a Tea Menu

FAQ About Afternoon Tea

A Spring Tea Menu

Tea and Silver

Tea at the Holidays

Understanding Tea Time Service

The Afternoon Tea Gown

The History of Chocolate

A Summer Rose Tea

Etiquette Faux Pas


About The Author

Ellen Easton, author of TEA TRAVELS(TM), TEA PARTIES and Good $ense For $uccess(TM) published by RED WAGON PRESS, 45 East 89th Street, Suite 20A, NYC, NY 10128-1256: (212) 722-7981, is a consultant and designer of related products, to the hotel, food service, special event and retail industries. She is also available for speaking engagements. Please contact her for more information.

Ellen Easton, the author, does not endorse any outside advertisements that may appear on this site.

No copyrighted materials may be reproduced in any other format, now known or unknown, without prior written permission by Ellen Easton/ RED WAGON PRESS. All copyrights and trademarks remain the sole property of Ellen Easton/ RED WAGON PRESS with all rights reserved. (212) 722-7981


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