Mastering High Tea Attire: A Complete Guide to Dressing Elegantly & Appropriately

You’re invited to high tea but you’re not sure what to wear? Don’t fret! Dressing for high tea isn’t as daunting as it may seem. In fact, it’s an opportunity to showcase your personal style, while still adhering to certain etiquette rules.

This article will guide you through the nuances of high tea attire. From the classic hat and gloves to the modern twist on tea dresses, we’ve got you covered. So, get ready to step out in style and grace for your next high tea event. Let’s dive into the world of high tea fashion, shall we?

Key Takeaways

  • High tea, a tradition started in the 1840s by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is a social event that comes with its etiquette and dress code, which reflects an understanding and respect for the affair.
  • The dress code for high tea is not strictly formal but far from casual, striking a balance between refinement and comfort. Women typically opt for dresses or nice skirts, while men often choose dress pants and a shirt.
  • High tea attire for women leans toward elegance, with modern interpretations allowing for sophisticated dresses or a skirt and blouse combination. Men should aim for smart, not casual, with an emphasis on well-tailored ensembles.
  • Accessories can elevate a high tea outfit but should be chosen carefully. For women, purses, jewelry, gloves, and hats can provide a finishing touch. For men, ties, pocket squares, watches, and polished shoes are appropriate.
  • There’s a list of common mistakes to avoid when dressing for high tea, including overdoing accessories, dressing too informally, ignoring the dress code, neglecting comfort, and disregarding tradition.
  • Tips for a flawless high tea look include coordinating colors, embracing elegant fabrics, using statement accessories, and opting for semi-formals for men. Remember that while tradition is important, individual style and comfort are equally significant.

Understanding High Tea Etiquette

Etiquette forms an inseparable part of high tea traditions. With roots in the history and its significant dress code, let’s dive deeper and better comprehend these facets.

The Origins of High Tea

High tea originated in the 1840s, thanks to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. During those times, people observed an early lunch and late dinner, which led to a long gap. Anna felt hungry during the late afternoon and started hosting friends for tea and light meals. The trend caught on among the English elites, giving birth to what we now know as high tea.

Despite its origins among the upper crust, high tea etiquette has become more casual over time. However, traces of its early formality still persist today, particularly in the form of the dress code.

Dress Code Significance

The way you dress for high tea carries a certain weight. Not strictly formal but far from casual, high tea attire strikes a delicate balance between refinement and comfort. Your clothing choice reflects your understanding and respect for the event.

Traditionally, ladies would don hats, gloves and elegant dresses, while gentlemen would wear suits, often accompanied by a tie. Today, while you may not see many people in full traditional dress, the essence of the dress code remains. For instance, women go for dresses or nice skirts while men typically opt for dress pants and a shirt.

Remember, dressing right isn’t about impressing others with luxury or over-the-top fashion statements. Instead, it’s about showing reverence to a tradition that has spanned centuries.

Decoding the Dress Code

Understanding the dress code for high tea is an art in itself. Just like the tradition, the attire carries immense importance, as it preserves the respect and elegance of the event while maintaining the balance between comfort and style. Before you plan your ensemble, knowing some key points about what to wear can taper down your choices to an acceptable and appropriate selection for the occasion.

For Women: Elegance Is Key

In the realm of high tea, women’s attire tips toward elegance. Traditional high tea commands an attire of dresses, hats, gloves—the epitome of a refined wardrobe. Sweeping that aside for a moment, the modern high tea can be viewed as an opportunity for you to exhibit your elegance in soft, yet sophisticated tones. Wearing a dress is preferred, though not forced—you can comfortably opt for a skirt and blouse combination as well. Embellishments, such as pearls and tasteful floral prints, add a touch of classic elegance to your overall look.

Short, fascinator hats, if you’re daring enough, are a nod to tradition. They’re not mandatory but do add an effortless touch of classic British high tea overlook. Gloves, once a must-have, have now become optional. Ponchos, too, can be elegantly worn, if the weather demands.

For Men: Smart, Not Casual

For men, the traditional high tea dress code entailed suits. Today, striking a balance between smart and casual, the emphasis is on well-tailored ensembles rather than overly formal attire. A blazer paired with a dress shirt and contrasting trousers offer a suitable choice.

Tie? Yes, it adds to the smart look, but again, it’s not mandatory. A matching handkerchief in the blazer’s pocket can be a good addition. Polished leather shoes, tweed jackets, even traditional brogues can be sported if part of your personal style. Not to mention, light-colored clothes tend to complement the event’s formal and sophisticated ambiance. Overtly casual dressing, like jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers, is often avoided, marking respect for the timeless tradition. After all, high tea is not just about tea and biscuits—it’s an event cloaked in enduring elegance and style.

Outfit Ideas for High Tea

Expanding from the previous section, selecting the perfect attire for a high tea event symbolizes your respect and appreciates the tradition. It’s about balance – a mixture of comfort and elegance. Here, we break down outfit ideas for both women and men to guide your high tea dressing conundrums.

Women’s High Tea Outfit Inspiration

As a woman, elegance remains the basis of your high tea attire.

  1. Dresses: They supply endless combinations, from a knee-length floral dress to an adorned maxi.

Example: A polka-dot midi dress paired with ballet flats offers both comfort and sophistication.

  1. Skirts and Blouses: A mid-length skirt combined with a solid-colored blouse gives a nod to tradition, maintaining an air of refinement.

Example: Pair a pastel-colored skirt with a white lace blouse, completing the look with pearl earrings.

  1. Accessories: These provide the finishing touches, from patent kitten heels to delicate pearl necklaces.

Example: Team up a sleeveless satin dress with a large brimmed hat and petite clutch.

Remember, gloves and fascinator hats, columns of the past, are optional yet give your outfit a traditional touch, should you desire.

Men’s High Tea Attire Suggestions

For men, smart and well-tailored ensembles gain favor at high tea events.

  1. Blazers, Shirts, and Trousers: A crisp shirt paired with tailored trousers encapsulates simplicity, while tweed blazers offer a step-up in formality.

Example: Pair a white dress shirt with charcoal grey trousers and finish it with a navy-blue blazer.

  1. Ties and Accessories: Adding a tie to your outfit injects a dash of tradition to your attire—opt for a muted, solid-colored tie, complemented by polished leather shoes.

Example: Opt for a silver tie with your navy blue blazer and add a pocket square for an extra touch of sophistication.

Denim jeans and sneakers, symbolizing casualness, don’t align with the enduring elegance of high tea. Keep them stored away for this occasion, reaffirming respect towards the refined setting of high tea.

Accessorizing for the Occasion

Accessorizing for high tea amplifies the elegance of your outfit while staying true to the event’s heritage. Accentuating your look with the right set of accessories showcases not just your sense of style, but also respect for high tea’s historical tradition.

Choosing the Right Accessories for Women

Ladies, listen up! Accessories make or break an outfit, and this holds especially true for high tea. Your purses, jewelry, gloves, and hats provide the finishing touch to your ensemble.

Purse: Opting for a petite, structured handbag or clutch is your best bet. For instance, a small leather or fabric clutch brings class without overpowering your outfit.

Jewelry: Aim for sophistication without overdoing it. Think classic pearl earrings, a delicate bracelet, or a fine chain necklace.

Gloves: Those opting for gloves, cotton or lace pairs add an extra layer of elegance. Make sure to remove them before eating.

Hats & Fascinators: The crowning glory of a woman’s high tea outfit. Whether you choose a wide-brimmed straw hat, a petite pillbox, or a vibrant fascinator, you’re sure to turn heads.

Selecting Appropriate Accessories for Men

Gentlemen, for you, the devil’s in the detail of your outfit. Your high tea look isn’t complete without a dash of spruced-up accessories.

Tie: A silk necktie or bow tie complements a blazer perfectly. Choose subtle, muted colors to maintain a sophisticated demeanor.

Pocket Square: A pocket square in your blazer’s breast pocket adds a polished finish. Match it with your tie, but remember the rule: the patterns shouldn’t be identical, only similar.

Watch: A classic wristwatch or pocket watch, if you’re feeling a bit traditional, is the way to go.

Shoes: Lastly, never overlook your footwear. Dark-colored, highly polished dress shoes or brogues make a statement. Pair them with matching socks.

Remember, it’s not just about what you’re wearing – it’s about how you wear it. Confidence and respect for tradition shine brighter than any accessory. So, dress well, pay homage to the tradition of high tea, and enjoy every moment in style.

Dos and Don’ts of High Tea Fashion

The idea of high tea etiquette can be intimidating, yet it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your appreciation for traditional elegance and style. Here, we delve into the do’s and don’ts to help guide your fashion decisions for a high tea occasion.

Common Fashion Mistakes to Avoid

Despite the dense history, high tea fashion can be erroneous due to misconceptions or lack of knowledge. Here are some fashion pitfalls often tripped into when dressing for high tea:

  1. Overdoing Accessories: While accessories can elevate your look, select them prudently. Exclusive pieces such as pearl necklaces, brooches, or a classic watch are preferred, avoiding overly flashy items.
  2. Dressing Too Informally: Ditch the jeans, t-shirts, and casual shoes. Opt for a dress or skirt and blouse for women, and a semi-formal attire for men.
  3. Ignoring the Dress Code: If an invitation mentions a dress code, follow it. Ignore it and you risk showing disrespect to your host.
  4. Disregarding Comfort: High tea lasts for a couple of hours. Hence, choose clothing and footwear that’s as comfortable as it’s stylish.
  5. Neglecting Tradition: Don a hat or fascinator in honour of high tea tradition. Dismiss this rule only if the occasion is less formal or hosted outdoors.

Tips for a Flawless High Tea Look

Now that you understand what to dodge, let’s dive into some tips to help you craft a magnificent high tea outfit:

  1. Coordinate Colours: Stick to pastel or neutral colours. Bright, loud colours might seem out of place.
  2. Embrace Lace, Silk or Linen: These fabrics embody elegance, perfect for high tea.
  3. Try Floral Dresses: Not only do floral patterned dresses reflect femininity, but they also capture the afternoon tea essence.
  4. Opt for Semi-Formals for Men: Men should lean towards a smart blazer, a collared shirt with chinos or formal trousers.
  5. Use Statement Accessories: Be it a delicate pendant or a vintage brooch, well-chosen accessories can express your unique style.

By understanding and applying these tips, you’re well on your way to making a grand impression at your next high tea event. Remember, while tradition plays an essential part in high tea affairs, your individual style and comfort are equally important.


So, you’ve navigated the intricate world of high tea fashion. You’ve learned about its rich history and understood the importance of dressing correctly. You’ve discovered how to accessorize tastefully, and you’ve learned what to avoid to strike that perfect balance between elegance and comfort. Remember, it’s not just about looking good, it’s about respecting the event and its traditions. It’s about making a statement without overdoing it. And most importantly, it’s about feeling good in your own skin. The next time you’re invited to a high tea event, you’ll know exactly what to wear. You’ll embody the perfect blend of tradition, individual style, and comfort, making you the epitome of high tea fashion.

Dressing for high tea combines elegance with comfort; Harper’s Bazaar highlights appropriate attire for tea parties, focusing on modest dresses and soft colors to match the sophisticated setting. Accessories play a crucial role in this look, and Wicker Darling provides a curated list of accessories to complement your high tea outfit, including pearls and delicate fascinators.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is high tea?

High tea is a traditional British experience dating back to the 1840s that combines mealtime with tea, usually served in the late afternoon or early evening.

Who introduced high tea tradition?

The Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s introduced the high tea tradition.

What is the importance of the dress code at high tea events?

The dress code holds significant importance during high tea events as it showcases respect for the tradition and enhances the formal essence of high tea.

Why do accessories matter in high tea fashion?

Accessories play a significant role in high tea fashion by adding elegance and maintaining the traditional appeal.

What are some common mistakes to avoid in high tea fashion?

Some common mistakes include over-accessorizing, neglecting the dress code, dressing too casually, disregarding comfort and overlooking tradition.

How can I achieve a flawless high tea look?

A flawless high tea look can be achieved by coordinating colors, choosing appropriate fabrics, preferring floral dresses, opting for semi-formal attire for men, and using statement accessories.

What is the key to perfect high tea fashion?

The key to perfect high tea fashion is balancing tradition, individual style, and comfort.