Teeing Up Your High Tea Outfit

In Addressed, the main event that Waverley ingeniously organises to bring all the women (and two men) together, is a traditional English ‘High Tea’, set in the atmospheric ‘Conservatory’ room at the Hotel Balfour in Hobart.

High Tea has its origins in 1840 England and boils down to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford’s hunger pangs. Unable to go the (admittedly long) distance between lunch and an 8.00 p.m. dinner, the duchess had the bright idea of requesting that a tray of tea, bread and butter, and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon.

The practice soon developed into a personal habit and it wasn’t too long before she was inviting friends to join her. Eventually, this pause for tea became a fashionable social event. Upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their tea, which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.

In Addressed, the delicious repast is served a little earlier on that momentous Saturday afternoon, but there are all the usual delightful offerings and trimmings – tea (of course), plus delicate ribbon sandwiches; scones, jam and cream, and an array of sumptuous cakes.

Everyone is encouraged to use the occasion as an opportunity to dress up, though not in the long gowns, gloves and hats of the late 1800s.

Which begs the question: what do you wear if you’re invited to High Tea? What’s the correct dress code?

I’ve been to a few of these events at both some rather swish, as well as ‘homier’, venues in my time, so, based on my experience and perspective, here’s my take on it:

  1. It’s better to make an effort and dress up a bit, but at the same time not to go over the top. Distressed jeans and trainers and the like are probably not okay, but neither is that sequinned cocktail frock, the gear you’d wear clubbing or those towering heels that will have you dangerously teetering and hobbling by the end of the day.


  1. The order of the day (or afternoon) is pretty, feminine, tasteful, conservative and comfortable. If you can nail all of them, you’ve got the perfect High Tea outfit. I’d suggest that this is a dress. Personally, I’d elect a prom, some sort of fit and flare or a tea dress. By all means, go for a wiggle if that’s more your style, but, remember, with all that delectable fare on offer you might not have much room to (wiggle, that is). Florals always look lovely, but a block colour, lace or gingham can be the height of elegance too. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of elegance, length is important. Don’t go too short, particularly if it’s going to ride up when you’re sitting. On the knee or just below, would be my suggestion.


  1. If you’re not so much a dress girl, and if separates are more your thing, then I’d suggest an A-line, circular or pencil skirt (but, if it’s the latter, again, nothing too clingy or tight) and a pretty blouse with a simple matching cardigan over. Personally, I’d steer clear of pants and suits, especially if they lean towards the corporate look or are in darker hues. Save them for the office and use the fancier event as an opportunity to go a little more ‘girly’.


  1. When it comes to shoes and accessories, once more, stylish comfort rules with the former, understated elegance with the latter. Opt for a low- to mid-height heel and perhaps pearl jewellery if you have it (steer clear of distracting, dangling and oversized necklaces, earrings and the like in garish colours). A simple mid-size, vintage style handbag – shoulder-strap, handle or even a clutch – that matches your shoes and belt and picks up the tones in your outfit, should be the finishing touch. Make sure that it fits all your essentials, including your phone, which should be kept in there (as soon as you’ve taken your shots for your socials etc) and not on the table.

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