Why Do You Wear Hats at a Tea Party?

Tip of the hat signals it's time for tea.

Photo: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

Coffee gets a ton of cultural street cred, but tea parties are making a comeback among social circles that enjoy the finer things in life. Before you scarf down a scone or get your first taste of oolong, know that any fashionable woman at a tea party tops off her look with a festive hat. The history of tea parties sheds some light on why even modern women seem to love indulging in extravagant headgear when it's time for tea.

A Spoonful of History

The tea that soothes your Sunday morning hangover was once a staple beverage of the most elite classes in Europe. The art of transforming tea leaves into a drink was considered worthy of ceremony in Asian countries, so when Europeans were first introduced to the almost mystical beverage, the tradition of hosting a tea ceremony came, too. When English royal families began adopting afternoon low and high teas, they took the parties out into the garden where guests were entertained with performances and music. Since the fashionable ladies at the time weren't interested in tainting their delicate porcelain skin with shades of tan or red, which were associated with the lower classes, wide-brimmed hats and bonnets were a staple fashion item for the high-end events.

Tea Party Fashion

Tea party hats weren't just about practicalities. Even Victorian-era ladies were interested in being on the cutting edge of fashion, and hats were one of the most popular ways to show off your style. Empress Eugénie de Montijo of France had a particular fondness for elaborate hats, and English women turned away from their much more matronly monarch and instead took fashion cues from the Empress when it came to tea time hats. From refined, fitted bonnets for the older generations to elaborately decorated, wide-brimmed hats adorned with feathers, beads, lace and even replicas of whole birds, hats were a chance to make a splash among the country's most elite families.

Modern Takes on Tea

Today's tea parties range from childhood throwbacks for young 20-somethings to sophisticated gatherings in formal settings that seek to recreate an authentic tea party experience. Today's tea parties don't necessarily take place outside, and hats aren't a necessity for indoor gatherings. But for hostesses hoping to recapture some of the regal authenticity of Victorian-era tea times, hats are a must. It's unlikely guests are going to have a ready stock of boned corsets or fluffy petticoats, but most ladies can whip out a fierce hat to get into the tea party spirit. More relaxed tea parties get a fun boost from a hat theme -- think color themes, style restrictions or even DIY hats made from stuff you've got hanging around your house.

Picking a Hot Hat

If you know hats are on the menu for an upcoming tea party, slip into something that complements your style and the occasion. A sophisticated afternoon tea party wedding or garden party calls for subdued hats with feminine details. Look for classic straw hats in pale, understated colors. Add some flare with a more brightly colored ribbon or a few carefully placed neutral colored feathers. If your tea party is more fun and fashion than class and sophistication, experiment with a pillbox hat with veil detail or a classic derby-style hat with an oversized brim in a bright, sunny shade of yellow, pink or blue.

Related Videos




"Tea Culture: History, Traditions, Celebrations, Recipes & More"; Beverly Dubrin; 2010 "Shoes, Hats and Fashion Accessories: A Pictorial Archive, 1850-1940"; Carol Belanger Grafton; 1998 "Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion"; Helen Rappaport; 2003
Victorian Bazaar: Victorian Tea Parties
Teavana: Tea Party History

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