What Is A Victorian Tea Party?

A tea party is a wonderful way to get together with friends and enjoy each other’s company while sipping refreshing tea and nibbling on tasty treats, but what is a Victorian tea party?

Detailed etiquette rules distinguished the Victorian Era from other occasions and periods. Considering all these rules, how would you plan a tea party? 

High tea was a small meal that was served between lunch and dinner for upper-class Victorians, including sandwiches, sweets, nuts, and fruit. High tea was not as formal as a dinner party.

However, hosting a Victorian tea party requires quite some effort. There are many things to consider; the menu, activities, and décor to name a few. Thankfully, you’ve got us to help!

Who Would You Invite To A Victorian Tea Party?

what is a victorian tea party
High tea is the ultimate formal event for the day.

The invites depended on why you are hosting the tea party. A tea party is a social gathering – it can be as simple as some friends dropping over for a chat, or it can be as large as giving everyone you know an invitation. It can be a way to see everyone you love in one sitting.

How you would like to send out the invitations to your tea party is all up to you – you could just tell your friends or opt for posting invitations. If you’re out visiting your friends, you can also consider writing date and time of the tea party behind your invitation and give it to them before you leave. 

If you are enjoying this don’t forget to circle back and check out our article breakfast tea vs afternoon tea.

The Food

Despite the misleading name, a Victorian tea party was actually all about food. Dishes at a Victorian tea party should be a delicacy, but also fall within the realm of finger food. You’ll often find sandwiches, cakes, candies, and cookies.

To help you wow your guests, some Victorian cookbooks suggest serving anchovy or shrimp sandwiches, made with high quality ingredients. Always consider your budget, cooking skills, and what ingredients are actually available.

Cucumber sandwiches or bread and butter sandwiches were popular food of a Victorian tea party because they signified high status! These sandwiches have low nutritional value, therefore, eating them meant you didn’t work with your hands. The guests were likely to be doctors or lawyers rather than farmers.

You might also be interested in our vintage tea party explainer.

Activities

A Victorian tea party usually included some form of activity or a game in addition to eating and drinking.

According to one Victorian publication, one hostess requested her guests to draw caricatures of three other guests. The artists who drew the best portraits received small prizes, while those who created the worst portrait received an eraser.

Dancing is another common tea party activity although you will probably have a different style of dancing than they did!

Setting The Table

When hosting a Victorian tea party, setting up beautiful tables is essential. Even when it came to those who were not wealthy, Victorians valued hospitality and the ability to flaunt their affluence. So, they would always use their finest serving dishes and china when holding a party. 

It was customary to see several different china sets in a table to demonstrate that the host owned multiple sets. Many Victorian periodicals emphasize that napkins, tablecloths, and tea cloths or tea towels should all be attractive and complement the china.

They also recommend putting a large wad of flannel or felt in-between the table and the cloth to enhance volume and achieve the best draping appearance. This also helps a cheaper table cloth look more luxurious.

What Would A Lady Wear To A Victorian Tea Party?

As the host, of course, you want to show off your prized possessions and finest gowns. Tea gowns were trendy in the late 1800s. 

A tea gown is a free-fitting dress that was more casual than a dinner gown. It also had the advantage of being looser. The host could usually go without a corset. These items could be costly, so a hostess could opt to wear something more fitted and trendy.

The guests would also wear their finest attire for the occasion and show off their wealth. A tea party was also an excellent way to break in new clothes.

What Would A Gentleman Wear To A Victorian Tea Party?

A gentleman would wear a sack suit, which is an early version of today’s three-piece suit, unless it was a formal occasion. A sack suit was usually ready-made and came in different patterns. To add some color to their outfit, men used vests and neckties.

Shirt collars were easy to clean as they were usually removable. These removable collars helped extend the life of the shirts.

How To Drink A Cup Of Tea Properly

Etiquette guides recommend that:

  • The teacup should be held with your first one to two fingers and your thumb. There’s no need to stick your pinky out.
  • If you’re seated without drinking, your cup should go on a saucer. You can hold the saucer if you’re standing but do not hold the cup at the bottom with your hands.
  • Do not look over your teacup when drinking tea, look into it.
  • You should never use your spoon to tap the cup while stirring your tea. When you’re not stirring, the spoon should sit on the saucer at a 15-degree angle, at the right of the handle and behind the tea cup.
  • Do not drink your tea if the spoon is in the cup.

There are some arguments about when you can use milk. Traditionally, the milk would be poured into the cup first to ensure the glaze doesn’t crack. Today, you don’t need to worry about this.

Rules For Eating

Food etiquette guides recommend that:

  • Sit with an unfolded napkin on your lap. Put the napkin on a chair when you need to stand up. Don’t wipe your face using a cloth napkin, especially if you’re wearing lipstick, as it can stain your napkin.
  • Take smaller bites. A tea party is a social gathering, so you won’t be able to chat with your mouth full.
  • There’s no problem eating with your fingers, but you should use a fork when eating messier foods. Also, ladies should remove their gloves before eating.
  • You should slice scones with a knife. After you’ve finished using the knife, it goes on the side of your plate on a knife rest. Do not dollop the topping on your scone. Rather, place it on your plate with a serving spoon. Then spread them into your scone with another spoon.

What Would A Host Do During A Victorian Tea Party? 

A host’s primary responsibilities was to greet their guests upon arrival. As the guests entered, the host would shake their hands and exchange greetings. Should the party be for someone else, the guest of honor should stand next to the host so they could introduce them to the other guests. 

The host would also want to ensure that their guests are at ease. Although it’s unlikely for the host to serve tea themself, they will make sure that drinks and foods are available and replenished as needed.

Lastly, the host would socialize and run whatever events or games they had planned so they can catch up with their friends and have fun. If you enjoyed this and are planning a tea party you might also be interested in our guide on the best bubble tea party ideas.

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