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 rules of etiquette distinguished the Victorian Era for almost every aspect of public life. Considering all these rules, how would you plan a tea party? 

High tea was a light meal served between lunch and dinner for upper-class Victorians, including sweet treats, sandwiches, fruits, and nuts. High tea was less formal and easier to manage than a dinner party.

However, hosting a Victorian tea party requires quite some effort. There are many things to consider; the décor, menu, and activities 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 holding the tea party. A tea party is a social gathering – it can be as simple as a few friends dropping over for an afternoon chat, or it can be as large as inviting everyone in your social circle. Afternoon tea could be a chance to fulfill all of one’s social responsibilities in one afternoon, especially during the busy holiday season.

How to deliver invitations to your tea party is all up to you – it could be as simple as letting your friends know about the occasion, or sending written invitations. If you’re out visiting your friends, you can also consider writing the time and date of the tea party on the back of your calling card 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

Regardless of its name, the food is what a Victorian tea party is best known for. Dishes at a Victorian tea party should be a delicacy, and easy to eat with your fingers. It is common to see tasty sandwiches and sweet treats such as cakes, candies, and cookies.

To help you impress your guests, some cookbooks from the Victorian era recommend serving shrimp or anchovy sandwiches using only the finest ingredients. Choosing what food to serve comes down to what is available, and what you, as the host, want to prepare.

Bread and butter or cucumber sandwiches were a staple food of a Victorian tea party because they signified high status! Both sandwiches have low nutritional value, therefore, eating them meant you didn't work with your hands – you were probably a professional like a doctor or a lawyer, rather than a farmer or a laborer.

Activities

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

According to one publication from the Victorian era, there was a tea party where the hostess asked her guests to draw caricatures of any three guests present. 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 if you weren't wealthy, Victorians valued hospitality and the ability to flaunt their affluence. A Victorian would want to impress visitors by using their finest china and serving dishes when holding a party. 

It was customary to see a table furnished with a mix of china from different sets – this was so a hostess could demonstrate the fact that she owned multiple sets of china. Many periodicals from the Victorian era emphasize that tablecloths, napkins, and tea cloths (tea towels) should all be attractive and complement the china. They also recommend putting a large piece of felt or flannel between the table and the cloth to enhance volume and achieve the best draping appearance. 

If you’re using cheaper table cloths, you can use this trick to make them look more expensive.

What Would A Lady Wear To A Victorian Tea Party?

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

A tea gown is a lighter, free-fitting dress that is not as formal as a dinner gown. It also has the advantage of being looser, which means that a lady doesn’t necessarily need to wear a corset. However, tea gowns could be costly, so a hostess may prefer to wear a dress or skirt and blouse that is more tailored and still fashionable.

The guests would also wear their best clothing for the occasion and show off their wealth. A tea party was also an excellent way to show off a new dress or hat.

What Would A Gentleman Wear To A Victorian Tea Party?

A gentleman would wear a sack suit, a predecessor of the modern three-piece suit unless it was a formal occasion. These suits were usually ready-made and came in different patterns. To add some color to their outfit, men used neckties and vests.

Shirt collars were usually removable, making them easier to wash. These removable collars helped extend the life of the shirts.

How To Properly Drink A Cup Of Tea

Etiquette guides recommend that:

  • You should hold the teacup using your thumb and your first one or two fingers. Also, it is not needed for your pinky to stick out.
  • If you’re seated and not drinking your tea, put your cup on the saucer. If you’re standing, you may hold on to the saucer. You should not hold the bottom of your cup with your hand.
  • You should look into your teacup when drinking, not over it.
  • Do not tap your spoon against the side of the cup when you’re stirring. If not in use, your spoon should rest at a 15-degree angle on the saucer, behind the teacup, and to the right of the handle.
  • You should never drink your tea with a spoon in your cup. 

There are some arguments about when to add milk to tea. Traditionally, you would put milk in the cup before the tea to avoid the glaze on teacups from cracking. However, this is not a problem with modern teacups.

Etiquette For Eating

If there are rules for drinking a cup of tea, there is also etiquette for eating. Etiquette guides recommend that:

  • You should unfold your napkin and put it on your lap. If you leave your seat, put the napkin on your chair. Don’t wipe your face using a cloth napkin, especially if you’re wearing lipstick, as it can stain your napkin.
  • Eat with small bites. A tea party is a social gathering, and you will want to participate in the conversation with your friends.
  • There’s no problem using your fingers, but you should use a fork when eating messier foods. Also, ladies should remove their gloves before eating.
  • Scones should be cut in half with a knife. After you've finished using the knife, place it on a knife rest and the side of your plate. Use the serving spoon to place the topping onto your plate; spread the jam or curd and cream onto your scone with your spoon; never use the serving spoon.

What Would A Host Do During A Victorian Tea Party? 

While customs varied, one of the host's primary responsibilities was to greet their guests when they arrived, usually at the door. As the guests entered, the host would shake their hands and exchange greetings. If the tea party is for someone else, the guest of honor should stand with 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 – that’s the whole point of having a tea party. The host would want the opportunity to catch up with their friends and hear the latest news about them.

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.

Author

  • Danico Dacillo became a fan of coffee when he was in college 'cause it helps him stay awake. He holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, but now working as a content writer. His passion for writing started when he was still in grade school -- as a sports news writer.