How to dress for a tea in California

what to wear to a tea

wearing:  sunglasses / bold rose gold earrings / lipstick / floral dress / black leather and rose gold watch / bold gold and blue ring (old, similar here) / Chanel nail polish / navy Chanel bag (similar Chanel here) (also love this one) / slate Mary Jane heels (avl in nude)/

Over this past weekend, my two daughters and I attended a formal tea. It was so much fun being able to teach them some tea etiquette, and to be able to introduce them to a formal event. They were very excited, and had a ton of fun! Of course before the event, they had a few questions. One of the big questions my girls had was, what do you wear to a tea in California?

Well, in different pockets of the United States, tea attire varies. Here in the beautiful state of California, we take a casual approach to our tea attire, and forego the fabulous hat. I know, <sigh>. So, here are the attire tips I gave to my daughters.

The important things to remember when it comes to formal tea attire in the golden state, is to watch your hemline. Hemlines should be knee or t-length. Dresses are always appropriate, but a modest skirt and blouse will suffice. If a one-piece jumpsuit is worn, it should not be tight or revealing; think modestly when it comes to tea. Rompers and pants are a huge faux-pas. Always keep your cleavage covered; again, think modest. This is a formal tea!

Shoes should balance out your outfit. Look for heels or flats which compliment your look. Boots, flip-flops, and espadrille’s should be avoided.

You won’t need a large handbag at a formal tea. Look for a small or medium shoulder bag, or a small satchel. When it comes to your handbag for a formal tea event, less is more.

It’s pretty easy to dress for a formal tea in California. All you need is a modest dress, heels to match, a small or medium bag; and you’re set! I wish we wore hats like they do in the south, but alas, we are a casual bunch here on the west coast; so our heads are bare. Again, <sigh>. I wish we wore hats, but they are only allowed for outdoor tea events, not indoor. The tea we attended was held at an inside banquet venue.

Well, now that you have your outfit picked out, here are a few tea etiquette rules to know before heading into your first formal tea event! These are the rules to learn first, over time, you can learn more. But for now, these etiquette tips will make you look like a tea pro.

Tea etiquette 101:

  1. If hosting, tea food should be presented on a three-tiered cake stand. Each type of food should have it’s own plate. Scones and bread should be on the top tier since it can be covered with a lid if they need to remain warm. The sandwiches go on the middle plate, with sweet treats on the bottom plate.
  2. The order you eat the food is important. You always start with the sandwiches followed by the scones or bread. The sweets are always last.
  3. Always eat your scones in bite size pieces; just like bread at the dinner table. You never butter and jam the whole thing and take a bite. Only tear off a piece you can eat; butter and jam as you go.
  4. Never dunk your scone or biscuit in the tea. That’s a no-no!
  5. Unlike a formal lunch or dinner, you do not leave your napkin on the chair when you leave the table to indicate your return. At a formal tea, you leave your napkin on the table to the left of your plate.
  6. If you enjoyed the tea and would like to be invited back, be sure to place your napkin to the left of the plate, with a crease showing, when you leave the table for good. This will indicate to your host that you had a fabulous time, and would love to return!
  7. When drinking your tea, always leave the saucer on the table, only lift the cup. I’m not sure why people see the need to lift the saucer, it is a big no-no.
  8. Never stir your tea in a circular motion if you add cream  or sugar. You must stir from top to bottom and back up; in a half-moon motion. Never do this more then three times! Always place your spoon on the saucer, do not leave it in your cup.
  9. Lastly, don’t raise your pinkie. That’s so very last century. You’ll look like a tool. Please keep it down, thank you!

Of course this is only a list of the most common rules for a tea. If you follow these, no-one will raise an eyebrow if you miss a less important etiquette rule.

If you have more tea etiquette rules you think should be on this list, feel free to leave them in the comment section below! Even though formal teas are not as common as formal lunch or dinner events, it is important to know the basic etiquette just in case you find yourself at one! Knowing tea etiquette can help at work functions, social events, and the like.

My daughters had so much fun attending their first formal event; that wasn’t a wedding. They loved the tea event, even if they preferred drinking water and not tea. haha They are definitely looking forward to attending another one next year!

My formal tea outfit:

Thanks for stopping by!



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