Time for the Tea Dress


by Camilla Ridley

While the floating feminine silhouette has evolved, the tea dress remains a timeless British style icon.


Influencer @shedreamsofgucci enjoying a cup of the finest in the new Ridley London printed floral Liberty print Mathilda dress. For me, there's nothing more feminine than the ritual of getting dressed up in a beautiful printed floral silk summer dress to enjoy tea. I find it's really helping to break the monotony of isolation

The floral Liberty print silk tea dress is as much a part of British summertime as village cricket, cucumber sandwiches and a fine boned cup of Earl grey. And with good reason. Below it’s floaty, feminine exterior lies a host of shared cultural associations and clever design tricks that make the tea dress such a part of our national character. It’s no wonder it was the obvious choice for so many ladies going out to celebrate Victory in Europe on that historic spring Day in 1945.

Tea gowns first emerged in England and France in the 1870s at a time when increased urbanisation greatly affected social behaviour. Teatime was already long established as a genteel social event associated with a time when only the elites could afford this exotic new beverage. A growing number of etiquette manuals and lady’s periodicals produced a middle-class revival and the adoption of the whimsical gown became a symbol of high taste and exotic fantasy within the strict confines of Victorian behavioral codes.


The iconic printed floral tea dress was a favourite choice for the heat of the colonies, shown here in the TV series Indian Summers and the height of fashion during the high tempo tea dances of the second world war

The tea dress we know today evolved in the early twentieth century. The relaxed style reflected a wider trend towards practicality and progressive femininity that was championed by innovators like Coco Chanel. Perfect for tropical climates, the dress was quickly adopted throughout Britain's Empire, becoming a recognized symbol of colonial elegance and sophistication. No wonder it was such a widely worn style throughout the war years, as formal tea dances were hi-jacked by a new spirit of freedom and the high tempo sounds of boogie-woogie thanks to the influx of American GIs. The thousands of children conceived during this heady period are an enormous testament to the timeless feminine allure and brilliance of this iconic dress. 

The real secret of the tea dress is the way it perfectly mixes timeless feminine style, that's incredibly easy and comfortable to wear with a number of clever tailoring details that help to slim and accentuate the silhouette in all of the right places. The under the bust cut flatters the slimmest part of the female form while the bias style skims the rest of the body, helping to draw the focus up and away from the stomach area. Combine this with delicately capped sleeves which soften the upper arms, eye-catching feminine detailing, and pretty floral prints and you have the blueprint for the perfect spring summer dress. And the thing that's so special about tea dresses is their incredible versatility. They're as easy to wear with a pair of heels and a hat for a formal occasion as they are with a pair of flip flops and a denim jacket to a barbeque. 


The new Ridley London tea dress styles are available in any of this season's beautiful Liberty print silks. (From bottom left to right) the classic Annabelle style and the Sophia midi-dress warn here with lengthened sleeves

Here at Ridley, we've taken the iconic tea dress into the modern age with an updated silhouette to flatter contemporary physiques and a number of details including elasticated waists which improve comfort and wearability. We've also added puffed sleeves and tiered skirts so our printed floral silk tea dresses are bang on trend for this season. And because all of our silk tea dresses are individually made to order, it means you can have any style, in any of our beautiful printed silks. And it can be customised for the most flattering fit. And like the classic tea dresses of the past, we use a number of traditional tailoring techniques, including french seams, which improve wearability and durability so that you will be able to wear your Liberty floral printed silk tea dress for summers to come. 

Like me, I hope you'll find some time tomorrow to celebrate VE day. And there's no better way than with a tea in your garden. The weather's looking perfect for it!


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