What Exactly IS a Tea Gown?

Pretty new teacup from Sacramento.

There is a tea coming up, to which my Lady Mother and I have been invited, and we’re quibbling over what to wear.  In our modern-American-brains we both thought “tea gowns, of course,” garments neither of us possess.  So I went off looking for references, just out of curiosity, and got a bit of an education on what a tea gown actually is.

I had thought a tea gown was a frothy-ish dress worn indoors, late in the day (teatime, of course).  What I learned is that tea gowns were actually a garment worn as “undress,” in one’s own home only, in order to receive visitors.  They were never worn *out* of the home, never worn for visiting, and were typically worn without corsets.  Tea gowns were literally really fancy, slightly fitted bathrobes.

Here is a selection of late Victorian tea gowns I collected from The Met online collections:

1891 – not my favorite design, but I like the tie around the waist, and the loose fit.

1875.  Beautiful, frothy, and not worn with a corset, but with a snug-fitting bodice.

1880.  Gorgeous.

1880 – the back.  Love the train, and the jacket-like fit to the back.

1885 – my absolute favorite.  It has a Chemise a la Reine feel to it. 

1890 – beautiful color and a lovely train out the back.  It almost looks 1870s, yeah?

 My conclusion is that I will need to wear a visiting dress (a day dress) to this tea up in Virginia City, not a tea gown.  Do I have a Victorian day dress?  Yes, yes I do…tea hee!


  • Steph

    October 16, 2010 at 11:50 PM

    Ooh how interesting, but it makes sense it would be the late afternoon equivalent to a morning gown. I like it, you dress "down" in your own home to receive your guests- seems a gracious custom.

  • Margravine Louisa

    October 17, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    I love the gold 1880's number – thank you for showing the exquisite tucking and tailoring in the back- any guesstimate on the waist size?

  • American Duchess

    October 17, 2010 at 6:57 PM

    Gosh, I don't know WHAT that waist measurement could be – if this was supposed to be worn without a corset, then do you suppose this lady was deformed by a lifetime of tight-lacing? It's pretty tiny…depending on the height of the person, looks like it might be, what, a 20" for a tall lady, or an 18" for someone 5'6" maybe? Yikes!

  • Zho Zho

    October 29, 2010 at 1:10 AM

    Aren't they wonderful, gowns to relax in, while entertaining friends over a cup of tea. And your favourite is my favourite too.

  • MaryJeanAdams

    March 5, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    Very cool. I had always pitied the poor women who were forced to wear corsets at all hours of the day. What a relief it must have been to ditch the whalebone and put one of these on.


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