What a surprise to discover that “Tea Gown” has its own page on Wikipedia! A photo that accompanies the entry features the Liberty & Co. gown that drew my attention at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s exhibit of European fashion. Even more unexpected was the fact that tea gowns, whose seemingly formal designs were supposedly influenced by Asian garments, were created to be worn at home – not when attending tea parties.
In my eyes, this particular gown reveals no trace of traditional Japanese fashion, although tea gowns were known to be patterned after the Japanese kimono. The solemn color, the inconvenient length, and the elegant but hefty material all remind one of the propriety and decorum observed in the stratified British society of yesteryears. It is difficult to imagine wearing such a piece of clothing at home or at afternoon tea, but “tea gown” is its name.
The museum provides the following additional description:
While some tea gowns appropriated the flowing lines of the Japanese kimono, this example’s intricate tailoring and interior boning are strictly Western in origin. It is the kimono-like crossover front bodice and luxurious silks that evoke the East. Contrasting plain and pattern silk textiles create the illusion of a two-piece ensemble. Historicizing details (such as the cape sleeves) and muted colors popularized by the aesthetic movement were hallmarks of the Liberty & Co. department store, still in existence today.
Emily Post’s book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, contains some fascinating information on tea gowns; in fact, her introduction on tea gowns reads like a 19th Century novel. (I did not include that particular passage in this post, or this post would end up looking like the Wikipedia page.) Perhaps I’ll order a copy and read it for leisure.
This article was originally posted in January 2012.