Often confused with the English afternoon tea, high tea is actually a significantly less formal affair. It is typically eaten between 5 and 7 p.m. by working class people after a long day in often grueling occupations such as mining and factory work. High tea is generally a heavy meal consisting of meats, breads, pies and an assortment of sweet baked good. Although high tea is not as prim and proper, certain basics are important to remember when dressing for the occasion.
Although there is no need to dress up too fancy to attend high tea, a simple day dress is a good choice for the occasion. Be sure your dress is not too short or too revealing. If you choose to wear pants, a nice blouse with a simple cardigan would work well. Avoid wearing T-shirts, ripped jeans and shorts.
Men are also not required to dress up for high tea. Smart casual is the look of choice when it comes to a high tea engagement. A pair of slacks or dark-wash jeans paired with a button-down shirt or sweater would make a suitable outfit. As with women’s outfits, T-shirts, torn jeans and shorts are not advisable.
Avoid wearing flip-flops, open-toed sandals or running shoes. Where these might be perfectly acceptable in other informal meal situations, English conventions and sensibilities dictate that these are inappropriate for functions that aren’t taking place on a beach or at the gym. For high tea, women should wear flats or heels. Men should wear closed dress shoes or walking shoes.
Whatever you decide to wear, be sure your outfit is clean and free of any stains or wrinkles. Where North Americans may overlook a creased skirt or a cardigan missing a button, these things can be interpreted as poor etiquette to the European eye. Be sure your outfit is neatly put together and your accessories are not too loud. For most English gatherings, conservative outfits with tasteful accessories are appropriate to wear.
References and ResourcesAsk Andy About Clothes; The English High Tea; Andy Gilchrist
The Things We Talk About; What Does Dressing Smart-Casual Mean?; March 2011