A tea-length hem refers to the length of a skirt or dress that falls just a few inches below the knee, or mid-calf or to the shin. These were seen as early as the 1930s, rose in popularity during the 1950s in the form of pencil and swing skirts, and have reappeared sporadically throughout fashion’s timeline since then.

Definition and Variations

While tea-length is defined as mid-calf, there are similar styles whose hemlines occupy the same flirty region between the knee and ankle. Handkerchief, intermission, midi and Hi-Lo are all cousins of the tea-length dress. The handkerchief style is the same length but is distinguishable by loosely flowing panels of gathered fabric. Intermission and midi both refer to skirts or dresses that fall just below the knee, cut slightly shorter than tea-length. The Hi-Lo is cut just below the knee in the front and a few inches longer in the back.

Wedding Etiquette

The tea-length wedding dress is a popular choice among brides who prefer a modern but formal alternative to the traditional floor-length gown. Tea-length wedding dresses offer a wide array of styles that can be worn at formal or semi-casual weddings. This hemline is also a common choice for bridesmaid dresses, which are customarily a bit more casual than the bride’s gown. Tea-length dresses are often a safe choice for wedding guests who are unsure of the event’s formality.

Party Etiquette

A tea-length skirt or dress worn with a jacket and modest heels and accessories is considered appropriate attire for most business events. At social gatherings, a tea-length dress can be appropriate or may be considered either too casual or conservative, depending on the occasion. Black tie events generally call for a formal floor-length gown, but tea-length is suitable for dressy dinners and cocktail parties. Fashionably progressive women can opt for more daring hemlines at any casual event.

Modern Couture

The midi is not exactly tea-length, but the abundance of midis appearing on 2010 and 2011 runways implies the imminence of lengthened hemlines in modern couture. Many contemporary high-end fashion designers are adding a touch of retro to their new lines, bringing back styles such as the pencil skirt of the 1950s. These looks embrace feminine curves with ladylike modesty and are appropriate in just about any environment. A tea-length skirt is always a staple in any professional wardrobe, but updated versions can be paired with contemporary accessories for a chic, modern look.