What Is the Definition of a Tea Length Dress?

By Lori A. Selke

Between the full-length evening hemline and the miniskirt lies the murky territory of the tea-length dress. Offering a modern flash of leg while maintaining an elegant and dignified silhouette, the tea-length dress has surged in popularity since the early part of the 20th century, when Emily Post described it as "a hybrid between a wrapper and a ball dress."

Opening Ceremony And 'The Great Gatsby' Premiere - The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival
credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Nicole Kidman walking down an ailse wearing a tea length dress at a film festival.

The Formal Definition

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a tea-length dress is one whose hemline falls "above the ankle and below the knee." Originally, the tea hem fell just above the ankle, but the modern tea-length dress is more likely to hit 3 to 4 inches above the ankle, in the mid-calf region. The tea-length hem can be contrasted with the cocktail dress, whose hem usually falls somewhere mid-thigh to just above the knee.

When to Wear a Tea-Length Dress

Tea-length dresses may be worn for any dressy daytime affair, from weddings and receptions to graduations to, yes, formal tea parties and fancy luncheons. Glamour also recommends the tea-length hem for any evening occasion, including proms -- the hem length is perfect to accommodate a night of dancing. Tea dresses are particularly suitable for outdoor occasions and events held during the summer.