The tea dress is having a moment. This staple of 1940’s home-fashion can be seen everywhere from the catwalk to the streets of your hometown (even if your hometown is not New York or Paris). The reason? It’s simplicity, elegance, and adaptability of the dress makes it perfect for women everywhere. Whether from a low-cost firm to a powerful fashion-house like Dior, these pieces can surely find a place in your closet.
The War and its Influence on Fashion
Women’s day wear in the 1940s was heavily influenced by war-time rationing. The dresses, which featured a modest tailored neckline and an a-line skirt usually came in simple colors and patterns. At first, the hem fell just above the ankle, but became shorter in order to save money on fabrics. The dress, which gathers at the waist, emphasizes a woman’s feminine figure and introduced a period of fashion in which shapely legs were the new obsession.
Elegant women wore these dresses to take tea at people’s homes, but soon the fashion became replicated by countless others. Since the 40s were a difficult time due to the war, women were encouraged to replicate these fashions at home and soon it became the daytime style of the period. 1940s tea dresses were worn at home, running errands, casual parties, and of course, having tea with friends.
The Tea Dress
The dress in the 1940s had either short of long sleeves with no cuffs. In the mid 40s they began to produce dresses with the cap sleeve. The necklines were modest and usually high, which brought attention to the face which usually carried simple makeup and neatly styled hair. The shoulders were squared, usually thanks to the use of a shoulder pad. The bodice of the dress was fitted and usually buttoned in the front and down throughout the skirt. The most popular fabric of the time was wool, but rayon became a “new” synthetic fabric of choice. The colors and patterns were marked by the choices available in the war time years, so blue grays, medium browns and greens were the most common choices.
A Style for the Ages
The style endured in the 1950’s due to its versatility and ability to be paired with fashionable jewelry, shoes and other pieces. Women like Marilyn Monroe, Peggy Hayward and Liz Taylor wore custom pieces that were conspired the height of daytime elegance and fashion.
The 1950’s however, did not see the end of the Tea Dress. Throughout the decades, the style endured as vintage pieces. Recently, however, the Tea Dress has experience a revival. The modern tea-length dress is more likely to hit 3 to 4 inches above the ankle, in the mid-calf region, which is in contrast to cocktail dress, whose hem usually falls somewhere mid-thigh to just above the knee.
The Modern Tea Dress
In 2016, a modern version of the Tea Dress was worn by Kate Middleton when leaving the hospital with her first child, prince George and many fashion firms started producing this “retro” style again. This time, they updated prints and details to include polka dots, flowers, and vibrant colors that would not have been seen during the wartime era of the 1940s. Today, you can find the Tea Dress in any mall or online store, not just vintage stores. The type of dress can be found in plethora of patterns styles and even a slight variety of lengths.
The 1940s were an unforgettable decade for many countries. Fashion on a budget became the norm thanks to WWII. Although the tough times brought some considerable changes to fashion, the most flattering designs on the century came about during this time, which is why it continues to be so popular. 1940s fashion has been revived in the form of pinup dresses, pin stripe suits, vests, fedora hats and two tone shoes for men, and the classic line tea dress for women.