In honor of the internationally recognized portrait artist Shari Ford’s ‘Tea party contest’, we are thrilled to share about this delightful tradition : a little history on its origin and evolution through time, etiquette tips on how to host your own and last but not least inspiring children’s tea parties.
A LITTLE HISTORY : IMPRESS YOUR GUESTS
The most popular tea party of all times may well be the Matter Hatter’s one from Alice in Wonderland but have you any idea as to when it became fashionable?
It will not come as a surprise that it first started in England. Drinking tea was made popular by Catharine of Braganza (1638 - 1705), wife of Charles II. She loved it so much that she became dubbed as England’s first tea drinking queen. Later on, Queen Anne (1665 - 1714) was also said to be an avid tea drinker. She is thought to have been at the origin of larger bell shaped teapots as the small Chinese ones were considered too small.
But drinking tea as a fashionable mid-afternoon social event is attributed to Queen Victoria’s close friend, Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857). At the time, people usually had two main meals a day only, a big breakfast in the morning and a late evening supper. Feeling hungry in between, she requested light treats and pots of tea in the afternoon to share with her friends. All the upper class, including her Majesty, soon followed. It became an opportunity for intimate gatherings showcasing one's precious china and an excuse to wear pretty dresses and jewelry. A real fashion show for the ladies! The middle class in turn started hosting such tea parties and having them outdoors too. Garden parties were thus born!
Tea party by @emma_evalynn
A LITTLE ETIQUETTE : MIND YOUR MANNERS
In her ‘Etiquette of Good Society’ book published in 1893, Lady Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell said “a tea, of whatever kind, may be made one of the most agreeable of meals; for tea always seems to produce sociability, cheerfulness, and vivacity."
A few tips to for a real lady like tea party :
- The spoon should be placed behind the cup and never left inside.
- The saucer should always stay on the table.
- Don’t wrap your hands around the cup but hold it with the handle.
- Keep your pinkies down.
- Stir the tea with a teaspoon up and down (6 o’clock to 12 o’clock motion) and never in a circular manner.
- The host should pour the tea herself for each guest then hand the cups to the gentlemen who in turn will give them to the ladies.
- First pour the tea and then add milk.
- Do not use red cloth unless royalty is present.
- Don’t confuse afternoon tea and high tea. The latter was for the lower class who came back worn out from a day of work and enjoyed a big meal which included tea.
INSPIRING CHILDREN'S TEA PARTIES
Ella Charlotte, Graycen Lane, and Kensington Marilyn's Southern Sunday Tea Party staged by Gail Glassell
Tea parties according to Gail : Tea parties transport me to a slower time where we can use our imagination, practice proper manners, enjoy tasty treats, and escape to a world of make believe where our dolls talk and our stuffed animals keep sister secrets.
Tea party staging : Our tea party fantasy took place in my parent’s yard amongst their blooming azaleas and hydrangeas.
The girls are wearing handmade bonnet and gowns by the talented Elizabeth Layne Heirloom and enjoyed French pastries from the local La Baguette Bakery. Our antique doll “guests” are from my grandmother’s nationally known doll collection that has been passed down and preserved by my mother, whereas the baptism bear and bunny were special baby gifts. The silver serving pieces are also from my grandmother, Kensi’s namesake, and the china from my mother.
Favorite tea : Blended White Peach Blossom from The Peabody Memphis Hotel high tea that we gather for each Christmas.
Tea party tip : Mix and match old and new accessories, offer lemonade to young children as well, and most of all make magical memories that will last a lifetime!
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Marielle’s Garden Tea party in Austin TX by Erin Elizabeth Porter
Tea parties according to Erin Elizabeth : Growing up, my best friend, Megan hosted an annual Mother/Daughter Tea Party every Christmas season. It remains one of my favorite childhood memories. I loved getting dressed up with my mom (hats were requested!) and eating pretty pb&j sandwiches with the crusts cut off. I always admired the large “Luncheon of the Boating Party'' impressionist painting in Megan’s home. Renoir has remained my favorite artist & I think this style of art is synonymous with the charm of childhood & tea parties — softly idyllic, bucolic & soothing. I hope to continue this Mother/Daughter Christmas Tea Party tradition with Marielle & her friends as she gets older.
Tea party staging : My parents’ home has a beautiful private park with a lake. We have been taking family photos in this green space since I was a little girl — it was the perfect backdrop for a natural/impressionist style portrait.
My mother sewed the dress Marielle is wearing & even sewed a matching one for Marielle’s stuffed bunny, Hazel, (mom also made Hazel!️) For her birthday this year, we started an add-a-Pearl necklace, you can add a Pearl for special milestone occasions & build a full Pearl necklace as she grows. She is wearing this in the photo.
Favorite tea : My favorite tea, that I enjoy almost every morning, is a “cuppa” English Breakfast with a splash of milk & sugar.
Tea party tip : Invite stuffed animals of all shapes & sizes to have a spot around the blanket. It’s also good to have a few different tea sets. Marielle’s favorite is the “breakable” one, as she calls it, she loves the wonderful clanking sound the porcelain makes when playing. This set certainly has a few well-loved chips in the paint.
Evangeline and Esmée’s Mother’s Day Tea Party by Angela
Tea parties according to Angela: Toronto, is currently in its 3rd stay-at-home order. We’ve attempted to maintain as much normalcy as possible for the girls and have elevated our celebrations. Instead of simply celebrating birthdays and holidays, we try to find the magic in all the ordinary days in between. It has kept our minds focused on the positive and has continuously given us something to look forward to.
Tea party staging : Evangeline wore Mayoral and Esmée wore a dress from Miss Rose Sister Violet. Hair bows are from Olilia Designs. We set up this party alongside our Mother’s Day photo shoot; where we took 3 generation photos with my Mom, the girls and myself.
Favorite tea : Sloane Tea which is a local tea merchant in Toronto but sells online too and Ladurée (of course!). Sloane offers a variety of blends, but I highly recommend Heavenly Cream (Ceylon and Assam black tea balanced with notes of Italian bergamot and creamy bourbon vanilla) and Rouge Provence (South-African red rooibos blended with French florals and berries).
Tea party tip : Just as I approach all parties, I always love pairing cherished traditional or sentimental items with the latest in party goods/kid’s collections, as I create a setting. For these photos, I used a tablecloth from my wedding shower and mix and matched tea sets that were given to the girls. Typically, we love to serve both sweet and savory during our tea parties. A personal touch, I always enjoy floral sugar cubes. When planning for the children, I always love to get them involved in food preparation and party details. It certainly makes it that much more exciting and eclectic!
Grace’s American doll Tea Party by Nikki
Tea parties according to Nikki : To me, the best part of tea parties with Grace is the uninterrupted, intentional time together. We have two other children, so having that special, one-on-one time is crucial. I think it’s important to remember, tea parties are special no matter how plain or fancy you make them. Grace loves a fancy tea party, with real China, sweets, linen, and beautiful dresses...of course! But she also loves a tea party on the plastic tea set she got for her 2nd birthday. What seems to matter the most is the ceremony of it all, the intentional pause in your day for a special time together. Set the table (or floor!), share a treat, pour some tea, take turns serving each other, and maybe throw up a pinky. These moments of togetherness, the celebration of the small things, and all of the playfulness are the memories we cherish the most!
Tea party staging : Our tea party was centered around the American Doll table and chairs I had as a little girl. For the photos, we did move the tea party from its usual play closet nook onto the back yard so that the sun could illuminate all of the beauty! We laid out a white quilt, bought tasty petit fours from a local bakery, and pulled out a few family heirlooms to make the party extra special. Grace has always been sentimental, so she loved having my Samantha doll and “Bunny'' join the party. She even brought my old doll carriage. The tea cups belonged to Grace’s great-great grandmother. The silver teapot belongs to her grandmother. Grace wore one of her favorite dresses, the pink butterfly Netti dress by Charlotte Sy Dimby. Pink is our girl’s favorite color and she loves to twirl so this beautiful dress was a match made in heaven!
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Stella and Lola's Blossom Tea Party by Danielle
Tea parties according to Danielle : My girls, love to use their imaginations to play all day long. Anything that includes a sweet treat, their favorite animals & dolls, a gorgeous set up, & a princess dress, is a little girl’s dream come true. I provide the table & chairs, but Stella likes to pick out all of the details for her tea parties. She likes to be in charge, & express her own creativity. This tea party was inspired by Alice in Wonderland. We even played croquet and read books. Thank goodness we have a wagon to put everything in.
Tea party staging : For this tea party, the girls & their Corolle dolls are wearing Charlotte Sy Dimby dresses. We needed a real princess at the table, so we included our La Française Princess Elizabeth Doll. She is sitting on her throne made up of stacked boxes. Our tablecloth was an Atelier Choux carré & then we added the matching cushion for extra fluff. A floral centerpiece & candles were the final touch. We held our party under the magical magnolia tree in our enchanted garden with our favorite raspberry tea & macaroons using our baby friendly Moulin Roty tea set.
Jasmine and Milana’s Cinderella Tea Party by Julie
Tea parties according to Julie : Tea time means a whole lot to me! I grew up in a family where tea is a must every single day. Growing up, I don't recall a day where my father skipped his morning and evening tea. When we would visit friends or relatives, we were always greeted with a table set up for tea time and pleasant conversations. Whenever we had guests, you guessed it, we would most definitely have the table set up with savory sandwiches and sweets along with fresh hot tea ready for their arrival! Tea parties are such a timeless and beautiful way to bring people together. This is the one classic theme that can be used for plenty of occasions!
Tea party staging : I was inspired to photograph my two darling daughters to stage a delightful scenery outdoors on gorgeous white furniture that I love to call "Cinderella furniture" because it gives me all the sweet Cinderella princess feels!
Milana wore a pink vintage style dress that is a hand me down from my little sister, who is now nearly 11. This dress my mom purchased 2nd hand and passed it on for my daughter to enjoy its beauty as well! Jasmine wore a simple, but charming, smocked dress from one of my absolute favorite brands "Edgehill Collection". I felt these two dresses coordinated so well with the blush table setting, the teapot, matching cups and plates. I grew up loving anything shabby chic style and that in me has not changed since, other than the fact that I grew to love it even more so now!
Favorite tea : Usually we have a lovely stash of all kinds of flavors, I enjoy collecting different teas! Black currant flavored black tea is my favorite, although lately I have really been loving chamomile tea every night!
Tea party tip : I would most definitely recommend going for pleasing pastel tones such as blues, pinks and greens! Adding fresh flowers will light up the room without a doubt. Having finger food and sweet treats such as macarons and chocolate covered strawberries to go perfectly with a cup of tea over lovely conversations would make it complete. I believe the tea party theme can go for so many occasions! I hosted my daughter's birthday last year for her and her friends to enjoy beautiful vintage tea cups filled with what I call a "hug in a cup"!
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Carter and Elle’s sunny Californian Tea Party by Madison
Tea parties according to Carter : Carter loves to come up with a sweet little idea almost everyday. It’s her birthday, Coronation Day, Halloween, our dog’s birthday, or basically anything she can think of to dress up, but our favorite is a tea party! We think the best kind of tea party is the most organic and natural - just a great excuse to spend a little special time together, connect and dress up in our favorite fancy girly dresses!
Tea party staging : The inspiration for this little tea party was a sunny California spring day. Warm, simple, easy, and laid back. Baby Elle (10 months) was even lucky enough to be invited to join which makes for a very lively party where lots of tea is thrown about, teacups banged together, and flowers ravaged.
Carter picked out her favorite Charlotte sy Dimby princess dress for the day, picked one from her baby sister’s closet (of course the one she insisted on was from when baby Elle was only 3 months old, but it made for a cute little tunic), and even picked out a dress for me. Carter is very into doing her hair all by herself lately. She calls it ‘Coronation Hair’. After twisting it and wrapping it around her head, she secures it with our favorite bows, Macey + Co. Fancy Shabby Chic napkins help set the mood too. We love our special tablecloth my mom brought back years ago from the French countryside. These tea cups are also cherished since we found them years ago, in an adorable vintage store, while on vacation in an old lakeside town in Idaho.
Tea party tip : Fancy stuff is fun, but we think all it takes to enjoy a lovely tea party together is any teacup you have, a little snack to share, and anything your little one likes to feel special and make memories together.
Lydia’s Azalea Tea Party by Alison
Here in Northwest Florida, on the border of Alabama, we're famous for azaleas. Their beautiful blooms last only for a few short weeks, so we used their striking colors as our background. Lydia was wearing a white eyelet and lace dress that belonged to me (Mom) as a baby in 1985. I collect and preserve vintage clothing so it's always fun to dress Lydia up in family heirloom clothing. The teacups are green depression glass from the 1930's that I found at a local estate sale at a grand historic home here in Pensacola, Florida. Lydia is still rather young (14 months) but she loved playing tea party with her stuffed rabbits and generously offered them a cup! After Lydia's tea party, it had me thinking, why can't Moms have a bit of fun too? After the pandemic, I'm planning to throw a fun tea party for all of my Mom friends!
Maya’s butterfly Tea Party by Lidiya
Inspiration for Maya’s tea party came from her nickname, butterfly. She always flutters around.
So for her 2nd birthday, I dressed her up with butterfly wings over her dress. I picked pink and purple colors since they are her favorite. Cookies in shapes of butterflies were part of the tea party too. Adding flowers always elevates the look, and Grace roses Farm ones have been my favorites since I discovered them when Maya was born, so they were an obvious choice.
I find it easiest to photograph Maya when she is occupied and doing her favorite activity, like drinking water from her tea cup. This photo is special, it shows her as a kid, with cookie crumbles on her cheek beside also feels as if from a fairy tale with beautiful flowers and wings.
A FINAL CUPPA OF TEA
Three of our favorite quotes for tea lovers :
“Life is like a cup of tea, it’s all in how you make it”
“Life is like a cup of tea, to be filled to the brim and enjoyed with friends!”
“But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea.” – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Inspiring accounts for tea lovers :
Explore further and stayed tuned
Learn more about the portrait artist Shari Ford. She will be painting the winner's portrait from the tea party picture. We will document the process.
Learn more about the Jury members of the tea party contest : Sally Gates, pastel portrait artist and Emberli Pridham, co-authors of the Amazon best seller book series – If Not You Then Who – which empowers children to invent.