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What to wear to afternoon tea & high tea & the 1 thing not to wear!

What to wear to afternoon tea & high tea & the 1 thing not to wear!

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Last Updated on October 15, 2023 by Eve Dawes

Your guide to what to wear to afternoon tea, the most elegant dresses and afternoon tea outfits

What to wear to Afternoon Tea or High Tea outfits are pretty much follow the same dress code. Since today they’re pretty much the same thing. High Tea at somewhere like the Savoy London is just the addition of an extra hot course served between sandwiches, cakes and scones. I’m American-English and grew up in England with the tradition of Afternoon Tea so I’m used to the dress codes and etiquette. So what’s acceptable to wear to afternoon tea and what’s not? What do ladies wear for afternoon tea at the Ritz? What are the best afternoon or high tea dresses and outfits? Here are some fun facts and beautiful outfits to ensure you pass the dress code!

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Afternoon tea and high tea dress codes

Some places that serve afternoon tea have stricter dress codes than others e.g. The Ritz requires gentlemen to wear a jacket and tie to afternoon tea whereas the Savoy is a lot more relaxed. Although neither allow sportswear. A couple of ways to know what to wear to afternoon tea is:

  • To read the venues dress code.
  • Check out their Instagram feed to see what other people are wearing.

What to wear to afternoon tea

I always love dressing up, customs and keeping traditions alive. From the very first time I had Afternoon Tea at The Ritz when I was 10 I’ve adored the ritual of Afternoon Tea and an excuse to eat more cake. As well as finding an elegant dress to accessorizing in a way that’s fitting for the surroundings.

What do ladies wear for afternoon tea at the Ritz?

This has definitely changed over the years but the dress code at the Ritz is still pretty stringent. Yes, Ladies can wear trousers but a pretty dress is much more suitable.

The ladies of London society in the 20th century put on their finest dresses for an afternoon outing at The Ritz, our wonderful guests in the 21st century need no excuse to don their most elegant outfits to make the occasion extra special. When dining in the breath-taking ambience of the hotel’s Palm Court…equally divine outfits come as standard.


When considering what to wear to Afternoon Tea the first thing to check is the venues dress code. Followed by whether you’re dining inside or outside, the weather and customs of the country you’re dining in.

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Floral mini dress | Photo FWRD

What not to wear to afternoon tea

Obviously sports wear, shorts and sneakers/trainers are not permitted in most hotels serving afternoon tea but there are other things you might think are ok but are actually a faux pas.

Gloves are an elegant addition to any afternoon tea outfit with the caveat that you take them off once you’re seated at your table. Gloves should be removed and put away, along with your phone, not left on the table.

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Can I wear a hat to high tea

Another major faux pas is wearing your hat at the table inside. Hats and fascinators are a beautiful addition to your afternoon tea outfit but should be removed once at the table unless dining outside. So you may wish to plan your hairstyle accordingly so that you don’t end up with hat hair or lines on your forehead.

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There is one caveat to that etiquette rule, and that’s being that if you’re taking afternoon tea outside, then they may remain on.

Other things to consider when choosing your afternoon tea outfit is to make sure it’s not too sexy. As much as I love cut outs, minis and plunging necklines, afternoon tea attire tends to call for more elegant styles.

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Long floral dress | Photo Revolve

What’s the difference between afternoon tea and high tea

What I’ve noticed living in the US is that most Americans call afternoon tea, high tea. Whereas, the English call it Afternoon Tea. So to make this article easy to find I’ve used both terms interchangeably. Because the dress code for what to wear to afternoon tea remains the same for both. High tea is just the addition of a hot course.

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Despite its name, high tea actually originated with the lower classes…working stiffs didn’t have the luxury of an afternoon lunch break, so they took tea right after work with heartier fare. Using the term “high tea” when you really mean “afternoon tea” is a dead giveaway you’re American.

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Afternoon & high tea etiquette

The Ritz has a really good etiquette guide which also includes the differences between the different names of afternoon tea and some fun facts along with their etiquette tips. Which includes how to eat your scones and when to pour milk into your tea but take them with a pinch of salt.

Whether you’re a rule follower or breaker, Afternoon Tea is there to be enjoyed at a relaxing pace. The main thing is to follow their Afternoon Tea dress code so you’re not denied entry and most definitely to keep your pinky down unless you’re being ironic!

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Pink mini dress | Photo Revolve

Shop the best afternoon tea and high tea dresses

These are the best high tea dresses and afternoon tea outfits from florals to solid colors, tweed to chiffon, minis to maxi dresses, designer to luxe for less for under $100. Here’s what to wear to afternoon tea for an elegant but fashionable look for all seasons.


For more fashion and style tips, sale alerts and exclusive discount codes.

More London and afternoon tea guides

Now you’ve figured out what to wear to afternoon tea, here’s where to book it:

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