The Victorian Era was often characterized by being a time of sophistication, proper etiquette and finery in nearly every aspect of daily life. For many upper class Victorians, afternoon tea became a social highlight for many women.

Local residents and visitors will be able to get a taste of what the Victorian age was like during an adult-only Victorian Tea event at the Dunnell House in the Village of Yesteryear this February.

Mary Anne Higgins, events director for the Steele County Historical Society, said guests can expect to taste different types of tea, snack on dainty finger sandwiches and desserts, as well as learn about the history of tea and what a typical day in the life of a Victorian woman looked like.

A Victorian Tea party is traditionally held in November and open to children to hear a re-telling of the tales of St. Nicholas while they drink tea and hear stories, but this event is for adults only as alcoholic beverages will be served.

“We’re excited to be able to bring this event back for the second time after having to postpone it due to COVID-19,” Higgins said. “We wanted to make it a bit more special for those attending.”

A program will accompany the tea where those in attendance will be able to see and learn about clothes women often wore at the time. Though dressing in Victorian garb is not necessary to attend the event, dressing up is not to be dissuaded. It’s all about learning and having fun according to Higgins.

At the time, ladies would wear tea gowns as opposed to a more formal evening gown. Tea gowns were lighter and looser fit than dinner gowns. They were formal enough to wear when company was over, but not so formal that a corset was necessary, according to the English Heritage Organization.

Despite the differences in style, tea gowns were still made to look elaborate and expensive. A hostess could also opt to wear a plain dress or a skirt and blouse that had been tailored and fitted which was still considered fashionable in the late 1800s.

Men also attended tea gatherings, but their clothing was much less formal and elaborate than women’s. A gentleman would often wear a sack suit — a style which was popular shortly before the introduction of the three-piece suit many of us have come to know today. A sack suit was also considered a walking, business or lounge suit.

Though tea time was common in most every household during the Victorian Era, which spanned from approximately 1837 to 1901, afternoon tea swiftly became an informal social gathering for upper class women.

During that time, households generally had a morning and afternoon tea time, according to Higgins. Morning tea, often served around 11 a.m., would be had in the bed chambers, while afternoon tea was often served around 3 p.m. Higgins said this was often because food preparation took much longer than what it does today and many people at that time had a noon lunch, but were not able to gather for dinner until 8 p.m. or later.

Many would bring out their finest china for tea time and tables were often beautifully decorated. Victorians put emphasis on hospitality and flaunting wealth, even if the hostess was not rich. It was also not uncommon to see tables set with china from different sets to show off that the hostess could afford to own multiple sets.

Two sessions will be offered for the event on Saturday, Feb. 12. The first session will be from 10:30 a.m. until noon. The second will be from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. The event is limited to individuals 21 years of age and up.

Space is limited with each session having space for a maximum of 24 guests. Prior registration is required to ensure adequate food and drinks for attendees. Those interested can reserve their spot by calling 507-451-1420. The cost is $15 for SCHS members and $20 for non-members.

Reach Reporter Emily Kahnke at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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