In Fashion, what is Tea Length?

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke
Woman shopping
Woman shopping

Tea length is a fashion term used to describe a mid-length skirt hem that hits at the calf or shin. This type of skirt tends to skim the hips, then gradually billow out softly at the end. It is typically a slightly more relaxed and casual alternative to the floor-length skirts on ball gowns.

The first tea length hems were worn mostly by women in Western cultures, especially in England and the United States, starting roughly around the late 1800s. These were considered a more casual alternative to the full-length dresses during a time when it was not typically socially acceptable for a woman to wear pants. The first tea length dresses tended to be made of lightweight fabrics, such as cotton, and were generally deemed too casual to be worn out in public.

During the 1920s, the fashion for Western women began to change as women started to wear shorter skirts and trousers, so tea length skirts were no longer considered too casual to wear outside the home. Fashion designers started to make tea length dresses and skirts out of more formal fabrics, such as satin, which were worn widely up through the late 1950s and early 1960s. After the 1960s, women’s fashion tended to focus on shorter skirt lengths and pants, so calf-length dresses were not as commonly worn by Western women.

Modern designers produce tea length dresses, which are generally used for formal events. Some women prefer the skirt length because they want to evoke the conservative style of the first half of the twentieth century. To emphasize the gradual billowing at the end of the skirt, a woman can wear a slip made of tulle, a stiff fabric which adds more volume to the skirt. Others may choose this shorter hem if they are attending an outdoor formal event, in which a longer hem may risk becoming soiled or torn.

A tea length hem can have possible disadvantages as well, particularly due to the area of the leg where the hem hits. If a woman is petite or has short legs, the calf length hem may conceal such a large portion of her lower body that she may appear wider than she actually is. To remedy any particular fit issues, this mid-length hem is often worn with high heels to elongate the lower body and may require tailoring to ensure the hem lands precisely at the calf.

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Discussion Comments


Am I wrong in thinking that a tea length dress is more appropriate for an afternoon event, rather than a longer dress?

I’ve been invited to a tea party, which is being held by some affluent members of the community. However, it is going to be at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Now, if it were at 2 o’clock I’d know what to wear. Or if it were at 7pm, I’d know the appropriate choice.

But at 4 o’clock, and to a tea at that! Who has tea parties anymore, anyway?

I’m thinking a tea length cocktail dress, in a light color with a matching hat, purse and pumps. Am I on the right track, or should I just go in my overalls and get it over with?


I am a shorty. I admit it. And there are few things that make me look shorter and dumpier than a frumpy, frilly tea length dress.

So, what was I to do when my best friend had her heart set on her bridesmaids wearing (ugly) flowered, tea length dresses at her mid-day, summer time wedding. (These were the real deal – puffy sleeves included.)

I’ll tell you what I did do. I managed to convince her that the maid of honor needed to be different with a solid yet coordinating color (sigh of relief when she agreed that that was a fantastic idea).

And then I sought the services of a really good tailor.

It cost a pretty penny, but I didn't look like a floral-covered penguin in this photographed, videoed, thoroughly documented event that would haunt me for the rest of my life either.

Actually, I rocked that bridesmaid dress.

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