Traditional Tea Party Etiquette

by Donna Tinus
There is no dancing at tea parties.

There is no dancing at tea parties.

Ralf Nau/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Traditional tea parties are the epitome of graciousness. A tea party offers an oasis of good taste and propriety in a world in which etiquette has almost fallen away to the roadside to be tossed aside and forgotten. Here, proper "ladies" can escape from the realities of a harsh world and retreat to an era in which they can still dress up, enjoy delicate tea and converse with good company.


One of the best parts of a tea party, aside from being given a license to eat a variety of sweets, is the opportunity to dress up in your best clothes. Dressing up is often overlooked in modern society, but it is an important part of the tea party. Traditionally, guests wear good dresses to a tea party. Hats are traditional, but optional. Guests should wear white gloves to a traditional tea party, but remove them when they begin to eat or drink.


A "low tea" is served in the drawing room on low tables and consists of small sandwiches, appetizers, scones, sweet breads, cookies, cakes and other sweets, in that order. Of course, plenty of tea is included. A "light tea" includes cake, scones and sweet breads. This is usually held at a dining room table. A "cream tea" consists of scones with Devonshire clotted cream and jam. Clotted cream is difficult to find in America, so an American hostess may want to lean toward planning a low tea party.

How to Drink Tea

Hold your teacup by placing your index finger into the handle of the teacup up to the first knuckle. The thumb sits on the top of the handle and the bottom of the handle sits on the ring finger. Contrary to popular belief, the pinky should not stick straight up in the air like a flagpole. Keep the pinky bent down with the other fingers. Don't draw unwanted attention to yourself by clinking your spoon against the cup. A proper lady gently swishes her spoon back and forth in the cup, then places it on the saucer behind the cup, with the handle pointing to the right.


Whatever you do, don't neglect your napkin. Etiquette states that you should pick up and unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. If you get up, place the napkin on your chair. The trickiest part of using a cloth napkin is trying not to get lipstick on it. Dab at the outside corners of your mouth, but try not to rub your lipstick onto the napkin. Better yet, use one of the no-smudge lipsticks. The hostess signals the end of tea time when she picks her napkin up from her lap. Everyone else should pick her own up as well and lay it on the left side of her plate.

Photo Credits

  • Ralf Nau/Digital Vision/Getty Images