Taking Tea

I understand from my travels around the century that "Tea Party" has taken on a new connotation of late--some sort of political meaning. Here in the 1920s we had the Teapot Dome scandal. But I gather your 21st-century Tea Party movement is something quite different from that.

Today, I want to talk about the genuine tea party . . . the kind held in the afternoon, , where you actually drink tea and spoil your supper with scrumptious, pretty, sugary delights. And if you discuss politics there, heaven help you. Eyebrows will be raised in your direction and people will whisper behind their fans, if they have them, or their hands, if they don't.

Believe me, I know all about whispering. I once attended a dismal tea party hosted by the local hospital auxiliary, to which I was invited as the "bride-elect" (a.k.a. fiancee) of Doctor Richard Brownlee. I felt like a bug on a specimen slide under a microscope. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say, most parties are heaps more fun than that one. (Details, if you must have then, are to be found in Jennifer's forthcoming book.)

Here are some tips on throwing a great tea party:

*Invite enough people . . . but not too many. Take a good look at the room where you're going to hold the party. If you invite too few guests for a large room, they'll look and feel lost. But too many guests crowded into a small room--what we call a "crush" here in 1925--can be equally uncomfortable. If the size of your guest list fights against the size of your room, either adjust the list or find a different room. Or hold it outdoors, if the weather's fine. Garden parties are quite the thing!

*Decide whether you want to invite both gentlemen and ladies, or only ladies (a party with only men is called a "stag" party and is not the subject of this post, although information abounds, if you're inclined toward such a thing). In my era, tea parties were often ladies-only events, since the ladies were free in the afternoons while the men were at work. But in your era, everybody works, so a date and time that's convenient for the ladies will most likely work for the men as well.

*If you include the men, decide if you want your tea party to include dancing. If so, consider hiring musicians. If musicians are beyond your budget, a gramophone works almost as well.

*There's no better decoration that flowers--lots and lots of them, according to the season. A potted palm or two can't hurt.

*Your menu includes tea, of course (iced tea in hot weather is nice), with sugar, milk, and lemon available, and possibly a fruit punch or other alternative for non-tea-drinkers, plus
as many cakes, breads, sandwiches, muffins, and what-have-you that you can conjure up. Everything should be cut up small, to be easily held in one hand. Supply plenty of plates and napkins, knives for spreading, and small forks, especially if you're serving anything gooey or sticky.

*Your party can be so small that it's just you and a few close friends sitting around a table. At a larger tea, though, you'll serve the refreshments from a long table. You can ask a close friend to stand by the teapot or punch bowl and do the pouring. According to Emily Post, being asked to pour is a great honor. She writes, "The ladies who 'pour' are always especially invited beforehand and always wear afternoon dresses, with hats, of course, as distinguished from the street clothes of other guests. As soon as a hostess decides to give a tea, she selects two friends for this duty who are, in her opinion, decorative in appearance and also who (this is very important) can be counted on for gracious manners to everyone and under all circumstances."

 *What to wear? Why, your prettiest afternoon frock, of course. Here are some examples:


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