The natural thing to do in these times when nostalgia is all around us is to “go Victorian” at tea time. You don’t have to live in a house built during the Victorian era (1837-1901) for that to happen. It’s just a little thing here, a little thing there – all signs that you’re “going Victorian” at tea time! Check out the signs below to see if they apply.

Victorian Violets Fine Bone China Teapot to steep that tea up just right! (ETS Image)

Victorian Violets Fine Bone China Teapot to steep that tea up just right! (ETS Image)

1 Vocabulary and Manners Morphage

Words like “peckish” and phrases like “I’ll have a spot of tea” start to cross your lips. Your “boarder house reach” seems to have been naturally curbed, along with your tendency to jump into the middle of someone else’s sentence to blurt out some thought you suddenly had. Yes, indeed, clear signs that the transformation of your tea time is beginning. Much of the use of English in Victorian times was extremely proper, and their spoken grammar was close to their written form (we tend to be much more loose when speaking versus writing). Charles Dickens’ novels are a good example of how they talked. In Victorian times, manners were considered a must to all within society and were learnt from a young age (the standard of Victorian manners and etiquette were set very high). Invitations to dinner parties or events were sent seven to ten days in advance and required an acknowledgment from the recipient. Victorian men were taught to make that iconic gesture of tipping their hat when greeting a woman, opening doors for them, and walking on the outside, something we see today but that was started during the Victorian era. The art of conversation involved listening carefully to others and never interrupting. Monopolizing conversation was considered very bad manners.

Twinings Earl Grey – a product of the Victorian era. (ETS Image)

Twinings Earl Grey – a product of the Victorian era. (ETS Image)

2 Tea Preference Changes

Twinings is going to be popping up at your Victorian tea time. Their English Breakfast was also enjoyed in the afternoon. Then along came their Earl Grey tea with its flavoring of oil of bergamot, created in the mid-1800s. Basic green teas from China such as gunpowder would also be available and even a Darjeeling tea blend. Such teas seem to demand a Victorian style of preparation, and serving them is a sure sign of your transformation.

3 Preparation and Presentation Alteration

Whereas your tea preparations had consisted of dunking that teabag up and down in a mug of warmish water, you now find that there is a decided element of formality that is creeping in. It starts with using a teapot for steeping. Then you find that you start switching to loose leaf tea, and a silver tea strainer makes a sudden appearance among your tea things. And, of course, nothing but bone china teacups and saucers will do for the vessel of choice from which to imbibe that tea. You find yourself drawn to those lacy tablecloths at the store (or pulling out the one you inherited from your grandmother and stuck away as too old-fashioned).

Three teapots to get your transformation started:

4 Victorian Recipes Dominate

Instead of some stale packaged cookies from the store with your tea, your tea table is now groaning (audibly!) under the weight of goodies such as trifles, molded ice creams, pastries from the local bakery (preferably French style), heavier dried-fruit-filled breads, and things like freshly baked gingerbread. You may also include a scone the size of one of the layers of a multi-layer cake and lots of fruit preserves, butter, and clotted cream (no one ever said that these tea times were Atkins or Weight Watchers approved). Be sure to break breads, cakes, cookies, scones, etc., before eating. Cramming them whole in your mouth would make Anne, the Duchess of Bedford, writhe in her grave. Besides, such behavior would not be seemly if you are in Victorian garb.

5 Tea Time Attire Adjustments

Okay, stop cramming that scone in your mouth. You’re getting crumbs all over that lovely Victorian outfit. For men, that usually meant stylish facial hair (sideburns, moustaches, and beards) that were neatly trimmed, and some variation of a suit, generally with a long coat almost to their knees, a vest, a largely knotted tie or bow tie, balloon style pants with long socks, and a large “bucket” hat. Pocket watches and canes were optional. Women’s fashion would depend on which part of the Victorian era you were emulating. They started as closer to those from the Georgian age where straight skirts were later spread over large hoops which were eventually replaced by skimmer skirts. Sleeves changed from slim to leg of mutton shapes. The corset was an essential since a cinched waist was expected. Shawls were also part of the costume. The only thing I consider problematic here is the corset. It might limit my intake ability.

Are you there yet? Have you “gone Victorian”? If so, have a great time. And if not, get a move on and make that transformation complete!

See also Afternoon Tea Is No Trifling Affair

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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