High Tea 101

Chef Tino of Kravings Zim

In Zimbabwe popularity has grown over the past five years for an event that is called “high tea”.  Actually, what we refer to as “high tea” was originally “afternoon tea” in England where the practice originated.   The phrase “high tea” sounds more sophisticated so we have conveniently turned a blind eye to the misnomer (error in name).

High tea is historically a meal that the British would have in the evening which included meat, bread and pies. Afternoon tea on the other hand involved the drinking of tea (which was a luxury at the time) served with dainty pastries, scones with jam and cream, thin delicate sandwiches (invented by the Earl of Sandwich who was also British).  The aristocratic ladies who originally partook in afternoon tea would wear fashionable long gowns with gloves and hats.

Churches, corporates, business groups and schools are now hosting high tea events.  They are held during the daytime (usually afternoon but sometimes from mid-morning), participants (usually women) get together and sometimes dress up, enjoy tasty treats and refreshments which include home-made lemonade, infused water and of course tea (either hot or iced) is served.   The events are affordable to host because they are often held outdoors, the menu is equally in-expensive in comparison to a lunch or dinner menu which may have numerous courses.  The cutlery and crockery is simple and minimal.  Most of the food consumed comprises finger snacks.

Kravings Zim cupcake, cake and tea by Chef Tino

These high tea events are popular because they allow women to :

  • Network

  • Fundraise

  • Share ideas

  • Learn new skills

  • Or just dress up, look lovely and enjoy each other’s company

When invited to a “high tea” event the following are essential:

1. Dress

Soft, lacy; flowy or fitted dresses in feminine style, either long or short are ideal.  Do not wear evening-wear or business formal attire to “high tea” events.  This is a serious faux pas and would reveal your image ignorance.   You will need to invest in attire specific for high tea events.

Interestingly, high tea events in Zimbabwe can be themed – one invitation specified African attire.  Be sure to read the invitation, respect and adhere to the organiser’s theme.  Take the essentials and work them into the given theme.  Contemporary African attire (including accessories) is now so diverse and creative that you can look “high tea appropriate” while adhering to the theme.

2. Hat

Originally hats were worn (and lacy sun umbrellas were used to shield from the sun).  If you are able to invest in different hats for each high tea event/special occasion that would be awesome. You don’t want to be identified by your one familiar hat at every occasion if you only have the one.  Fascinators are equally appropriate.  Fascinators provide the elegant, exquisite look for less the cost and they are also light weight and versatile.   In addition, they are easier to store and come in infinite colours, sizes and designs.

3. Clutch bag

A clutch bag is a small bag/purse which will ideally match your “high tea” outfit.  This will not be the same bag that you take to work.  Invest in clutch bag accessories for special events.

At any event and for all occasions women need storage space for the many essential items they need to maintain a good image.  These items include, but are not limited to : lipstick/lip gloss/lip balm,  hand cream, tissue, shades (eyewear), hand sanitiser, hairbrush/comb, tampon/pad and of course your mobile phone.

Ensure that you have a note book and pen in your clutch bag because high tea events are not just for looking pretty but there is also a lot of useful, productive information dissemination that takes place there.  Often organisers will invite speakers who are experts in their fields such as lawyers, doctors, alternative therapists or survivors of experiences.  Be ready to take notes.  This action also enhances your image as a prepared, conscientious person who values continuous learning.  This can draw the right people to you.

4. Jewellery

High tea events are exquisite, feminine occasions and your attire must reflect the knowledge of this fact.  Be intentional about your accessories.  Large pearls and gemstones can do.  This is the perfect occasion at which to wear that pink sapphire dress-ring for example.

5. Shoes

The shoe you will wear to a high tea event must be in sync with your entire look.  Show intentionality as this gives an impression of confidence, self-care and self-worth.  If you are not sure of the terrain or if you know the event will be held on grassy terrain then make sure to put your heel-stoppers in your clutch bag.  These will prevent your heels from sinking into the grass/sand/pebbles, allowing you to continue walking confidently and maintaining good posture in your high heels.

6. Gloves

Although not critical for the look, gloves can give your look that extra “va-va-voom”, and will place you distinctly in the minds of observers if you want to make a lasting impression. Some high tea event organisers may give a prize for best dressed participants – this is one way to really knock out the competition.

High tea etiquette

As indicated in all our previous blogs, image is not just about appearance but also about etiquette (i.e. behaviour and conduct) and communication.  Your etiquette should be on point at a high tea event as at any other event.   You will need to navigate your way through the meal with poise, ease and skill.

Professional Presence can train you in appropriate dining etiquette for “high tea” events and other events where food is consumed.

Make an appointment for a consultation.