Steeped in history

Photo: Historical fashion expert Bill White talks ties and hats at YS Arts Council
Elevenses or afternoon? Both refer to tea: the delightful, hot beverage steeped in a surprising and rich history. While many of us here in America tend to think of tea as an English drink, the truth of the matter is that it has actually been around in other countries for thousands of years. The Chinese, for example, originally began serving tea as a form of medicine. It was only after the Ming Dynasty came about that tea became a social beverage, according to
As time passed, the Chinese began serving tea in an elaborate tea ceremony, called Gong Fu, which is still practiced today. Other countries, such as Japan, also have ceremonies centered on tea. There, the tea ceremony, Chanoyu, is a sophisticated art that teaches humility, mindfulness, and simplicity.
Tea was also found in Russia beginning in the 17th century. There, a silver or copper pot called a samovar with an inner chamber of hot coals, was kept bubbling throughout the day so that guests could be served quickly. The samovar eventually became the Russian symbol of hospitality.
In Tibet, yak tea, a strong brew, is blended with either yak or goat’s milk or butter with a little salt to make a nutritious, high-calorie drink, according to NPR’s The Salt program. England wasn’t introduced to tea until the 1660s. It was Queen Catherine de Braganza, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II, who first introduced tea to England. The steaming beverage quickly became popular, especially during the dreary winter months.
It wasn’t until 1840 that the idea of afternoon tea came about, according to Historic UK, the history and heritage accommodation guide. Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, England, introduced the idea when she found herself feeling hungry around 4 p.m. A spot of tea with some sandwiches staved off the hunger pangs until about 8 p.m., when dinner was served in her home. It became a daily habit. She eventually invited friends to join her, and by the late 1880s, the simple cup of tea had become an elaborate social event with aristocratic ladies dressing up in fine gowns complete with hats and gloves.
As with any social event, unique etiquette evolved and became what we know today as afternoon tea. As time passed, new traditions such as elevenses, (yes, it is an actual thing, not just something from “The Hobbit”), high tea (which was ironically for the poorer classes), and low tea (which got its name because ladies began using chairs with low arm rests to better sip their tea) became popular, as well.
Here in Yellow Springs, Ohio, “bling! tea,” an exciting new social event, is reinventing the high tea. Debbie Henderson, who works as a costumer for Wittenberg University, created the concept of bling tea.
“We have a lot of historic clothing from the 1880s to the present,” Henderson says. “I was organizing, cleaning, and sorting it and I thought this might be a great, fun presentation/fundraiser for our local arts council, because a couple of years ago, they had our costumes on exhibit and we had a fashion show. The students had great fun doing that.”
So what exactly is a “bling tea”? Like a high tea, attendees dress up in all manner of finery, including hats, gloves, and lots of accessories. Henderson suggests participants bring a hat and whatever accessories they’d like. Some hats and white gloves will be available for use, but they are limited. The most important element, of course, is the tea, which will be served along with various sweets and savories.
What separates a high tea from a bling tea (and makes a bling tea so much more appealing to more potential tea drinkers) is the opportunity to learn something new from fashion experts.
Hosted by volunteer Sue Hawkey, organizers plan to kick off their first official tea by inviting the fashion gang, Arts Council Historical Clothing Series presenters Henderson, Bill White, Bette Kelley, and Celise McKee.
The fashion gang plans to talk about the role of accessorizing in fashion and how it can really make a difference between a drab outfit and one that is delightfully dramatic.
“Bill is always really fun because he talks about hats and men’s ties, and you never know what he’s going to show up wearing,” Henderson laughs.
Bling tea marks a kind of evolution of social interaction: from tea as a simple snack idea to an aristocratic social gathering mainstay to a modern way of learning and raising money for the arts. So grab a hat and remember to keep those pinkies down!
‘Bling! tea’ takes place Tuesday, May 30, from 2–5 p.m., at the Yellow Springs Arts Council, 111 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Admission is $20. For more information, please call 937.679.9722 or visit 

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