20th Century

Tea, Chinoiserie & a Bison

I love Wellington: it is an amazing little city, with fascinating stuff happening all the time. The one thing that I really miss based on other cities I have lived in is a historical costuming community. I long for Tissot inspired picnics in the garden, and grand Victorian fancy dress balls, and scintillating18th ย century French salons happening every other weekend. We have the occasional fantastic event, and I’ve organised a few myself, but there are only so many I can plan a year without completely wearing myself out.

It’s getting better: there is a nascent steampunk community, and my classes are producing corseteers, and every time I go out in an outfit I meet someone new who is fascinated and has always wanted to wear hoopskirts and bustles, or who has already dabbled in making their own.

Really though, the things that keep me sane as a historical costumer in (relative) isolation are the online community, which keeps me connected and motiated, and having a delightful group of friends who are either interested in historical (and not quite as historical) costuming, or willing to indulge my interest in it!

Case in point: last Saturday the darling Madame O treated a group of us to afternoon tea at the Wellesley Club, and suggested that people dress up. No theme, just whatever struck your fancy!

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

I’d hoped to debut Polly / Oliver, but I got it stuck in my head that the tea was on Sunday, and when it turned out to be on Saturday and I hadn’t planned my time for that (and had an extra 5 hours of cornelli work to do on the skirt) so instead I threw a few random wardrobe pieces together to wear with the Chinoiserie skirt.

A knit merino top with a bit of lace tucked in the neckline and my Little Bit of Magic cape aren’t quite circa 1903, but they looked very effective paired with the Chinoiserie skirt, and were perfect for sitting and sipping tea and eating profiteroles and cucumber sandwiches.

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

We giggled and chatted and discussing sewing and feminism and what one wore during that time of the month, historically speaking (jumping off from the discussion we’ve been having on the HSF facebook page), and the effectiveness of Regency stays, and deconstructed tea, and how much the taxidermied buffalo head on the wall of the Wellesley Club looks like Benedict Cumberbatch.

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

He totally does. We call him Benedict CumberBison.

After devouring all the sandwiches and lamingtons and tart au citron and getting refills of tea and milk we surveyed the devastation:

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

And took some photos:

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

I talked Sarah the Photographer into posing with CumberBison:

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

And my Muff 2.0 (actually, she did that all on her own!):

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

And documented Mrs C’s fabulous reverse-applique mitts:

Afternoon tea at the Wellesley thedreamstress.com

And (hurrah) Madame O was nice enough to indulge my vanity and take quite a few pictures of how pretty the chinoiserie skirt is. It is very pretty.

The 1903 chinoiserie skirt thedreamstress.com

The 1903 chinoiserie skirt thedreamstress.com

The 1903 chinoiserie skirt thedreamstress.com

The 1903 chinoiserie skirt thedreamstress.com

Even with the blob!


  1. That sounds like a very entertaining afternoon, and the featured attendees look lovely! I admit I can’t see the BC/BCB similarity myself, but people often photograph very differently than they look in person, so I suppose it may be the same for bison.

    • I agree that Benedict CumberBison looks disappointingly unlike his namesake in the photos, so you’ll have to believe me that in person the resemblance is striking. We were sitting, having our tea, I looked up at him, and said “Oh my, that bison looks like the guy from Sherlock!” (clearly I am not a rabid BC fan) and everyone said “Oh wow, he totally does!” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Lynne says

    The bison does indeed look like Benedict – I can see it. And the skirt is just lovely!

  3. You also have a pretty hairstyle to go with it. And it all sounds so very, very lovely.

    Also: effectiveness of Regency stays, hmm. I’ve taken to wearing my wrap stays under my modern clothes in the summer heats…

    • Oh, thank you Hana! I wasn’t entirely happy with how my hair did 1900s, but it did photograph well, I think (rather the opposite of the bison!).

      I read about your wearing your stays on your blog under your summer dresses, and tried to leave a comment about it, but I often have trouble commenting on your blog, so I guess it didn’t come through ๐Ÿ™

      • Trouble? What trouble? *sigh* I’m unfortunately computer illiterate, more or less, so I’m not sure I can help. I try to keep them as open as possible, only have the Captcha (which they’re using now, aargh) to keep ugly comments or spam at bay. And that’s about it…

  4. Looks like a lovely afternoon! The Wellesley Club does indeed fit the bill for the wearing of such finery.

  5. What DID historical women do at that time of the month? I’ve always wondered.

    Your skirt is lovely, by the way! I love the way the train falls.

    • What they did depends, of course, on what historical period you are talking about. Women in Roman era Britain apparently used pads made of moss, some 18th century women apparently let it ran, others used a form of fabric pads, and by the 19th century pads were pretty ubiquitous.

      And thank you! I’m so pleased with the skirt myself.

  6. What a fun event – I love all the costumes and Mrs C’s gloves are fabulous as is your skirt.

  7. Claire Payne says

    Benedict CumberBison LOL. I won’t be able to look at the fellow without making this comparison from now on.

    I must pay a visit to the Wellesley Club on my next visit to Wellington. Their high tea looks like it will meet with my approval (and taste buds).

    Your costumes are divine as ever, but it seemed so strange to see modern technology in the form of your cameras with the historical ensembles. Needs must if you are to share your outfits with us all. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thank you for another wonderful blog.

    • Oh, you must! I think you’d love it. And the Wellesley is just such a lovely place to spend time.

      Hehe at the cameras. For me, they are so ubiquitous to our get togethers. I believe at Renaissance Faires they call photography ‘Flemish painting’ because it captures very detailed, accurate, genre scenes ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. This was indeed a lovely day, and your skirt is beauttifully swooshy in person! You’ve done a great job of capturing the afternoon in these photos, wish I was in more than one – although the one I’m in is fantastic, thanks.

    • Thanks darling! I’m sorry you’re only in the one – it’s the curse of sitting next to the photographer. We could have great conversations but you were too close to me for a good angle in photos! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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