Tea length is a fashion term used to describe a mid-length skirt hem that hits at the calf or shin. This type of skirt tends to skim the hips, then gradually billow out softly at the end. It is typically a slightly more relaxed and casual alternative to the floor-length skirts on ball gowns.
The first tea length hems were worn mostly by women in Western cultures, especially in England and the United States, starting roughly around the late 1800s.
These were considered a more casual alternative to the full-length dresses during a time when it was not typically socially acceptable for a woman to wear pants.
The first tea length dresses tended to be made of lightweight fabrics, such as cotton, and were generally deemed too casual to be worn out in public.
During the 1920s, the fashion for Western women began to change as women started to wear shorter skirts and trousers, so tea length skirts were no longer considered too casual to wear outside the home.
Fashion designers started to make tea length dresses and skirts out of more formal fabrics, such as satin, which were worn widely up through the late 1950s and early 1960s. After the 1960s, women’s fashion tended to focus on shorter skirt lengths and pants, so calf-length dresses were not as commonly worn by Western women.