“The trend for sociable teas that did not include food emerged. In Manners of Modern Society (1875), Cheadle defines the roles of tea with and tea without food, explaining that tea taken with food in the mid-afternoon is a cost-effective way to feed a crowd, whereas tea taken without food in the afternoon is 'sociable tea'. Cheadle advises that sociable teas require little if any food and are preferably served without staff, with their primary purpose being social engagement, 'People do not assemble at these five o' clock teas to eat and drink, but merely to see and talk to each other and take a cup of tea as refreshment.'
With the establishment of social tea as a fashionable ritual and the soft, flowing tea gown with its feminine lines and suggestive appeal, it is perhaps not surprising that social tea then transformed into what the French called 'le cinq a sept': the accepted time when a lady could entertain her lover with the wordless permission of her husband. It was an unspoken rule that a lady's husband would not enter the drawing room at that hour (perhaps because he was enjoying extra marital frivolities himself), and with the collusion of inconspicuous maids, the lady of the house would announce herself 'at home' solely for the benefit of her gentleman caller.”
Seren Charrington Hollins
Pen and Sword History
July 8, 2020
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