FHM’s Tango Tea

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo demonstrate the Tango

Tango Teas were a popular pastime in polite society from the early 1910s well into the early 1930s. Dressed for the afternoon in hats and gloves, ladies and gentlemen took tea in palm-filled hotel courts while viewing a fashion parade and demonstrations of the latest dances. It was a safe environment, free of vice and scandal.

This was the inspiration for the Fashion History Museum’s Fall event this year. Last year the FHM held a Regency Ball in honour of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, but this year the festivities skipped a century to honour the centennial of the end of the Great War, and of Canadian women winning the vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Diane Gallinger, convinces guests to support women’s rights to vote.

The event began with the tea, for those wanting something cold, coca-cola was offered in the classic curvy glass bottles, first marketed in 1916. A selection of finger sandwiches, including a period favourite of olive, walnut, and cream cheese for vegetarians (a growing trend in the 1910s), and sweets, which included chocolate squares (dubbed ‘brownies’ in 1906) and doughnuts – a popular treat offered servicemen by the Red Cross and other aid societies. U.S. soldiers liked doughtnuts so much, they became known as ‘doughboys’.

Next on the menu were a series of games: Name That Tune, a couple of product pricing games courtesy of The Price is Right, and a round of What’s My Line, with a special guest appearance by English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst – quickly identified by our panel after only two questions! Mrs. Pankhurst then gave a rousing speech for the women’s vote before we started into the featured event of the day.

Alys Mak-Pilsworth wearing her blue striped peg-top dress with pink sash – a dress she finished just hours before the event!

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo were flown in from San Francisco to demonstrate and teach the popular dances of the decade. Two classes earlier in the day were offered for keeners, but we were assured that as long as you can walk and count, you can dance most of the 1910s dances. The afternoon included a mix of tangos, Castle Walks, and the Maxixe, as well as a zoo of novelty animal dances: The Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, and the more familiar Foxtrot.

For those wanting to take a break from dancing, there were silent films in an adjacent room including the first film in which Charlie Chaplin appears as his Little Tramp character, as well as a couple of Suffragetto board games.

It was a fabulous bit of fun, and unknown to the guests, there were only a few backstage dramas, like a broken hot water urn, and forgotten teacups. The event would not have been possible without the help of the staff (Alys Mak-Pilsworth, Emily Jackson, Shany Engelhardt, and Bria Dietrich), and volunteers (Nikita Byrne-Mamahit, Fiona Thistle, Susan Walford, Diane Gallinger, and especially Rose Mak!)

I know there is a lot of interest in a 1920s event, and we will do one eventually, but I think for next year we are looking at either a WWII Victory dance, or maybe a Victorian cotillion… we are already working on the details.

Everyone gets into the One-step

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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