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Army Teas are Steeped in Tradition

Teas are steeped in tradition, so receiving an invitation to a tea can give you a feeling of excitement as well as, perhaps, a feeling of apprehension! For spouses who have never been to a tea and especially during these times of COVID restrictions and postponed events, we shall share a few insights and a throwback story to help set the stage for future events.

The tradition of Army spouses holding afternoon tea began with Martha Washington and evolved into formal teas to farewell or welcome the unit commander’s spouse and command sergeant major’s spouse. Teas were an elegant and special way to say thank you to the outgoing spouse and, with a separate tea, to welcome the new senior spouse. Army spouses have changed and so have some of these traditional events. Instead of formal teas of bygone years, today’s welcomes and farewells have been modified with more personalized themes, especially for a farewell.


Spouse clubs have hosted membership drives and luncheons using the garden tea party theme with big hats, white gloves, bow ties, and derby hats. In years past, even though there were male spouses, they were either not included or did not feel comfortable attending these types of events; however, they are encouraged and embraced to do so today. 

What to Expect

You can expect to go through a receiving line, as it’s the most efficient way for the honoree to meet and greet the guests. You shake hands with the first spouse in the line (the hostess or host), and then shake hands with the second spouse (the honoree).  

It’s important to know that pouring at a tea is considered an honor. Beverages are ranked at a tea in the following order—coffee, tea, punch. The ranking order harkens back to the days when tea taxes were levied by the British prior to the Revolutionary War. Because coffee was more popular, more guests would approach the person pouring coffee than those serving tea and punch, thus the most senior guests had the opportunity to visit with more attendees while pouring the coffee.

Teas last about two hours so mix and mingle while sampling the delectable hors d’oeuvres and desserts! There will be introductions and a few remarks about the guest of honor. For more specific information on formal teas, please refer to The Army Spouse Handbook, Chapter 23. Our wish is that you will make memories, have fun, and enjoy your next tea!

A Throwback Story—The Pink Tea

Circa 1960, there were only a few ways for Army spouses to learn about protocol and etiquette in the military—by observation, and through trial and error. There were no up-to-date etiquette books, and only a few Army senior wives felt the call to educate the younger spouses. 

The senior wife in 101st Airborne Division Artillery (DIVARTY) was one of those few who wanted to teach the younger spouses, and Ann Crossley’s husband was assigned to DIVARTY. The senior wife announced that she had decided the DIVARTY wives (about 40-45) should host a tea for the spouses at Fort Campbell, about 400 at that time. She named it a “Pink Tea,” and she was going to teach them to do everything!

She divided the spouses into committees—invitations, nametags, petits fours, flower arrangements, pouring, and clean-up (everyone was on this committee). They soon learned that the name “Pink Tea” meant everything had to be pink—the handwritten invitations and nametags, the icing on the petits fours, the forest-gathered dried branches for the flower arrangements spray-painted pink, etc.    

The wives had already been told that they were to wear as much pink as possible to the tea. The final admonition, just before they left the club to get dressed for the tea was, “Don’t forget to wear hats, preferably big ones!” In the end, the Pink Tea was a huge success!


The bottom line is that teas are fun, social events that can be adapted to personal preference and gender inclusive. Today’s teas are all encompassing, modified for the honoree, so everyone leaves enriched with the knowledge that we, Army spouses, have been doing this tradition for hundreds of years. The best gift you can give a junior spouse is to share your knowledge along with the customs and traditions of the military spouse!

Interested in more Army traditions? Check out Coffees, Pins, and Camaraderie and Cheers to New Year’s Receptions.


  • Protocol and Etiquette Team

    Ann Crossley and Ginger Perkins are the authors of "The Army Spouse Handbook," the go-to guide for the 21st century Army spouse. The 440-page book describes situations that you may encounter as an Army spouse, irrespective of your spouse’s rank or assignment. The book is not meant to be read from cover-to-cover, but kept handy and used as a reference book when you need to know what to expect in social situations. Michelle Hodge, a seasoned spouse, has taught protocol and customs classes and continues to be an advocate for soldiers and family members. Lynda Smith, the newest member of the Traditions and Protocol team, enjoys finding new ways to bring old Army traditions to life with fun and humorous experiences, a little old-school vibe, and a modern twist.


  1. Sharita Knobloch

    Every time I read an article written by you all, I learn so much about the traditions that made this milspouse life. And now I want to wear a big hat to our next military spouse event… 🙂

    • Ginger Perkins

      So glad you are enjoying the blogs. They are written from the heart of military spouses — traditions passed on from generation to generation!


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