Dressed to a Tea


It's tea time at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, and the dining room is filled to capacity with little girls dressed in frilly dresses of taffeta, velvet and lace.

Valentina Van Dyke, 7, and her sister Catherine, 8, of Newport Beach sit primly at one table, clad in identical dresses with billowy red plaid skirts and black velvet bodices. Their mother, Gina, has taken the girls to the club's Fairy Tale Tea so they can "get dressed up and act polite."

Catherine loves dressing up, but Valentina is not so sure.

"I'm a tomboy," she explains.

Children's tea parties have become de rigueur for the holidays. We're not talking about pretend tea parties with teddy bear guests and plastic teacups, but formal teas with white glove service and fine (that is, breakable) china staged at tony hotels and restaurants.

The Balboa Bay Club's Fairy Tale Tea, held twice in December, has been such a hit "we could have done a children's tea every day," says Melinda Simon, the club's event coordinator.

The Teddy Bear Tea, held at the plush Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point, has also become the place for tykes to see and be seen.

"They come in fancy dresses, little gloves--the whole nine yards," says Lisa Smith, spokeswoman for the Ritz-Carlton.

Girls (and a few boys) sit on cushions on the floor instead of chairs, their little backs ruler straight, and sip hot chocolate from teacups. After watching a marionette show, they nibble peanut butter and jelly finger sandwiches and gingerbread cookies.

"Then, after everyone's juiced up on sugar, Santa Claus comes in and hands out more of the same," Smith says.

The weekly Teddy Bear Tea, which ends Sunday afternoon, has become a regular sellout, at $25 a person (for parent or child) and a donation of a new, unwrapped teddy bear to the children's charity Toys 4 Tots.

Tea time for children has become popular for reasons that have as much to do with a child's desire to attend a tea party as with a parent's dream to see their little darlings looking picture-perfect.

"Every parent, when they have children, wants to dress them up, and they want to have a place to take them, which isn't as easy to find as it once was," Smith says.

Girls undergo all kinds of primping and preparation to be transformed into little Princess Diana's. They are decked out head-to-toe in snow-white stockings, patent-leather shoes, matching hats, hair bows, handbags and above all, dresses that are the stuff of fairy tales.


Paula Lindberg, who recently escorted her 6-year-old granddaughter Alissa to the Fairy Tale Tea, creates the ultimate tea-party dresses.

"I love little girls to look like princesses," says Lindberg, designer and owner of PJ Lindberg Children's Fashions in Costa Mesa.

Lindberg designs the kind of dresses girls (and their parents) dream about. Her line, named Alissa's Friends after her granddaughter, features many fancy dresses with full silk skirts, puffed sleeves and whimsical details such as pleated collars and rosettes.

"The line is different from most of the things we see out there," says Patty Vinas, owner of Chelsea's Castle, a children's boutique in Mission Viejo that carries Alissa's Friends. "The dresses have an almost European look, and they're made of very distinctive fabrics."

Lindberg's dresses feature generous amounts of silk, rich woven tapestries, wispy fine lace and soft velvets.

"I get my ideas from the fabrics," Lindberg says. "I'll look at a piece of material and go, 'What can I make out of that?' "

For her holiday collection, she took an antique-gold silk and turned it into a dress that makes girls look like they've stepped out of a Renaissance painting. The Monet has a full skirt and puffed sleeves and a ring of rosettes made of antique rose silk ribbon around a scoop neckline. "Antique gold is an unusual color for children," Lindberg says.

Lindberg used a sophisticated black and antique gold striped silk for a button-front dress with bows that tie at the sides and a black velour bodice adorned with pleated silk collar and cuffs. The dress can be worn unbuttoned with black velour leggings, and Lindberg--who makes hats and bows to complete her outfits--designed a fedora with a striped band to match.

Alissa's Friends is carried at more than 600 boutiques nationwide, including Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, the Duck Pond in Tustin and Little People & Me in Newport Beach. The line's higher-end party dresses sell for $160 to $175--one more reason to hurry the little girls off to holiday teas before they outgrow their precious frocks.

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