8,000 thrilled guests attend the tea party

The times they aren't a changing. Not at Buckingham Palace, at least.

Tea with the queen Tuesday looked much the same as it would have 140 years ago when Queen Victoria started the tradition: men in tails and top hats, women in floral dresses and elaborate hats.

The queen's first garden party of the summer season was a step back in time to an age when the food was flavorless – pass the cucumber sandwiches and milky tea, please – and everyone was ready to curtsy or bow when her majesty came by.

The roughly 8,000 guests did not include any outspoken republicans or anti-monarchists, but was filled with people who had dreamed for years of attending a soiree like this.

Beryl Sanderson, whose husband is mayor of the south Yorkshire town of Barnsley, surveyed the scene with wonder.

“Everyone here is so proud and honored to be here today,” said Sanderson, 63. “It's so peaceful, so dignified. Is there a word to describe the atmosphere?”

Her husband, Ken Sanderson, said he found the scene overwhelming.

“It's very humbling,” he said. “It makes the hairs on your neck stand up on end. For the 8,000 guests, it's recognition of what they're doing in their communities.”

No one can ask for a coveted invitation.

Guests are nominated by civil servants, charitable organizations, the diplomatic corps, the military and other groups.

For most, it comes once in a lifetime, if at all: an invitation on special stationery from the Lord Chamberlain reporting that he has been commanded by her majesty to invite you to a party at the palace.

Most guests don't get close enough to the queen to meet her, but they do get a chance to see her up close if they choose to wait in the lines that form wherever she walks.