Origins & History Of The Boutonniere / Lapel Flower

By | 2017-01-02T11:46:17+00:00 Jun 26th, 2013|Categories: Style|Tags: , , |3 Comments

Lapel flowers / boutonnieres have somewhat of a stodgy reputation (and to be fair, rightly so), being reserved for weddings, proms, and funerals. But the lapel flower is much more versatile than that! There has been a huge rebirth of “old world” looks and accessories (the tie bar ring any bells…?), with the lapel flower being my personal favorite in modern twists being made form an array of materials providing unlimited options.

Selection Of Mens Lapel Flowers and Boutonniers

Men’s Style Resurgence

The resurgence of men’s fine dress towards more classic (fitted) looks and “traditional” accessories has led to interest into their origins, from Harris tweeds to the focus of this article lapel flowers. In addition to history, the modern man who wants to sport this stylish look will want to know where it goes, and how to prevent a saggy or floppy boutonniere, as nothing undermines this dapper look quite as fast. If indeed you are going for a real flower, or even the location one of the more “evergreen” artificial varieties the location still matters.

Whatever your personal style, accessorizing your suit jacket or sports coat with an appropriate boutonniere or lapel flower pin will take it to the next sartorial level.

Boutonnieres and Buttonholes

French language uses the word boutonnière for the buttonhole on the lapel of a man’s suit jacket.  The buttonhole is reserved specifically for this purpose and there is no corresponding button on the other side. There may be a small latch on the underside of the lapel which holds the stem in place (this is usually the sign of a higher end garment). This is located on the left side just above the heart of the wearer.

How Did The Lapel Flower Tradition Begin?

Flowers have long been used for decoration and celebration. As long ago as 2000 B.C. the Aztecs used the brilliant colors of flowers to show their allegiance during warfare, and it’s believed that ancient Egyptians did as well. There were additional reasons for wearing flowers at a time when bathing was not as common as today. The floral scents helped disguise body odor, antiseptic properties of some flowers were thought to protect the wearer from disease, and perhaps most importantly to some people, they were considered beneficial for protection from evil.

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Modern day history regarding the origins of the boutonniere begins with the War of the Roses. During this significant campaign battle, the House of York was represented with the white rose, while the soldiers for the House of Lancaster wore red roses. As modern military clothing was not available during this time, most soldiers from the same area appeared similar and required something to differentiate which side they represented. The lapel flower that is popular today offers more panache and style, and are traditional real flowers or made from materials such as felt and burlap for a cutting-edge (longer lasting) appearance.

Modern Origin Of The Lapel Flower

Men’s jacket styles have continued to evolve through the centuries, with folded lapels now the norm. This provides the perfect display area for lapel flowers and pins, adding an air of sophistication and flair. The story goes that when Prince Albert and Queen Victoria first married photography was still in its infancy. Their wedding photos were taken a year after the marriage, whereupon she presented him with flowers as a token of her love. Being quite the gentleman, Prince Albert cut a hole in the lapel of his dress coat and inserted the flower, and a trend was born.

The boutonniere was commonly worn by men when they went on dates, at work and of course for formal wear for decades, although they became less common after WWII.  Marty Robbins popularized “A White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation” in 1957. They remained popular with entertainers such as Dean Martin, The Commodores, and Frank Sinatra, contributing to their classic and classy style. The boutonniere was still considered de rigeur for formal occasions such as weddings, funerals, proms and homecomings. Business wear waned somewhat, although a single stem or lapel pin continued to be worn, with many top executives / more fashion forward gentlemen continuing the tradition even today.

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How to Wear a Boutonniere

The ideal way to wear a boutonniere is through a buttonhole that has been placed on the lapel and contains a latch to securely hold the boutonniere in place. A jacket that doesn’t have this feature requires florist pins to hold the bout in place. It may take a few times of practice, but you will soon master this look. Use the following steps to firmly attach a boutonniere to your suit coat:

  • Locate the ideal position on the wearer, slightly above the heart on their left side.
  • Position the boutonniere and step back to observe how it looks prior to pinning. Pins can break the threads in fabric, so the fewer attempts the better.
  • Work the pin from beneath the lapel, threading through the upper portion of the stem and then back through the lapel. Depending on the size and weight of the boutonniere, two pins may be required to hold it firmly in place.
  • Thicker fabrics may require placing the pin on top, catching the upper layer of fabric, rather than from behind the lapel.
  • Conceal both ends of the pin behind the flower.

Man wearing white boutonniere

How To Wear A Lapel Flower Pin

Like the real flower boutonniere, the lapel pin is placed on the left lapel above the heart. There are a number of attachments, but my favorite and the most common is the stick pin.

The stick pin can show through the front of the jacket, as shown (which is a little more dandy).  Or alternatively kept behind the lapel.

red mens lapel flower made from felt, on blue suit jacket

Lepel pin attached to suit jacket side view

For me the best benefit of the stick pin lapel flower is the ability to mix the look up, and you do not require a button hole, functional or otherwise.

Note: even though these are not real flowers many handmade lapel flower pins are quite fragile, so treat them with care and you will get many uses out of them…

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Choices for Lapel Flowers and Lapel Pins

For centuries roses, carnations, bachelor’s buttons, and sprigs of greenery were used to create sophisticated boutonnieres for formal occasions. Today’s modern style options include exciting new designs that are created from natural materials that add personalized flair. They can be worn more than once, unless they are presented to a special date at the end of the evening. Lapel pins are a popular choice for less flamboyant business meetings.

The origins of the boutonniere have long reflected bravery, masculinity, and competitive skill. It is considered a sophisticated look that is still appropriate today. The modern twist to the classic boutonniere through the use of natural materials has renewed interest in men who want to personalize a dapper appearance.

Where To Buy Boutonnieres & Lapel Flowers

Real Flower Boutonnieres

Any good florist should be able to help you with the real variety. But be aware that you will only really get one day’s wear out of it. Depending on your climate, ask about what is in season / will withstand the rigorous of your day.  I often opt for a real flower boutonniere for more formal occasions like black tie events, weddings, etc…

Lapel Flower Pins

pink handmade lapel flower pins

On the other hand artificial lapel flower pins can offer an “evergreen” option to your wardrobe artillery.

These can add a bit of spice and personality to your outfit and come in an amazing array of colors and design.

Common lapel flower pin materials include: felt, linen, cotton, paper, silk, satin, burlap, etc….. Further, the most common attachments are: stick pins, buttons (require your jacket to have lapel button hole), and clutch pins.

Our friends over at Dapper Lapel stock a wide assortment of lapel flowers and pins that you can shop here.

 

About the Author:

Paul Anthony is the founder and creative director at Bespoke Unit. He has had a life long affair with design, watches, fragrance and clothing. Originally from England, he now lives in the USA splitting time between NYC & Philly. Favoring "British Style", but has an overall eclectic taste.

3 Comments

  1. Annie Thompson September 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    that prince albert story is sooo sweet! even if it’s not true…i love the “old world” style you’re talking about!

    • Paul September 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      Indeed, what a true gentleman and that’s what we are all about at Bespoke Unit!

  2. Russell Hood September 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the info, Paul. Been looking for something like this for a while.

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