What Is A Boutonnière?
Boutonnières aren’t reserved solely for formal occasions. Those familiar with Sean Connery as James Bond will fondly remember his scenes in a white tuxedo and red rose. Nevertheless, this is sadly a dying practice.
A boutonnière is an actual flower worn on the lapel of a men’s suit jacket. It can theoretically be any flower you like, though roses and carnations tend to be the most popular choices.
Technically speaking, “boutonnière” is simply the French for “buttonhole”. Confusingly, some tailors may also use the word when referring to buttonholes rather than the decorative flowers.
Men have been wearing flowers for decades. In fact, during the Interwar period (1920s – 1930s) when the Average Joe wore tailored clothing every day, boutonnières were far more common than they are today.
They add a touch of panache and elegance to a tailored ensemble that you can’t really get with anything else. In modern times, it’s common to wear one with a tuxedo, but not with much else.
You may wear a boutonnière with an overcoat as well as with your suit jacket.
How To Wear A Boutonniere
There are no real rules when it comes to wearing a boutonniere. They can be worn any time of day in any season, and work for most occasions.
Note that it is not recommended to wear one when you’re on a job interview or attending a funeral, two events which require a level of sartorial conservatism that a boutonnière compromises.
With regard to color, it’s important to remember that boutonnières share the same visual plane as your pocket square and tie. While it doesn’t necessarily have to coordinate with anything, it’s a good idea to use your hanky and tie as starting points in terms of color coordination.
If you’re unsure of how color works, we have an entire guide to color that will help you out.
Though we never advise not wearing a pocket square, it’s important to note that a boutonnière can take the place of a pocket square if you so choose.
Traditionally speaking, some people believe that only one of the two should be worn at once and never both. If you opt to wear both a pocket square and a boutonniere, that’s fine, but be wary of too much of a good thing.
Keep either the square or the flower somewhat muted so that you don’t have a massively loud splash of color emanating from your chest.
For more information on pocket squares, our guide to handkerchiefs will answer all your questions.
How To Put On A Boutonnière & Correct Pin Placement
First, the basics:
- Boutonnières live on the left lapel.
- Boutonnières are fastened above the heart.
- It should be placed in or near the lapel’s buttonhole.
With regard to lapel buttonholes, keep in mind that your best bet is to wear a jacket whose lapel buttonhole is functional and has a loop about two inches below the buttonhole on the back side of the lapel.
This loop will allow you to keep the flower’s stem in place while wearing it, eliminating the need for a pin. Any tailor worth his/her salt should be able to open up your lapel buttonhole and attach a loop for you in a matter of minutes.
Should you find yourself without a functional buttonhole on the lapel, you will need to use a pin to fasten the boutonniere to the jacket. To fasten your flower to your lapel, follow these steps:
- Position the flower on the left lapel. Flower head should be just above the buttonhole. Any greenery should face away from you.
- Push your pin through the back of the lapel on a diagonal. The pointy part of the pin should now be on the front of the lapel.
- Push the pin through the thickest part of the stem, keeping it on a diagonal line
- Push the pin back through the lapel. Both the front and back of the pin should be on the underside of the lapel.
- Adjust & make sure boutonnière is secure.
Note that this method will also work on a vest.
Pinning A Boutonnière Through A Shirt
First things first: we don’t recommend that you do this. Pinning a hole in cotton is different than pinning a hole through wool (as you would on a suit), and you can do permanent damage to your shirt by doing this.
Still, you might have to do it for a wedding or a similar occasion, so here we are. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to ruin a perfectly good shirt:
- Choose boutonnière placement: If your shirt has a breast pocket, this is where the flower should go. If not, just make sure it’s above your heart on the left side of your chest.
- Weave the pin in and out of the shirt, slightly to the right of where you want to boutonnière to be. Pinch the fabric and push the pin through both layers.
- Pinch the fabric a bit to the left of where you’d like to put the boutonniere and insert the pin through both of those layers. At this point, you will have created a sort of railing against which the boutonnière will sit.
- Place boutonniere into the pocket created by the pin.
- Adjust, and hope your shirt isn’t totally ruined.
Choosing An Appropriate Flower For The Occasion
As with anything else in menswear, color has a large say in the boutonnière you wear. White or black tie events should see either white or red flowers, while less formal events offer more wiggle room for blue, purple, pink, and a myriad of other colors.
Always, always, always use your best judgement when selecting an article of clothing, boutonnières included.
Boutonnières For Weddings
If you need some help deciding what to wear to a wedding (be it yours or someone else’s), we encourage you to take a look at our guide to weddings.
Common flowers used for weddings are succulents, carnations, roses, tulips, hydrangeas, peonies, and many others. The type of boutonniere you wear (and whether or not you wear one) will be determined by your role in the wedding:
- Groom: You will wear the boutonnière the bride tells you to wear.
- Groomsmen/best man: You will wear the boutonnière the bride tells you to wear.
- Fathers of the bride & groom: You will wear a boutonnière, likely the one that the bride tells you to wear.
- Guests: It’s best to not wear a boutonnière, but if you do, be sure it’s not one of the flowers used in the wedding.
Autumn wedding colors are typically defined by Earth tones, and the flowers used tend to follow suit. Roses, calla lilies, and other fiery red/orange-toned flowers will work as boutonnières.
In winter, wedding colors tend to be rich and dark or metallic. Plum, silver, off-white/cream, and cranberry come to mind. As such, good boutonnières would be made of red carnations, roses, tulips, or gardenias.
Springtime is about freshness and lightness of color. As such, you’ll want to look to light purples, rich blues, and pinks for your boutonnieres. Hyacinth, hydrangeas, and lilacs are all good candidates.
Summer is all about sunshine and warmth. Yellows, greens, and blues are all fair game, so your boutonnière could be made from poppies, sunflowers, or even chrysanthemums.
Boutonnières For Proms
Wearing a boutonnière is pretty much expected when you’re headed to prom. Typically, the young woman buys her date his boutonniere, while the young man buys his date the corsage.
Chances are, the color of this flower will be dictated at least in part by the color of your date’s dress.
The rules have not been written regarding same-sex prom dates, but it’s probably a great idea to coordinate your boutonnieres in a fun way that isn’t matchy-matchy.
Boutonnières For Other Formal Occasions
Wearing a boutonnière to a black tie event like the opera or a gala is a great way to add a genteel touch to an already dressy ensemble. Our suggestion is to limit your flower selection to roses or white carnations. White will look perfectly formal, while a rose’s rich red adds a dash of color that’s perfect for evening events.
Should You Wear A Real Flower Or A Silk Flower?
Similar to the arguments for/against grass and astroturf, it’s worth asking ourselves, “Which is better: a real flower, or a silk one?”
There are pros and cons to each choice. We outline them below:
Choosing A Real Flower As A Boutonnière
- Gentlemanly, debonair
- Can be easily purchased on the street in many metropolitan areas
- Smells good
- Withers and wilts within hours
- It’s short lifespan reminds us of our mortality and thus hits a little closer to home than we’d prefer
- Tedious to put on if your lapel buttonhole is closed
Choosing A Silk Or Fake Flower As A Boutonnière
- Buy it once, have it forever. These don’t wilt, wither, or die.
- Can easily order online
- Easy to attach to lapel regardless of buttonhole status
- One silk flower is more expensive than one real one
- No scent
Boutonnieres are a gentlemanly way to add a dash of debonair to your ensemble. Now that you know all about them, feel free to check out our other lapel resources:
The above links offer guides with alternatives to traditional boutonnières. Perhaps these may be more appropriate for your needs?