Boutonnière, corsage, porte bouquet and/ or tussie-mussie? What really are these small jewelry like additions to attire? Real flower bouquets, trivial nonsense or important fashion accessories?
Actually they have not been insignificant as someone may think... Yes, because, to this day, these small accessories are still a significant part of the dress code for special occasions.
And so, all the the guests invited to the celebrations, and also all the interested people, as well as curious and knowledgeable persons! Be prepared for these accessories to be used by you one day!
This small, but also very noticeable decoration or even accessory has actually been the forerunner of the contemporary lapel pin, which we are accustomed to seeing on business suits. A French word 'boutonnière' refers to a floral decoration, which typically is a single flower or flower bud, worn on the lapel of a tuxedo or suit jacket.
In the past, men wore them quite often, but nowadays boutonnières are usually reserved for a special occasions when formal wear is a standard. Promotion balls, funerals and weddings are the occasions when men should wear this ancient accessory of a gentleman.
How has its history begun? In fact, it's a pretty interesting story ...
Although the name 'boutonnière' itself comes from the French language, the buttonhole flower arrangement is rooted in the British Isles. So, the British simply called them button hole flowers. Traditionally, the flower was placed in the button hole of the man’s suit or tuxedo.
Some sources mention that the tradition of wearing flowers goes back to ancient cultures like Ancient Egypt or the Aztecs, who were believed to wear certain colored blossoms to show their support for players who participated in sporting events. [14.]
Medieval history tells about Charles VIII of France who arrived in Naples, Italy in 1494, and the locals created a wreath of violets for him, which he happily wore. [9.]
It looks like a fashion accessory called 'boutonnière' originated in the 1700's when it was meant to ward off disease, evil spirits and bad smells. [16.] Subsequently, in the 1740’s, flower gardens became popular and floral patterns began appearing in men’s clothing. The painter, Thomas Gainsborough, portrayed Captain William Wade of Bath, England in 1771 wearing a bouquet of flowers in his top buttonhole. [9.] According to some sources, back then it was even common for a man to wear a 'boutonnière' every day. [16.]
It has been mentioned that the 'boutonnière' came about on the battlefields of civil wars in England, where each side wore a particular color or type of flower to distinguish friends and enemies from each other. [14.] However, it did not become a commonplace habit to wear a flower in the buttonhole until the early 19th century when boutonnières became popular as lapel adornments in the early 19th century. The fashions of this time period started to include coats that folded over at the top, revealing the inside of the buttonhole. [14.]
How did the habits of wearing this fashion accessory change? What of all this has survived to this day?
Traditionally, a boutonnière was worn pushed through the lapel buttonhole which is found on the left side, actually the same as a pocket handkerchief. The stem of a boutonnière is held in place with a loop at the back of the lapel. While in the past, real flowers were worn in a buttonhole, nowadays they are not considered practical.
Silk boutonnières, that are designed to look like a real flowers are those fashion accessories that will never wilt...Most importantly, if a gentleman will take a good care of them, they will last for years to come. [10.]
If gentlemen wear a boutonnières for celebrations, what do their ladies use to decorate their attires? It turns out that the addition to a lady's formal attire is corsage which is also a match for a man's boutonnière. This word - "corsage" - it definitely reminds of something ... So let's look at its history!
The word 'corsage' comes from the French term bouquet de corsage, meaning "a bouquet of the bodice" which was traditionally worn by women to weddings and funerals. Eventually, the word was shortened to corsage.
The tradition of wearing a small bouquet of flowers pinned to clothing dates as far back as Ancient Greece. In antiquity the small bunches of fragrant flowers and even herbs were worn at weddings to ward off evil spirits. [7.] Over time, they turned into fashion accessories. It happened during the 16th and 17th centuries, when corsages and boutonnières became a special-occasion pieces. [7.]
Interesting is the history of corsage in the 19th century when they were regarded as a courting gift and were often given at formal dances. Traditionally, the gentleman would bring a gift of flowers for his date's parents and would select one of the flowers to give to his date, which would then be carried or attached to her clothing, usually on the shoulder. [6.]
Over time as a dress styles changed, pinning the corsage to the dress bodice became impractical, and then appeared wrist corsages. [5.]
During the 20th and 21st centuries corsages are still popular. At school events such as homecoming or promotions, the couple traditionally coordinates the corsage and boutonnière. Matched they signify that the couple is paired together and separating themselves from other guests at the event.
In the old days there was also something very close to the corsage's meaning and use. The small portable flower bouquet (porte bouquet) is also called a nosegay, posy, or even tussie-mussie. The most typically it was given as a gift. Such a small celebration attributes have existed in some form since at least Middle Ages, when they were carried or worn around the head or pinned to bodice.
The term nosegay appeared in 15th century as a combination of words - nose and gay (the latter then meaning "ornament"). So a nosegay was an ornament that appeals to the nose or nostril. [4.]
The term tussie-mussie comes from the Victorian times (from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901), when the small flower and herbs bouquets became a fashion accessory. They included flower symbolism from the language of flowers. Therefore tussie-mussies were also used to send a message. Those where a cryptic messages, often between would-be lovers, evaded the strict social protocols of the day, and hidden within the accepted etiquette of carrying or wearing small flower bouquets. [1.]
The small holders for a small flower bouquets were known since the 18th century. Back then a new category of decorative deodorizers arrived in the form of small vases. Those were also called tussie-mussies, which could be pinned to one’s clothing or held in the hand, so that one’s nostrils were never far from a fragrant bouquet of sweet-smelling posies. [2.]
And then the were re-invented again in the 19th century. The tiny silver vases for a tussie-mussie that could be pinned to a bodice evolved into the larger silver bouquet holders for bridal arrangements. This is the modern meaning for the term: a cone shaped vase that serves as a bouquet holder.[1.]
In modern times the term specifically refers to small bouquets in a conical metal holder, or the holder itself, particularly when it is used at a white wedding. [3.]
So, wedding guests, graduates, as well as some true guardians of the 19th century traditions: these genuine gentlemen and smart ladies will definitely wear such accessories one day!
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.
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