Fashion

The History of Corsages and Boutonnieres: Know the Facts

history of corsages and boutonnieres

The History of Corsages and Boutonnieres: Know the Facts

Mark the date on your calendar. Grab your invites. Gas up your limousine. Get a date for a hair-do and get your reception booked. Oh, don’t forget your corsage or boutonnieres either! So today, we’re going to take a deep dive and answer a burning question in many readers’ minds: What is the history of corsages and boutonnieres?

Yes, of course, with the long list of things to prepare before your special wedding day, it’s easy to forget about perhaps the most traditional part of the entire celebration: the corsage and boutonniere. Don’t forget, those little flowers you get have been around for an awful lot longer than most of our western wedding traditions.

The History of Corsages and Boutonnieres: The Short Answer

Well to put it simply, the word corsage comes from the French language and refers to the bodice of a dress. They were flowers that were typically pinned to the fabric of the dress’s bodice in an attempt to ward off evil spirits.

This position changed over several years, and with the turn of the 20th century, it became increasingly popular to wear corsages on the wrist and shoulders which we are used to today. Boutonnieres, on the other hand, have always stayed in the same place – on the buttonhole or pocket of the man’s suit.

History of Corsages and Boutonnieres: The In-Depth Answer

But of course, you didn’t come here to read a quick couple of lines about where corsages and boutonnieres come from, which is why we’re going to wind our way through the slightly longer (and more interesting) history of these beautiful little flowers.

History of Corsages

The history of these fabulous little flowers dates back to the 16th century. In Greece, the tradition of wearing corsages was born. Like said before, these little flowers and herbs were placed on the woman’s dress to fend off evil spirits and disease.

This idea and belief date back even further, specifically to the Great Plague of London, when the idea of using flowers to protect oneself from infection and sickness became common. (Like the “Ring Around the Rosie” nursery rhyme line “A pocket full of posies”).

Another popular reason, although not quite as pleasant, is that flowers would effectively mask the effects of bad breath and lack of bathing. Not quite what a bride would like to hear on her special day, is it?

But by the early 19th century, corsages (like all romantic traditions) became commercialized and were viewed as a common courting gift, frequently used at formal dances and balls. During the 20th century, the position of corsages shifted from the waist towards the shoulder and wrist. They became a common wedding accessory for brides, the bride’s mother and grandmother.

During the 1950s, some older women kept the tradition of pinning corsages over the shoulder, to conceal the unflattering effects of gravity on the body. Additionally, it became commonplace to wear the corsage flower upside down. With the bow on top, to preserve the blossom and ensure it did not dry up and ruin the flower’s appearance.

History of Corsage Sizes

It’s not just the style of corsages which have changed so dramatically, the sizes have too. Between the 1930s, and the 1940’s, the sizes of corsages almost halved. A wartime shortage and wild increase in the price of flowers are the likely causes of this shift.

Further increases in the cost of flowers and movements towards a less-formal society have made corsages even smaller. Nowadays, most corsages for weddings, formal dances, or funerals are limited to just a few small buds.

History of Boutonnieres

Now onto the Boutonnieres, which have traditionally become closely associated with grooms. The word itself comes from the late French word for ‘Buttonhole’. It refers to a single flower that is placed through the buttonhole next to the handkerchief’s pocket. The reason they are worn is that like with corsages, it was believed they could fight off evil spirits or disease. Boutonnieres were first sported around the same time as corsages, around the 16th century.

By the end of the 19th century, the boutonnieres became a symbol of elegance, luxury, and of a man who paid attention to his dress. The choice of boutonnieres was almost as cardinal as the choice of shoes. Nowadays, boutonnieres have survived through both World Wars, and are a staple of the male wedding costume. Grooms, their groomsmen, and the bride’s father are spoilt for choice when it comes to boutonnieres types. With all sorts from classic, to bold styles being available to them.

To accommodate a flower, the suit itself must meet specific demands, such as a strong sewn inner lining, alongside a buttonhole in the left lapel.

Unfortunately for the old-fashioned stylists among us, boutonnieres are slowly falling out of the limelight. They are replaced by cheaper and less elegant lapel pins. The reason for this is that most coats and jackets nowadays don’t have a lapel latch underneath the buttonhole, which makes wearing boutonnieres almost impossible.

I know what you’re thinking at this stage. Probably something along the lines of, ‘can’t we just pin them to the surface of the lapel instead?’ But I have bad news. That is, that it never looks as elegant as we imagine, and it can be potentially damaging to the garment itself.

History of Corsages and Boutonnieres: Why Do We Wear Corsages to Prom?

Corsages were first used at wedding parties in the 16th century. But soon, the tradition spilt over into other formal events, including formal dances and funerals. We remember wearing Boutonnieres in middle school when we had frosted tips.

During the Victorian era, men would send bouquets to the lady they admired in the hope that she would choose to wear it at an event they were attending together. This remains one of the few formal traditions which have stood the test of time, and remain such an important role in formal occasions nowadays.

History of Corsages and Boutonnieres: How Are Wrist Corsages Presented?

When it comes to formal events, it’s incredibly important that you know how to present the corsage properly. The traditional thing to do is to show her the corsage and then ask if she would allow you to help her put it on.

If she accepts, then make sure you’ve read the next section of this article!

Putting on a Wrist Corsage

Wrists corsages are an awful lot easier than the pin-on style, but still require some knowledge, and maybe a little bit of practice to put them on correctly. The corsage is usually worn on the left hand because the majority of people nowadays are right-handed, but this tradition doesn’t need to be forced.

If unsure, you can always ask your date which hand she would like the corsage on. Once you know, you can slide on the elastic band and straighten the flower on top of her wrist.

History of Corsages and Boutonnieres: Who All Gets One?

So now that we’ve talked about the history and tradition behind these beautiful little flower buds, let’s get into some details about who is expected to wear one. Truth be told, there is no etiquette that dictates who wears one, and who doesn’t. But traditionally, the bride and groom (of course), their parents and grandparents will wear one. Often the ring bearer will wear one as well.

Normally, the flowers of the bride and groom are different from everyone else’s. Of course, if there is someone at your one wedding who is particularly important to you, such as a family friend, you can include them as well. Keep in mind though that at this stage, it can be easy to hurt feelings by not including someone to wear a corsage or boutonniere.

Are They Outdated?

It’s easy to see the rich history of this wedding tradition, having dated back to 16th century Greece. The old-fashioned associations with this tradition will of course lead us to wonder, has it become outdated?

And the answer is no! Just because it’s a tradition with rich history doesn’t mean it still can’t be used today. The corsage is the perfect way for a couple to sprinkle a little bit of elegance and class into their wedding style plans. If you’re fearful of this accessory appearing outdated at your next event, then you have nothing to worry about! But you probably shouldn’t wear it to the office.

Even a look at some of the fanciest weddings amongst celebrities will prove this point. Corsages are in no way outdated and will still be seen at many ceremonies across the world nowadays.

Wrapping it up

So much of our wedding culture has shifted in the last century. The dream ideal of the ‘big white wedding’ has squeezed many traditions out the door to make room for the modernization of this romantic celebration.

By keeping small traditions like this a part of these rich ceremonies, it gives us something to mark the occasion by, and to remember the roots of our style and culture throughout the centuries.

Thanks for reading!

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