Last week, we explored the history of the buttonhole and debunked the myth about how it came into existence. Today, we want to look at different varieties of boutonniere flowers, including silk boutonnieres, and provide you with some pictures of modern day men wearing a flower in their buttonhole, and give you a few tips for wedding boutonnieres.
Nowadays, it goes without saying that there are hardly any men who wear a boutonniere on a daily basis. Most of the time, the little buttonhole flower is reserved for special occasions and celebrations like weddings, horse races, elegant banquets and so forth. For fairness sake, it must be mentioned that, even in the 1940’s, not many men wore a boutonniere daily, although in London, there were several flower merchants, such as Moyses Stevens, who sold ready-made boutonnieres rather successfully. These days are long gone, and as a consequence, you would have to make a specific arrangement with your local florist if you wished to wear one every day.
Personally, I try to wear a boutonniere whenever I have a flower available. While well-crafted boutonnieres are meticulously put together, wrapped, and so on, a simple flower with a stem will do just fine if you have a functional buttonhole and a backside boutonniere loop on your lapel. During the summer, you find great selections of little flowers at florists and farmers markets alike. A while ago, I posted an outfit with a yellow carnation buttonhole that I just found coincidentally. While most high quality coats feature a working lapel buttonhole nowadays, you may find yourself with one that is sewn shut. Considering the highly visible position of the buttonhole, it may be better to err on the side of caution and have your alterations tailor open it for you, rather than doing it yourself.
Some may wonder why they simply can’t pin it on their lapel; however, pinned-on flowers look awkward due to the size and bulk of a completely exposed flower. In addition, these pins often break, pull threads loose, poke the wearer, or allow the flower to flop loosely (and unattractively) on the jacket. I know many grooms nowadays wear calla lilies – which are way too large – or other arrangements with large leaves, once again adding unnecessary weight and bulk to the lapel. I always feel sorry for them, especially when they’ve had no say in the choice of flower. In general, men’s fashion has always been rather functional.
Just think of the surgeon cuffs that can be unbuttoned; the boutonniere buttonhole exists for a reason. Of course, the choice is up to you, but with regard to dress culture, a pinned-on flower does not make any sense if there is an available buttonhole in the lapel. Interestingly, even the best ready-to-wear garments rarely feature a boutonniere loop on the backside of the lapel. Therefore, we created an illustrated guide that teaches you how to make a boutonniere loop yourself in about 15 minutes! Alternatively, your alterations tailor will be able to help you. Just print one of the pictures and bring it along – chances are they may not know what you are talking about otherwise.
However, in case you are the best man and everybody wears a miniature bouquet pinned on their lapel, go with the flow – it is the bride and groom’s day, not yours and you should do everything in your power not to draw attention away from them by arguing about the boutonniere. If you happen to be the groom, getting involved with the flower planning will allow your opinions to be heard.
Most of the time, you can see carnations, roses, or cornflowers used. However, there are a number of other flowers that are worth considering in my opinion, as long as the flower size can be considered. Super-sized blooms, in combination with a pocket square on the same side, might make your outfit look hopelessly overloaded. Therefore, I strongly suggest you go with smaller flowers. However, before we explore more exotic boutonniere options, let’s start with a classic: the carnation.
The carnation – especially in red or white – has definitely been one of the most popular flowers. If available, a white carnation is probably one of the most classic wedding boutonnieres ever, even though modern flower arranging often shies away from this inexpensive choice. In the past, however, it does not come as a surprise that the Duke of Windsor – one of the style icons of the century – wore a white carnation in his buttonhole on 3rd June 1937 when he married Wallis Simpson at the Château de Condé in France. The Duke was not afraid of making a statement, and, as you can see, the carnation was remarkably huge. As I mentioned before, I would always opt for a smaller one. Since others thought exactly the same, the Malmaison carnation was born.
Originally, the Malmaison carnation evolved in the mid 19th century. Its two main characteristics were the strong scent of cloves, as well as a shape that reminds me a little bit of a cauliflower. In the 1950’s, the term Malmaison carnation indicated this certain style of carnation. Actually, it consisted of the petals of usually three carnations that were put together in a condensed manner and would make for a nice shape. Obviously, the advantage of this method was the sizing. A boutonniere could now be adapted to the wearer and huge carnations could be made into smaller, more elegant looking boutonnieres.
Personally, I like the look of a white azalea flower with two or three little green leaves in the buttonhole, in addition to little spray roses in red or white. The simple, but sharp looking daisy with its yellow and white colors goes very well together with a navy jacket or suit. In fall and winter, some enjoy wearing certain kinds of berries like the green ivy berry. For weddings, you should always consider the lily-of the valley or a white orchid. Here you can find a selection of handmade silk boutonnieres that you can wear over an over again.
On my wedding day, I chose an orchid for my morning coat, even though there were no other orchids present in our flower arrangements. In addition, I chose spray roses for my tailcoat dress suit, which actually matched some of the colors in my wife’s wedding bouquet. We thought that was a very subtle, yet elegant way to underline the bond between us on our day, while allowing me some stylistic freedom to deviate from using exactly the same blooms used elsewhere. Both flowers would have been also been a perfect choice on any other wedding suit, including the stroller / Stresemann suit.
Green Leaves or a Simple Flower?
Sometimes, you will read that you should only bear one flower in your lapel and nothing else. While it is certainly unadvisable to wear a whole bouquet on your lapel, it is perfectly acceptable to show a little bit of green – especially if the boutonniere remains small. The contrast of the flowers and the leaves looks very nice indeed and that’s the essence of a boutonniere: being able to express yourself in an aesthetically pleasing manner! So, if it looks good with a leaf, go for it and do not worry about it. Also, bear in mind that, historically, many men have always worn some form of green with their lapel flower.
Silk- or Knit Boutonnieres
You may not always have a florist around, or it would be simply to inconvenient to take care of a boutonniere at the given moment. For these occasions, you may want to consider an artificial boutonniere. Often times, they are called silk boutonnieres, although only very few are actually made out of silk. It is important that it looks realistic, and while most look fake, we created extremely realistic boutonniere flowers. The advantage is that you can wear it all the time, including on travels or when no flower store is around. They are so much more convenient and if they are well-made, they look like the real thing and it will last you for years without ever wilting.
Moreover, you will sometimes see knit boutonnieres which may look good with more informal country attire. These are just a substitute for the real thing and obviously look fake, but at the end of the day you have to decide whether it pleases your taste or not.
In Victorian and Edwardian times, boutonniere vases – sometimes ornately decorated – were one way to express one’s superior status. Agatha Christie’s most recent Hercule Poirot, personified by David Suchet, is set in the 1930’s and shows Poirot wearing boutonniere vases on a regular basis. Not only do they look handsome, but also they keep your little flowers fresh, which is particularly important when wearing a delicate flower.
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find such lapel vases nowadays, and if you do, they come in mostly one style or you must spend a small fortune on vintage sterling silver buttonhole vases. Some of them are designed to be worn in the front, others are supposed to be kept behind the lapel. In any case it is a very unique and elegant accessory, if not truly necessary.
How To Wear A Boutonniere?
In short, go for an authentic, smaller flower that does not overload your coat. For all day wear, a little bunch spray roses probably stand up the best, and they are especially attractive when arranged with a bloom, a bud, and a small leaf together.
The Wedding And The Boutonniere
For weddings, white is probably the number one color. As we mentioned before, classic boutonnieres would be lilies of the valley, a carnation or one to two little spray roses. All of these should last and look fresh throughout the day. Personally, I think it can look good if the same kind of flower is part of the bride’s bouquet, although it should not look too matchy overall. As with all boutonnieres, try to avoid the pin-on flowers and make sure to let your florist know what you want, including the amount of greenery. Traditionally, the groom wears a different boutonniere than the rest of the wedding party. So, if the groom wears white spray roses, then the wedding party could wear red spray roses. Just in case something happens with a boutonniere, it pays to have a backup one. Considering the low cost of $6 to $10, this is a wise investment because a groom without a boutonniere simply does not look right – even today! A friend of mine recently celebrated his wedding in England, and since he got married in a remote place without a flower store in the area, he decided on flower delivery. He was very happy with the boutonniere sized carnations he received. In case you want to learn more about the boutonniere, I can only recommend Umberto Angeloni’s book: Boutonniere -Style in One’s Lapel.