Boutonniere, French for “buttonhole flower,” and deriving from Middle French’s bouton, or “button,” is used today mainly to describe that tiny flower arrangement worn by men during special occasions. Flowers are often seen as a feminine sort of thing, and even today many men are uncomfortable with the idea of being feminine. So how did such a tradition come about in a time when gender lines were even stricter?
Interestingly, both the bridal bouquet and boutonniere were created for similar, unromantic reasons: to protect from nasty odors, disease, bad luck, and, of course, evil spirits. According to eHow.com, it’s a tradition that began way back in the 16th century.
When the 18th century hit, male dress became more “fashionable,” and boutonnieres became more popular. Think English and French gentlemen dressed in breeches, boots, frock coats, and the like. Men would often leave the top buttonhole of their frock coats unbuttoned and instead attach large flowers there. Thus, the birth of the lapel.
The Romantic period (19th century) brought boutonnieres even more into popularity, as wearing one was a way for men to add a bit of flair and sophistication to their daily dress. This tradition continued into the 20th century, with signature males like Carey Grant and Clark Gable sporting them along with their classy black suits.
Nowadays, both men and women have entered into an era where casual dress rules. The time of wearing a suit and tie just to go out on the town are (mostly) over, unless attending a particularly snazzy party or special occasion. A boutonniere would hardly look at home pinned to the front of a ratty T-shirt or hoodie, and so daily wearing of them just doesn’t make sense for most people.
Boutonnieres are certainly a tradition that has carried on throughout the centuries, and as such it’s unlikely that it will die out anytime soon. It had its heyday, but today we reserve them primarily for weddings, proms, and other special occasions. It’s one of just a few traditions that, for the sake of elegant luxury, will hopefully continue for many years to come.
Image: cariberry via Flickr CC
Image: dj venus via Flickr CC