The Groom's Guide to Wedding Boutonnieres

On 4 our of 5 weddings, we are the ones pinning the boutonniere, as the groom is completely lost in what to do with it. The boutonniere has become a lost art, it seems. It;'s a shame, really, given the history

"What's that"?
"It's your 'boutonniere', honey"
"I am supposed to wear that?"
"Yup, you and your Groomsmen"
"Where does this thing go"???

Now everyone starts to improvise to somehow get the darn thing onto the guy's jackets. We even had the father in law breaking out duct tape(!) to get the job done.

COME ON, PEOPLE!

Wedding Accessories Gone Wild

There is nothing more frustrating or aggravating than trying to pin a boutonniere or flower on your clothing.  So much worse with women's clothing that does not usually have any structure in any way, at least you men have it lucky that way as most suits at least have some weight to them to help support the weight of the flower.  And with the modern suits that we have today, you are going to need all the help that you can get!

And if you don’t get it right you are going to end up with something that looks rather pathetic.  

You know what I mean - we have all seen it.  Either you end up with what I call ‘the wave’ or the ‘dip.'

Boutonniere Fail #1: The "Wave"

With the wave, every step, every breath creates a side to side movement of the flower.  And this sagging flower drifts back and forth.  Left to right as if it was a slow royal hand wave.  Barely supported the flower has no purchase, no strength to stay upright and already looks like it is already badly wilting and on its last legs.  

Boutonniere Fail #2: The "Dip"

Wearing a boutonniere the right way makes the difference between looking like a movie start or someone who doesn't know what he is doing

Wearing a boutonniere the right way makes the difference between looking like a movie start or someone who doesn't know what he is doing

Then, of course, there is the dip.  The dip is when you adjust the flower, and it just keeps tipping further and further down, until it is doing the swan dive.  And you wonder to yourself what masochist possibly invented this incredibly stupid concept of wearing a flower on your clothes.  When this top heavy monstrosity has absolutely no way to stay up.  You try everything even -- "gasp" pinning the actual flower onto your clothes from behind which is a total etiquette no-no.

 

Where it all Began

It turns out that this particular fashion statement was not necessarily designed to be a torture test for you and your loved ones. And actually, has a wealth of meaning behind it.

Of course, we don't know for sure, where this idea of wearing a flower on your chest began but there is some speculation that it actually began with the Egyptians and/or the Aztecs who wore certain colored blossoms at sporting events to show off their support for their favorite players. So this began as long as 2000 BCor 4000 years ago.

Of course, there was a much better reason to wear flowers, and that was to attract the ladies.  Flowers smell good and as any young dandy knows smelling good can make a world of difference.

Then through the centuries on a more serious note, the flower came to represent not so much whose side you were on at a sporting match, but whose side you were on during the war.

Modern day historians state the origins of the boutonniere begins with the War of the Roses. During this significant campaign battle, the House of York was represented with the white rose, while the soldiers for the House of Lancaster wore red roses. As modern military clothing was not available during this time, most soldier’s outfits from the same area appeared similar and required something to differentiate which side they represented.  At least that is the story that you will find when you go to site after site on the internet.

But They Are Wrong!!

The Real History Of The Boutonniere

I happen to have my own historical expert that set me right after reading the research we had amassed.

It turns out, from the time of the Knights, that crests, not flowers were the important indicator of who you were and hence what side you were on.

But there were flowers involved.  Just not real ones, can you possibly imagine the ludicrous image of daily rose deliveries?!  Wagonful after wagonful of roses delivered into the battlefields, each commander unable to charge into battle until each soldier had received and then carefully pinned his daily flower to his lapel.  And can you imagine what those poor flowers would have looked like at the end of the day?  It was these images that had me scrambling to look into this idea further after reading at website after website that supposedly soldiers used the boutonniere during the War of the Roses.

Blame Shakespeare

The truth is that particular idea was popularized by the very prolific Shakespeare who took some poetic license with the actual fact that while the soldiers had ways to designate their allegiance, the same wasn't true of their manservants.   Who had flowers embroidered to their clothes.  An emblem, not an actual flower.  Phew!  That makes so much more sense.

Hollywood: The Lady and the Gentleman

This is something else the boutonniere represents.  With the advent of the Hollywood gentlemen like Cary Grant, we entered a period of time when the boutonniere was the representation of charm and the gentleman caller.  A man secure in his own sense of self.  A stylish gentleman at one time would not think to go out without a pocket square in a jacket, cufflinks on a shirt, or pleats on trousers and of course the infamous boutonniere.

So When Should a Boutonniere be Worn (Aside From Your Wedding)?

Actually any time.   This symbol is not limited to weddings by any means and has been worn by men of style and confidence in their style.  I might limit it in extremely hot seasons or countries because a wilting gasping flower breathing its last is not necessarily a seductive accouterments.

Now We are Talking: Seduction

Guys, don't forget that not so long ago, it was a common practice to bring a gift when you went for a visit even over just to a neighbors, or to bring your date, flowers or even a single rose.  These courtly and romantic gestures seem to sadly fallen out of custom.

So imagine for a moment you have had the best date of your life.  You really like this guy, who he is and want to get to know him better.  As the evening progresses it just gets better and better. And then you get to the end of the evening.  And he reaches down and gently plucks his boutonniere from his lapel and gazing deep into your eyeshands you this single exquisite flower saying that he wants to see you again and that he hopes you will accept this single rose - happy that he had some way to show you that this date was in some way special.

So for the guy what better way than to remove your boutonniere and hand her a flower.  What could be more romantic than a flower at the end of the date?

Sounds Familiar?

This is a time honored tradition and something that one unnamed tv show stole!  They didn't come up with this by any imagination.

So guys, pretend for one moment you are a true gentleman. When you look at the boutonnière stop for a moment and appreciate what this simple flower represents.  It is so much more than a simple decoration. It is a statement of your allegiance, of your protection, of the one individual that you pick above all others, and realizing that, let putting on the boutonniere be a moment of appreciation of all that it represents and let this symbol enhance this special day.

So If These Things Are So Dang Important..

Pinning a boutonniere - the right way

When every other step of a wedding is carefully pre-planned with the all the attention to detail of a country going to war, except for the lowly boutonniere.  After all how many times will they give you to practice before the big day?  They will make sure you have dance lessons before the big day, but the boutonniere is left as an afterthought.

What they do to is give you endless hours to prepare, to put on your fancy shirt, with cufflinks no less, a suit that has been carefully tried on, measured, tried on again, and perhaps carefully tailored to fit you like a glove, you are carefully groomed and then someone rushes into the room with the boutonnieres 5 minutes before show time and says put this on!

And now we are going full circle back to the beginning.... 

How the Heck Do You Put This Thing On?

The point being that if we practiced this ahead of time like we do everything else in preparation for the wedding, there wouldn't be this huge panic, but this is something that we all seem to leave to the very last minute, and then we are surprised when things don't go well.

So why is it that these dang things don't want to stay on?

Well the problem is not the flower, or the person pinning it.   The problem is that these were never meant to pinned on in the first place.

Blame It On Your Suit

The problem is not the flower; it is your suit.  A well-constructed suit in the past and a correctly tailored suit of today has a buttonhole in the one lapel on the left side.  The reason for the buttonhole was to bundle up that top button to protect from the cold. Today only higher end suits typically still have that buttonhole.

And the smart tailor made sure that the button hole was just the right size to accommodate the flower, with the carnation at one time being one of the most favorite, used to judge just the right size.  But they were looking for so much more than just for room for the stem but also for the base of the flower to give it that extra little support.

Additionally, there was a hidden loop on the back of the lapel below the buttonhole for the stem to go through.

By the way, the word “boutonniere” is a French word meaning “button hole”

So imagine for a moment the flower base entirely supported by the cloth of the surrounding button hole and a noticeably long stem on the boutonnière to counter weight the flower hiding discreetly behind the lapel and that stem in turn held by a loop directly to the lapel as well.

The top tailors were also smart enough in their construction of the suits to ensure that there was extra support sown directly into the lapel with extra facing, (facing is a stiff material that helps the fabric to keep its desired shape).  The suit was literally constructed to support the weight and heft of the boutonnière.

By the way, not surprisingly the word "boutonniere" is a French word meaning "button hole".

So what do you do when there is no buttonhole?

Sadly today most suits don’t come with this extra support.  Nor do they come with the loop hidden behind the lapel and they definitely don't come with the button hole.  So although at one time it was considered bad manners to pin the boutonniere onto a man's jacket, it has become standard practice because the suits of today don't have all of these extras put in.  It is just cheaper for the clothing manufacturers.

A gentleman would never think to pin on a boutonniere onto a suit that didn't have this buttonhole.  It would be considered utterly tasteless.  Pinning not only ignores the function of the lapel buttonhole, but it is also bad for the suit. The pin can break threads and permanently damage a suit so pinning a boutonniere is considered an absolute no-no.

But no gentleman would go against a custom such as a wedding boutonniere.  That would simply be bad manners.  So buttonhole or not, pinning the boutonniere on is the only option.

With this change, many of the florists have adapted and created a boutonniere whose stems are a lot more attractive because in this case, the stems are in visual view on the front of the lapel.

Fashion Missing the Mark


As to fashion for the boutonniere, we have gone from "the bride and groom should match flowers somewhat", to "they should be different", to "some brides again going back and liking the idea of matching", one more symbol of their new union and becoming one couple.  But when we begin playing with fashion trends, we sometimes lose what gave these fashions meaning in the beginning.

At one time, some would see matching the groom's boutonniere to the bride's boutique as away to create a gracious cohesive fashion flare.

But fashion, being fashion, has to change, or it isn't fashion. Otherwise, what would the fashionista diva's have to do from year to year?  So today wedding etiquette seems to indicate that it is a faux pas to be all "matchy" - "matchy" and instead encourage rather than a direct matching of flowers and colors suggest that finding complementary rather than matching is a more sophisticated …

The Symbolism of the Wedding Boutonniere


But this negates the origin behind the boutonniere when used in a wedding.

It was a representation of a merging, of a coming together, of the bride and groom as the original boutonnière was a flower that the groom picked from the wedding boutique itself.  A flower meant to represent their union, one of the reasons we should never see the groomsmen boutonnieres matching that of the groom!      

Nowadays we are beginning to see a return to matching boutonniere to bridal bouquets, although I doubt that the groom ever gets to pick which flower he wants out of the boutique to mount on his lapel over his heart.  A representation of his honouring of his bride to be.

I would love to see this custom return with the groom choosing a single flower from his bride's bouquet to represent his pledge to his bride.

So You are Stuck 'Pinning' - Now What?

So chances are that you are going to become stuck pinning on the boutonniere.  So how can you do this with any elegance, style, grace and some competency?

We are going to assume you are not an idiot and know that the green stuff goes in the back with the flower facing outwards. No, seriously I have seen this included in the instructions on how to pin a boutonniere.

Step 1: Get Help

First instruction.  Pick someone who knows what the heck they are doing.  While it might be nice to have Auntie Jane have the honour, considering all that can go wrong maybe be little more careful of your choice.

Instructions for pinning on the boutonniere include the concept that the flower is supposed to place as if it is above the man's heart.  Even yet more romantic symbolism.

Step 2: Have Your Stuff Ready

Have up to three heavy duty pins available for each boutonniere.  Pick pins that have a nice fat plastic head.  Your thumb will thank you. And much more than that this will make sure that the end of the pin just keeps going through the material to disappear either in the flower or into your lapel! Not easy necessarily to retrieve! Imagine for a moment this lost pin floating in your clothing and your sweet bride clasped joyfully in your arms for the first dance only to be stabbed by the escaping pin!

Hopefully, you will not need all the pins.  But make sure you have them on hand just in case you need them.

Step 3: Pinning

The first pin is for the stem.  Think of how you do a stitch, how you weave in and out and then back in again.  That is what you are going to do here.  But what you are trying to stitch is the stem of the flower to the material of the lapel of the suit. And since you are going to be seeing this from the front you want to make sure the pin is as unobtrusive as possible from the front.

The placement of the flower should be left side, above the heart with the flower part centered on the widest part of the lapel.

Place the flower in the intended position then holding the flower firmly to the material of the lapel, flip the lapel over so that you are pinning the stem down to the lapel from the back of the lapel.

Make sure you place the pin as close to the flower as possible. The higher, the better!

Remember you are looking left to right or right to left, whichever you prefer, but horizontal as if you were following the skyline. So the pin goes across the stem.  Often one pin is not enough considering the weight of the flower and if two pins are going to be used, think of going at a slight angle so that you form a slight x shape with the pins crossing each other.

Some suggest that trying to align everything from the back of the lapel is like trying to throw a stone in a bucket in the dark and that maybe doing this from the front is far superior even if you might see part of the pins.

If you think you might be looking to pinning to the front of the lapel think about using pins whose pin heads either color coordinate or are decorative.  White like a pearl might be appropriate.

So What is the Third Pin For?

Well, basic physics indicates the stem is the lightest part of the flower.  So pinning the stem doesn't necessarily support the head of the flower.  And that is what the third pin is for, to pin the actual flower to the suit.  This last trick can make all the difference between a flower that is successfully attached to the suit and one that shows how out of your element you truly are.

End The Evening Like a Movie Star!

You too can come across like a screen star, a gentleman of good standing, knowing how to properly display your boutonniere.  To have it stay quietly and elegantly on your suit the whole night through.  And if you are smart, you will hand your lady, your bride, your pledge, your allegiance and of course your flower at the end of the evening. The perfect ending to the perfect day.

 

 

Maik Hassel