So you’re looking for an easy way to embellish an outfit and add panache to your appearance. Something small and simple. Something that announces to the world that you are a man of style. Something like… a lapel flower.
Most modern men will only wear the lapel flower a handful of times in their lives, for special occasions like weddings, horse races and elegant dinners. Ask them what a boutonnière is or – worse – to spell it, and they’re likely to come up empty-handed and embarrassed. Today we prove that lapel flowers aren’t just for weddings, spelling bees, and Oscar Wilde – you, too, can rock the dandy look.
The history of the lapel flower is as colourful as the flowers themselves. One origin story goes all the way back to the ancient civilisations of the Egyptians and the Aztecs, who were believed to wear coloured blossoms to show their allegiance to players in sporting events. Another story attributes the lapel flower to the War of the Roses in England, when the House of York was represented by a white rose and the soldiers for the House of Lancaster wore red roses.
Other, less glamorous, tales say the practice of wearing flowers began for a very practical reason: to cover the stench at a time when bathing wasn’t the regular activity it is today. The floral scent of a boutonnière – made from a real flower, rather than fabric – helped disguise unsavoury body odour. Some also believed that natural flowers could ward off diseases and demons.
And it doesn’t end there. Enter the 19th century, when on-trend fashions included coats that folded over at the top, revealing the inside of the buttonhole. What was a man to do with an egregiously exposed buttonhole? Decorate it, of course. Legend has it that when Prince Albert and Queen Victoria took their wedding photos, she presented him with flowers as a token of her love. He cut a hole in his lapel, inserted the flower, and the look took off.
Lapel flowers remained popular all the way up through WWII. The style was still considered de rigeur for formal events, and was a favourite for dashing dressers like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. Though these days it’s rarely seen outside of the most special occasions, the lapel flower is a classic menswear accessory that’s primed for a comeback.
A real flower boutonnière is a wear-once-and-discard expense, but an artificial lapel flower is an evergreen addition to your sartorial artillery. Always wear it on your left lapel, slightly above your heart. The stick pin can show through the front of the jacket, which is a little more dandy, or be concealed behind the lapel. The upside is that a buttonhole is not required, but the downside is that pins can damage the threads in fabric. The fewer attempts made to position it correctly, the better. Pay attention to proportion – smaller men should wear smaller flowers, larger men can wear larger flowers. And don’t forget the most important accessory of all: confidence in your dapper look.