Warmer months mean more time spent outside, where you can soak in the sun’s warm rays and take in the intoxicating perfume of spring’s flowers in full bloom. While doing so, you may even be tempted to pluck one and place it in your jacket’s lapel, because why not? Flowers are, after all, one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful creations and have been used since ancient times to celebrate everything from birth to one’s memory.
“Why” is not the subject of this article – “how” is, because the simplicity of wearing a flower in one’s lapel, a boutonniere, has been morphed into all-too-often complicated mess, with results both unpolished and overly precious. In short, the process can be put into five words: put it in your buttonhole. And then: put it through the loop. Okay, so that’s ten.
There are more than a few things about menswear that may never get used but do serve a purpose, however remote. One of those things is the boutonnière loop. Found on some bespoke and higher-end suit jackets and sport coats, this little loop is just underneath the buttonhole on the underside of the lapel. Here are a few examples:
Truth be told, the boutonniere never was a staple even in menswear’s heyday. Hats and handkerchiefs were worn on the daily, but boutonnieres were saved primarily for special occasions. Nowadays they are even more rare, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear one.
Some may be inclined to pop a flower in his lapel whenever it suits their fancy. After all, they muse, isn’t every day special? Pollyannas and dandies may do as they wish; I won’t cast a pall over their rainbows and unicorns. Special occasions, though, do exist, and are a perfect time to dress up your lapel.
Weddings – Most men know that boutonnieres are for the groom and his entourage, but two things should be mentioned. One, they are usually much too large, bordering on a bouquet, when single simple flower will do. Two, they are not the only ones who can wear a boutonniere; the invited may wear one as well. Pair it with a navy or grey suit, white shirt, appropriate wedding tie, black shoes and belt, and there’s your no-brainer outfit for the wedding season. Deep in Esquire’s archives, this spread from 1948 lists appropriate wedding attire for both participants and guests. Since not much has changed, use it as a starting point.
Here are two examples of men who wear a boutonniere correctly:
Tom Ford: simple, elegant, correct
Prince Charles as a guest at Zara Phillips’ wedding
And here are examples to avoid:
No burlap, please.
And say no to cloth flowers unless as a gesture to an occasion.
Note that if you are attending a wedding as part of the groom’s entourage, you should graciously accept both the honor and whatever boutonniere you are given, even if it is not to your taste.
Special religious/state ceremonies – if you are participating in or invited to one, a boutonniere may be an acceptable accessory. For example, cloth poppies are often worn on Remembrance Day. Just be sure to remember that certain colors may or may not be appropriate, depending on the affair . Do your due diligence and research to choose one that doesn’t offend or attract attention away from the solemnity of the event.
Festive celebrations – a bit more leeway is allowed here, since the main point during such soirees is to have fun. There are many opportunities throughout the year where flowers fit in fine, so look for them. The Kentucky Derby immediately springs to mind, as the most exciting two minutes in sports is well-known for its blanket of roses given to the winner. Not just observed in Louisville, Kentucky, pop-up celebrations are observed everywhere, thanks to televised satellite locations. Just a few short years after the first Derby in Kentucky, Britain had one, and since then Derby Day has seen even the Queen participate with flowers in her hat. Boutonnieres in this environment would blend in quite nicely and add to the spirit of the event.
Esquire, 1936, A Day at the Races (note the pale blue flower in the lapel buttonhole)
Wearing a boutonniere is easy: grab a carnation or small rose, clip the stem a couple of inches, and slip it through your jacket’s lapel and loop. Don’t have a loop? Look online for video tutorials on how to make your own, or ask your tailor if he can (he’s probably better). Some opt for a fake flower, but unless you wear the same flower multiple times during the year, you’re better off with what nature provided. If you can spring to go to a social event, a real flower won’t break the bank. Try this: next time you go out to a nice dinner with your partner, wear a boutonniere along with your suit and tie. If he or she asks why, just say it’s a special occasion and smile.
Finally, take moment to watch, in real time, how simple it is to add a bit of floral inspiration to your outfit:
Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.