A Man and the Boutonniere

by Antonio on July 9, 2010 · 39 comments

in Accessories, Dress & Grooming

Introduction to the Boutonniere

Most men will wear a flower on the lapel of their jacket only a handful of times in their lifetime.  This is a shame.  Nothing adds panache to a man’s appearance like the confidence embodied in wearing a stylish boutonniere. A simple flower worn on the lapel of a jacket is a gesture full of meaning that extends beyond the flower.  Boutonnieres are a symbol of fragile life, of beauty in nature, of love undefined yet captured in a single bloom.

The purpose of this article is to re-introduce you to the boutonniere.  Many of us have had one forced upon us, either at a high school prom where we wore it for a picture and then disposed of it or at a wedding where we had one pinned on us at the last minute for the ceremony.  Not the best way to introduce perhaps the most perfect menswear accessory.  So let’s hit the reset button and try this again.

Flowers and Masculinity

To start off I want to address the issue of wearing flowers and masculinity; there are many men who will dismiss the boutonniere as feminine.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   Great statesmen, warriors, and poets have worn flowers for over a millennium.  Soldiers headed to war have proudly worn flowers on their chests, and here in the United States every January 1st two of college football’s best teams square off wearing roses on their uniforms.  The victors of our greatest athletic events are congratulated with bouquets of flowers – and on days of remembrance we honor our fallen with poppies and other blooms.

 

When to Wear a Boutonniere

For most of us the only time we will ever wear a flower on our lapel is at formal events like weddings, anniversaries, proms, quinceañeras, or a night at the theater or opera.  The irony in this is that the only rule to wearing a boutonniere is that you do not need a special occasion to wear one.  All a man needs is the confidence to swim against the current, to be the only man in the room who is sporting a flower on his left breast.  However a man should not wear a boutonniere when he does not want to stand out from the crowd or when he is being judged.  Funerals and interviews are not the place for drawing attention or displaying too much individualism.

How to Wear a Boutonniere

The boutonnière is worn on the left lapel of a men’s suit, sport jacket, or blazer jacket; it can also be worn on an overcoat.  The boutonniere is always attached above a man’s heart, and it should be worn in the lapel’s button-hole, a 1 to 1.5 inch opening that is a vestige of when a man’s jacket lapels closed to protect his neck.  Only on higher-end suits will you see the lapel button-hole 1) present 2) functional 3) with a latch and 4) built strong enough to support the flower.

Jacket pocket square boutonniere

A white carnation boutonniere worn with a colorful pocket square

Expanding on these four points, it’s important that if you plan on wearing a flower in your lapel that you ensure the area where you’ll wear it is prepared.  As a clothier I do this standard with all my jackets; however 99% of jackets made today are not. To accommodate a flower, a jacket needs to have a strong hand sewn inner lining, the buttonhole needs to be cut and hand stitched, and a silk latch must be sewn one to two inches underneath the lapel button hole.  All of this requires extra money in terms of the jacket’s cost – something no mass manufactures are willing to cover.

Back Boutonniere Latch

A working lapel button-hole and boutonniere latch - a quick indicator of the pedigree of a jacket

With that being said, how do you wear a flower on your lapel when you have no buttonhole or the hole is uncut?  You have a few options.  First you can do what most people do and that is to pin the boutonniere to your lapel.  Once considered unsightly, it has become more acceptable because florists have done a great job making the stem look attractive.  A second option is to have the buttonhole cut – this is a good solution if you have the time and the jacket is yours (if it’s a rental….pin it).  Any seamstress can do this in 20 minutes for $15.  Beware of the limitations though – you’ll want to wear a flower that’s lightweight (as the lapel is most likely flimsy) and if possible a flower whose stem is either professionally prepared or naturally simple and attractive.

Why Wear a Boutonnière?

Why should a man wear a flower on his lapel, especially when he is likely to be the only fellow sporting one?  I’ll give you three reasons:

1.  It’s a great conversation starter – I guarantee someone will ask about it; the key is to be confident as to why you are wearing it. If a compliment is given, simply say thank you, and then move on with the conversation unless your conversation partner(s) wishes to dwell on it.  Nothing sours a conversation more than a man who displays arrogance and who talks about himself too much – the flower in your lapel should be like a spark….a conversation starter, not the subject of the conversation.

2.  You have something to give – How many times have you spent a wonderful evening with a woman you just met, and at the end of the night the only thing you can give her is your business card?  Try leaving her with something a bit more unique and memorable.  Or perhaps you want to make your aunt’s 70th birthday even more special – there are few things nicer to receive than a sincere showing of love accompanied by a flower.

3.  It shows you pay attention to details – When wearing a boutonniere, it’s about realizing and showing that the little things matter.

How to Choose the Flower for Your Jacket’s Lapel

First the flower should fit the occasion – simple white or red blooms for formal occasions, while for less formal occasions more colorful and exotic flowers are fine.  Second, the boutonniere should be coordinated with the clothing you are wearing. If in doubt, a simple white bloom, like a white pocket square, is always a safe bet.  And speaking of pocket squares, you are permitted to wear a boutonniere with a pocket square, although a boutonniere by itself can stand in for a pocket square. The rule here is balance; avoid too much of a good thing by muting down the color of your square or wearing a white pocket handkerchief.   The final factor in selecting a boutonniere flower is how long you plan on wearing it – many flowers will wilt after a few hours in the heat and without water, so if you are looking for something that will last all day in the West Texas heat consider consulting a florist.

The Carnation Boutonniere – Simple, affordable, easy to find; of all the flowers a man can choose for his boutonniere, the carnation is perhaps the most versatile and easiest to pull off.  White is always acceptable, although it is best suited to more formal occasions.  Red is a close second, and can bring a dash of color to a black tie outfit or dress up a sport jacket and jeans.  I personally prefer miniature carnations; however, a normal bloom that hasn’t fully opened works well.  The only downside to a carnation is that it will begin to droop after a day of wearing, so wear it fresh or if for a long day consider having it professionally prepared by a florist.

The Rose Boutonniere – About as easy to find as carnations, roses are more complicated to wear as they are substantially larger and must be free from imperfections.  To the general public, they are considered the most formal flower, and they are perfect choices when celebrating love at either a wedding or anniversary. Rose boutonnieres look best when they are professionally prepared as then they can be permanently tilted and even hydrated with a tiny water stop.  If you head down this route ensure your jacket lapel can support the weight.

Red rose boutonniere

A red rose boutonniere - the message here is passion and love

Other Flower Options – Gardenia, Lily of the Valley, Sweet William, Orchids, Hyacinths, Daisies, and Lilacs are all excellent choices.  You may have to special order these, but the reward is that you’ll have a unique and beautiful companion.

An underused favorite of mine is statice.  Popular as a filler flower with an average of 5-8 tiny blooms clustered together, its lavender color and long lasting life make it a great choice when you don’t want to spend much and need something you can wear and forget. This tissue paper-like flower can be found at any florist shop.

statice boutonniere

The simple, inexpensive, and durable lavender statice boutonniere

Remember that flowers have meanings and that these meanings change across cultures.  Carnations are one of the most common boutonniere flowers in the United States, are the national flower of Spain, and show respect in Korea.   In France however, carnations are a common funeral flower and considered unlucky outside of this setting.

Final Thoughts on Wearing a Boutonnière

Wear It with Confidence – Do not be afraid to be an individual.  Wear a boutonniere because you want to.

Pay Attention to Proportion – If you’re a small man, wear small flowers.  If you’re a large man, consider something that is more befitting your size.

Never Upstage the Ladies – A boutonniere is a single flower or a small collection of tiny blooms; never wear something unwieldy.

A Thank You- I would like to thank Mr. Umberto Angeloni and his book “The Boutonniere – Style on One’s Lapel”.  It is the finest source of information on this subject.

Written by
Antonio Centeno
President, A Tailored Suit
Articles on Mens Suits – Sport Jackets – Blazers – Dress Shirts
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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Josh B. July 9, 2010 at 1:18 am

Interesting. It’s articles like these: a little off the beaten path and full of insight and advice, that keep me coming back for more.
Keep up the good work guys!

2 Mike July 9, 2010 at 1:38 am

I’m in full agreement with Josh B. I love articles like this-really interesting and I learned something new. I really want a jacket with a proper button hole now.

3 Rob July 9, 2010 at 2:02 am

I’ve actually just been trying to decide whether I want to to try something like this:
http://jandhp.bigcartel.com/products?page=7
A fake, knit flower that is not meant to look real upon any close inspection. I like the idea of not having the color without having to buy a flower for one day or night. But I’m also afraid it’s just too cute for me to pull off.

4 Marc July 9, 2010 at 3:02 am

I love the idea, and may put it into practise…but I guarantee the constant questions of, ‘Oh, are you going to a wedding?’ would truly test my nerves…

5 Josh Knowles July 9, 2010 at 7:30 am

Canada’s most stylish prime minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau always had his red rose in his lapel. It’s a shame people don’t do things like that anymore.

Regarding wearing caranations, I have always heard that it’s appropriate to wear a white carnation if your mother is deceased, and appropriate to wear red or pink if she’s still living. Can anyone verify this or correct me if I’m wrong?

6 Antonio July 9, 2010 at 7:51 am

@Josh – Thank you sir. When Brett asked me to write this I was a bit hesitant as it is a very niche subject…..even in menswear. But it’s good to know there are men out there who appreciate it even if it’s something they may not use often.

@Mike – Thank you Sir – as for finding a jacket, the least expensive is to have your current jacket altered. But in the future look for this on the coat or ask your clothier to build the jacket with this feature installed. Like I mentioned, I do this standard but most don’t bother as it costs extra in both material and time. But in my opinion that’s a small price to pay when making historically accurate art.

@Rob – I almost wrote that a man should never wear anything artificial……looking at your link I’m glad I didn’t! I think something like that, assuming it’s one of a kind hand made, is perfect for the creative man who needs to dress in a jacket but wants to express color on his lapel. But it is casual….and you have to be confident in the look to pull it off!

@Marc – You’re right people are going to ask that question…but look on the bright side it gives you the opportunity to tell every beautiful woman that you wore it for her!

@Josh – A good question, and assuming you are Canadian it may be the relation to the French use of Carnation with Funerals. In the US I have never heard of this custom, and have never seen it mentioned in the English literature (except for the French custom as mentioned). The White carnation here is one of the simplest and most formal flowers you can wear…..but again these things are very much tied to your particular culture!

7 Frankie July 9, 2010 at 9:14 am

Josh Knowles beat me to it: impossible to read of boutonnieres without remembering Pierre Elliot Trudeau, famous for (among other things!) his red rose boutonniere.
On the day of his funeral there was not a single red rose to be had in any Montreal florist’s shop: they were all sold out.

8 K.M. Jones July 9, 2010 at 9:19 am

If your coat has the button hole but not the latch, then consider using a safety pin until you get around to seeing the tailor. Pin it to the back side of the lapel about an inch below the button hole and slightly closer to the crease. Be careful to pass the pin through the lapel and inner lining without coming all the way through to the front of the lapel. This gives the most strength without allowing the silver of the pin to be seen. Then pass the stem of the flower through the button hole and the middle of the pin. Be sure to remove the pin before dry cleaning because some of the chemicals can cause rust which will stain the jacket.

9 Eric July 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

Great article. It’s nice to know a little more on these.

10 Turling July 9, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I have started poppies, red and white carnations, lavendar (I’m not sure how this one will work out) and calla lillies for boutonniere’s. We already have roses, so I’m covered there. Not being in a big city, it’s difficult to drop by a florist regularly. And, my wife love’s the flowers.

11 Ryan July 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Hummm, I guess I have a very informal life, because I don’t even have a reason to wear a suit more than once a year and that’s just for work. I went to a couple funerals last month and was just about the only one not wearing jeans or shorts.

12 K.M. Jones July 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Ryan, congradulations on showing some class. You are to be commended for doing the right thing. It is so easy to say, why bother, when no one else does. But real men will continue to do the right thing rather than take the easy way out.

My mother-in-law recently passed. At the funeral, despite the 95+ degree weather here in the South, most men still wore the proper dark suits. It definitely means a lot to the family when others make the effort to show the proper respect.

13 Kevin R July 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm

LOVE the picture of Cary Grant you used to headline this article. To me, that man was the epitome of classic manliness. Now, to see him with that flower on his jacket, he is even more so.

14 'Lipe July 9, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Makes me want to jump into a suit right now and wear one. Excellent. Thanks for the advice, it’s awesome.

15 BonzoGal July 9, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I slightly disagree with the idea of wearing both a boutonniere and a pocket square. It seems like a little bit too much- wouldn’t one take attention away from the other? I’m one of those women who follow the “rule” of getting dressed, and then taking one last look in the mirror before I go out and removing one accessory. I guess I’m a minimalist- I like to accent just one accessory.

Then again, if I saw a man wearing either or both, I’d probably swoon. Wearing a boutonniere or pocket square (or both) would be a touch that would make the difference between “well dressed” and “dashing.”

16 Mike D July 10, 2010 at 1:22 am

Josh – I grew up in the southwest US and I have heard the same thing about flower colors since I was a little kid: a white flower if your mother is deceased; red if she is alive.

17 Peter July 10, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Say you don’t want to actually go out and buy a boutonniere. Can you use a flower from the wild/your neighbor’s garden?

18 topher July 10, 2010 at 8:34 pm

A moment with a good pocket knife can open a sealed boutinere hole. A well placed safety pin on the underside of your lapel can anchor a boutinere without showing.

And yes, they rock!

19 topher July 10, 2010 at 8:38 pm

@Peter

Yes. I cut them from my garden or buy individual stems at the grocery store. Buy a bouqet and put one in your lapel and the rest on your desk, ala Nero Wolfe.

20 B-Doc July 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Excellent idea! I’ll be sporting a boutonniere when I take my wife out for our eighth wedding anniversary this evening. Where we’re going isn’t exceptionally fancy; I’ll probably already be the most dressed-up man there wearing my Dockers, a tie and a vest, but the flower on my vest will add a touch of understated class. I thank you for the suggestion.

By the way, I’m placing no emphasis on the precise meaning of the color or type of flower. It’s just a white carnation. Simple, but pleasant.

21 Hemi July 13, 2010 at 8:31 am

What flower could you use with a seersucker jacket?

22 Wisco July 13, 2010 at 10:05 am

I think a red carnation is a great choice for a traditional light-blue and white seeksucker jacket; however it probably works best with a tie with some red in it. A light to mid-purple flower could also work well, especially with a tie with some blue in it.

23 Miles July 13, 2010 at 9:08 pm

An excellent read. Thank you for writing it, sir.

24 Mike July 15, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Pulled it off this past Wednesday, after reading your article on Monday.
I attended a Rotary Club luncheon and wore a small tropical white flower with a little yellow in the middle of the pedal. It went nicely with the yellow pocket square. It was a huge hit.

Will be stopping by the local florist at least twice a week from now on.

My tailor and florist, as well as my wife, thank you.

25 Ryan July 20, 2010 at 8:50 am

Great post, as always.

I’m getting married in a month and a half, and while I’ll be wearing a jacket, my groomsmen will not. Can you pull off a boutonniere without a jacket?

26 mary patton August 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm

After reading this and many articles on AoM for the past few years I realized something: Is there a similar site for ladies? As a woman I am constantly in search of similar advice to that which is presented here. From when to wear hose or is it ok to go sleeveless in the office OR how to end an awkward date like a lady I find that we gals need just as much help as the gents.

If you know of any such thing do not hesitate to clue me in!

27 Ilma November 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm

It’s funny how nobody is mentioning green carnations, because that’s what I was looking for advice on when I stumbled over here.

28 Johnathan November 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Lapel flowers are iconic and thye look amazing when worn properly.

I bought a few “Lapel Carnations” from Vivarati at: http://vivarati.com/lapel-flowers/lapel-carnation.html

29 Linda Derrick April 6, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Bring back Cloudland, where my mother & friends always dressed to the nines & their men looked dashing in their suits & boutonnieres. A reason to transform the ‘casual’ can’ t be bothered fashion of today.

30 Pat May 5, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Thaks for your article, i wasn’t sure which side the flower was worn on.

31 Steve H May 19, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I bought some cool lapel flowers from http://www.jacklapel.com
The nicest ones are the carnations and the stacked flower lapels. I bought a bunch and I have received many compliments when wearing them.
-Steve

32 Daniel Son of William July 3, 2013 at 2:16 am

No mention of Don Corleone :(

33 Maid Mirawyn July 13, 2013 at 7:11 am

I can answer the carnation question!

On Mother’s Day, wear a carnation to honor your mother: red or pink if she’s living, white if she has died. Men wear a boutonnière; women, a small corsage.

I had forgotten the tradition, but it out the tradition dates to the establishment of Mother’s Day. Anne Jarvis, the founder of the holiday, chose carnations because they were her mother’s favorite flower!

We did this when I was a kid and teenager. I remember that it was the only day of the year my mom bullied my dad into going to church. (My grandmother was very religious, but not my dad.) We all wore red carnations, and went to church with my grandparents.

As for the green carnation, Oscar Wilde began the tradition of wearing a green carnation to signify male homosexuality. Later, it became popular because of a book called The Green Carnation. Straight men are probably safe wearing a green carnation on St. Patrick’s Day, though.

34 Robin Pulewitz August 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm

My dad has worn a white carnation on his lapel for all of his 50 years in the jewelry business. He changed it only twice, once to pink when I was born, and once to blue when my brother was born. His company, Carnation Creations is still in business and some of the guys call him Marty Carnation (not his real last name…but cute nevertheless). Such a small thing, but a fresh flower will always set you apart from the rest. Dapper too!

35 Vasantha Abeysekera November 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Great article and very useful comments from the readers. Thank you.

36 Charles W December 17, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I recently received a high-quality silk boutonnière of an Edelweiss flower. It was a thoughtful gift, and I think it paired well on my heavier wool, navy sport coat. Thanks for the great article, Antonio.

37 Lily January 1, 2014 at 2:54 am

I googled “boutonniere” because a friend of mine said she made them for her wedding party (including me). I’m definitely not a dude so was amused to see article on boutonnieres on this Art of Manliness blog lol.

38 Thomas January 9, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Perhaps I am not nearly style conscious enough, but all of this “dress for success” stuff reminds me of epaulettes — they might look good but are not necessarily representative of a man’s character.

39 Sarah January 20, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I was trying to find a little something diffrent for my fiancee for our wedding and hit upon this little treasure https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/176193000/book-boutonnieres-for-grooms-best-man?ref=shop_home_active_3 they make the most beautiful boutonnier and are a little different to the traditional flowers. Will definatly be ordering some.

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