Corsage and Button Holes - A Fascinating History

Published: 04th January 2012
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I was recently honoured to be invited to a friend's wedding, and at some point while we were waiting for the bride to arrive we ended up discussing the history of the corsage or boutonniere that is worn at such events. Nobody there had a particularly good idea where this tradition came from so I decided to look into it.

It seems that the use of a floral decoration worn as a buttonhole or accessory dates back thousands of years. Marriage ceremonies, coming-of-age rituals and many other festive events would see the tradition of wearing a specific corsage or boutonniere. But if you trace all of these traditions back that always seem to point towards a history mired in conflict.

The revolution in Russia almost 100 years ago saw a massive example of the use of corsage or boutonniere to differentiate between the two sides. The Tsarist elements did not present a long-term adversary for the revolutionaries, however the revolutionaries themselves resorted to a great deal of infighting and bloodshed after the imperialist rulers had been removed. The various sides in this conflict both wore corsage or boutonniere of different colours and styles to differentiate themselves. Often this was the case during a debate or council meeting, but sometimes it would be during a heated battle and bloodshed. It was the only way to tell who was representing which side. This is often the case in a civil war where uniform and language are identical between friend and foe so a buttonhole flower or posy is used as a makeshift military symbol.

16th century Japan and the inter-feudal warring that took place there also made a great use of corsage and boutonniere. We remember to this day the use of the Lotus Blossom, which now perversely is a symbol of peace. Perhaps it carries this is symbolism because of its very bloody past as an accessory worn prominently in battle. Of course lotus blossom only has a season of a few weeks, so fabricating corsage and boutonniere out of silk and other available materials began in feudal Japan about this time.

It has been suggested that floral heraldry has been used in conflicts dating back many thousands of years. Alexander the Great for instance on several occasions had insisted that his army adopt a particular boom and wear it as a buttonhole before a particular battle. This would be the obvious advantage to differentiate his army from those of his enemy.

Today, in the United Kingdom the poppy is worn in November as a symbol of those who died specifically in the First World War, but also to remember all of those who gave their life for their country in any conflict. The deep red of the poppy symbolising the blood that has been spilt in the name of freedom.

Next time you go to a wedding, christening or other event, it might be worth looking up the reasons why a particular flower or colour flower has been chosen by the organiser. Just about every corsage or boutonniere has a different historical meaning. Ranging from fertility and peace to war and conflict. Some are considered good luck in certain circumstances and bad luck in others. Of course this is only relevant if you're superstitious.

The next time I am asked to attend a function where the wearing of a corsage or boutonniere is required I am definitely going to investigate the history behind whatever Bloom or accessory I am asked to put on. They almost all has a fascinating history.

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