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Tailored Thoughts On: Lapel Flowers

Often overlooked but never unappreciated, the boutonnière might just be the thing to set off your summer suiting. Savile Row Cutter and resident columnist, Matthew Gonzalez, talks us through the process

words by Matthew GONZALEZ

Summer is here, and that means BBQs, beer gardens, imminent holidays and weddings every weekend across the country. As a bespoke pattern cutter, I have made my fair share of wedding suits and there seems to be one thing that almost every groom I’ve worked with has in common, they all wear a boutonnière on the big day. While wearing a flower on your lapel seems to be just for weddings, they used to be worn a lot more commonly than you might expect. So this month, I decided to sit down with fellow pattern cutter, Erlend Norby, of Taliare London, who specializes in made to measure tailorin. And with a little help from florist, Moyses Stevens, we chatted about how men should try to wear flowers in the lapels again.

You probably already know some of the history of when men started incorporating flowers in their clothing. You learned about it through a nursery rhyme and it had to do with the black death. It has been suggested that “Ring-a-ring o’ roses” is about the plague devastating Europe. The line “pocketful of posies” apparently refers to little bags of flowers that were carried in order to protect oneself from getting infected, but it really just helped to mask the otherwise putrid odor that was presumably in the air.

Sartorially speaking, wearing flowers was also a common practice amongst gentleman up until the middle of the 20th century. Sean Connery’s James Bond wore a bright red carnation with a white dinner jacket in ‘Goldfinger’, Fred Astaire would casually pair one with a three-piece tweed suits, and even Carry Grant would sport one from time to time.

I met up with Erlend at his tailoring boutique on Seymour Place, Marylebone and he had a few traditional, wedding-style boutonnières – made up from Moyses Stevens – laid out on a table. We immediately agreed that they are a quintessential part of most modern British weddings, and we talked at length about how, in that setting, they serve a very specific purpose: They help symbolise the unification of two families. Boutonnières worn by the groom tend to incorporate the same flowers that are being held or worn by their partners. Similar ones are usually worn by parents or siblings of both families. Yes, it helps identify the important family members on each side of the aisle, but it also helps blend the two families together.

Outside of the world of weddings is an entirely different story. In our discussions Erlend and I both admitted that neither of us had worn a flower on our suits casually even though we both knew that every bespoke suit is designed to have one. If you have a good made to measure or bespoke suit you can look behind the lapel where the button hole is and you will likely see a little loop about two inches below it. That is called the flower loop and is meant to hold the stem of the flower in place. Since a flower is meant to be there we started to talk about how to wear one if we decided to ever give it ago. This is what we came up with:

Avoid The Office: A work environment where suits are mandatory is probably a bit too serious for flowers. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them, however. It’s just that, professionally speaking, subtlety is more effective at standing out than actually standing out is. Especially in an office setting.

Walk Before You Run: If you’re interested in a lapel flower, try popping a small, single stem flower into your lapel button hole when wearing casual separates. Don’t start with something too ostentatious.

Try And Repeat: A nice dinner, an evening at the opera, or a summer garden party are all perfect events to pop a flower in your lapel. The more often you do it, the more natural it will feel to wear.

Pin It Up: Flowers are expensive, and some suits don’t have a functional lapel button hole to wear one. If you can’t wear a real flower try a silk or enamel pin instead.

As always, wear what makes you feel comfortable. Style is personal, and wearing a flower on your coat just might be a great way for you to express it. Don’t be afraid to experiment. MG