All about the boutonniere, buttonhole, and wearing a flower in the jacket lapel
This is the gentleman’s guide to wearing a boutonniere, the suit or sport jacket’s buttonhole, and how to use it. Use this information when you’re through blending in and want to wear a flower in your lapel.
Few elements of men’s fashion are well understood by the general population. Fewer still are those particular touches to a gentleman’s look, such as the pocket square in a jacket, cufflinks on a shirt, or pleats on trousers which add real character.
Men tend to have an idea of what they like and deviate little from that idea, choosing to remain ignorant of such little pops of flair that can turn a decent outfit into an elegant and memorable one.
Perhaps the least understood is the boutonniere, or buttonhole. This ever-present little line of stitches on the left jacket lapel is seldom utilized and almost never correctly exploited.
This is the gentleman’s guide to what this little hole does, what to put in it, and then some final points to remember.
A Buttonhole without a Button?
The left jacket lapel of a custom suit jacket or sport coat today, more often than not, has what looks like a large buttonhole near the top of the lapel, below the collar.
What confuses fashion neophytes is the lack of a button on the opposing lapel, even on the rear side. Didn’t we need to button up our lapels back in the days before overcoats? Yes, we did, but the reason for the hole in the jacket lapel as we know it today isn’t because of this old function.
The most popular story is of Prince Albert being presented with a small bouquet from Queen Victoria on their wedding day. He made the splendid gentlemanly gesture of cutting a hole in his lapel right there, and put the flowers in the lapel. Thence he had his tailor put the hole is all of his jacket lapels and society followed.
In the U.S., we call it the lapel buttonhole; in the U.K. it is called the boutonniere. “Boutonniere” is French for buttonhole, so this latter is easy to comprehend. In the U.S., the word “boutonniere” is associated with proms or weddings, as in the flower itself that adorns the lapel. In men’s fashion the word “boutonniere” can mean the hole in the lapel or the flower which decorates it.
If the buttonhole is present and functioning, be sure before wearing a boutonniere that there is a thread on the rear of the lapel and slightly below the buttonhole. This thread holds the flower stem against the lapel, thereby holding the flower upright.
Visit your tailor if the thread isn’t there, he can add it easily. If the buttonhole is present but not functional, that is, the hole is closed, then you can have the tailor open it, finish it (to prevent fraying), and add the thread behind the lapel. If you have a jacket lapel that is devoid of the buttonhole, your tailor can sew one into the lapel.
Do not pin the flower to the lapel. A pinned flower is on par with clip-on neckties and cardboard pocket squares. They are out there, but no gentleman with decent fashion sense wears them.
The buttonhole is there for this purpose, so use it. If the hole is closed, refrain from wearing a boutonniere and do not pin one on top.
If there is no buttonhole, again, do not pin a flower on. (One qualification: we often wear flowers at weddings and other special occasions – don’t offend your family and friends by refusing to pin on a flower when that’s what everyone is doing.
Going against the grain in this way is ungentlemanly. Better to break this rule than to upset your mother.)
Pinning not only ignores the function of the lapel buttonhole, it is bad for garments. The pin can break threads and permanently damage a suit or sport jacket’s lapel, just like wearing a tie tack will damage a necktie. Pinning a boutonniere is an absolute no-no.
Wear the boutonniere when you feel it is appropriate. Some men would be very uncomfortable wearing a boutonniere anywhere, some only at the office, and some can wear them all the time. At a black tie event, a flower will not be frowned upon. Likewise at a professional business meeting; a man with a flower in his lapel stands out and shows real flair for appearances.
Think also on your work environment. If you wear a suit every day, a flower in the lapel will show some real verve; if it’s a jeans workplace, showing up in a suit with a boutonniere would be awkward.
Wear the boutonniere with a pocket square. Well-dressed gentlemen agree that a suit jacket without a pocket square is naked. If you’re not totally comfortable with a pocket square either, try a white pocket square with a white carnation – these will go with nearly any suit/shirt/necktie combination.
Wear the boutonniere with confidence. Once you have decided to wear a boutonniere, let it be as the jacket to you. It’s another item on your body, it’s neither weird nor hammy. Install the flower into the jacket lapel and leave it alone unless it requires adjustment.
Heads will turn to the man wearing a boutonniere, so don’t feel self-conscious, rather, let the attention bolster your self-confidence. Don’t fidget with the flower or remove it in the middle of the day, unless its appearance is significantly diminished or the flower is damaged.
Traditional social etiquette limits which flowers are worn in the buttonhole. They are the red or white carnation, blue cornflower, and gardenia.
Any one of these should express a man quite well. If not, many flowers will do, so ask a florist what would look good on you. The flower shouldn’t be too big, no bigger than one of these four, nor so small that it is not noticeable. A tea rose will look terrific on a dinner jacket.
Pay attention to what other men are wearing in their lapels, and if you see a flower you like, ask the man what it is. He’ll be proud to tell you.
Important Boutonniere Points
We discussed about not pinning a flower to the lapel, and here are some more important points to remember when sporting a flower.
- Use only fresh, real flowers – no fake ones. Gentlemen do not wear cardboard pocket squares, clip-on neckties/bowties, nor do they don artificial flowers.
- If you wear a flower with a pocket square, make there isn’t too much going on with your look. If there is, remove the pocket square (fresh flowers won’t last long so wear the flower while it still looks its best).
- Ensure color harmony with your boutonniere and the rest of your outfit (suit, shirt, necktie, and pocket square).
- A boutonniere is a single flower, not a small bouquet. No baby’s breath or leaves should show.
- You may find small vases that either hang from the lapel buttonhole or hold onto the lapel by a magnet, and these are fantastic. Wear them on the back of the lapel, though. Your lovely flower is the point of interest, not what’s holding it, and the vase should not be seen. If the vase makes the lapel bulge, don’t wear it.
- Poppy flowers are worn in some countries at a certain time of year in remembrance of fallen heroes. In the U.S., they are worn for Veterans Day or Memorial Day; in other countries, they are specifically for November 11th (Armistice Day).
Want to stand out the next time you wear a suit?
Put a flower in your lapel buttonhole. Read this article over a couple times and stride about with confidence in your boutonniere. If your jacket doesn’t have a lapel buttonhole or if it doesn’t open, take care of that as soon as you are able, and show your manly elegance by putting a flower in your lapel.