Do you remember receiving your first corsage for your high school prom, or wearing an orchid on Easter, or a carnation on Mother’s Day? Where did these traditions come from? When did people begin wearing corsages? Many florist shops and flower experts present various compilations on the history of the corsage.
The word corsage comes from the same French word which refers to the bodice of a woman’s dress. Women wore flowers pinned to their bodice, usually to the center of the bodice, and hence the flowers became known in French as a “bouquet de corsage.” The concept of wearing flowers for special occasions goes much farther back in time than the 1800’s in France. Many reports point out that in ancient Greece, brides and their attendants wore flowers pinned to their wedding attire not only for a pleasing appearance, but also to provide a pleasing scent. The aroma of the flowers was supposed to ward off evil spirits that might bring bad luck and disfavor to the marriage.
In the 1600’s, men wore flowers on their clothing for the purpose of warding off evil spirits and disease. These single blooms were called boutonnieres which, when translated into English, means “little buttonhole.” In the 17th century, a man might wear a boutonniere every day but with time, the practice has been reserved for formal events such as weddings and other formal occasions.
With the passage of time, the practice of wearing flowers at the center of a woman’s bodice evolved first to wearing little bouquets of flowers pinned to the shoulder of one’s dress or suit. A corsage should be worn on the left side because that side is closest to the heart.
In the early 1900’s the corsage was worn pinned upside down, with the bow holding the flowers together facing up and the flowers pointing downward. This tradition is no longer so rigid and the corsage can be worn in any manner that complements the woman’s attire.
Since many formal prom dresses are now strapless or have only tiny spaghetti straps, the placement of the corsage has changed, and the small bouquets can be worn on a wrist band, in the hair, or less frequently, on the ankle. For formal events and proms, the man’s boutonniere and the woman’s corsage should match or at least complement each other in order to tie together the look of the couple.
Corsages are worn not only at weddings and proms, but also on Easter, Mother’s Day, and birthdays or any other occasion when the man or family member wishes to show affection to the woman or young girl and tell them they are special. For Easter, an orchid is often the flower of choice for a corsage but the wonderful, sweet-smelling gardenia is also popular. One tradition that begun in the early 1900’s is to wear a red carnation on Mother’s Day if your mother is still living, and to wear a white carnation if your mother is deceased. It is a nice tradition to honor one’s mother on this special day.
The origin of prom corsages is fascinating. In the early 1900’s a young man would bring a gift, often a bouquet of flowers, to his date’s parents when he picked her up for the prom. He would then take a flower from that bouquet and pin it to his date’s dress, and perhaps take a flower for his own lapel. This is thought to be the origin of the prom corsage, a must in the accoutrements for any high school prom attending couple today.