From posies to pearls
A history of bridal flowers
by Karen Alden
Flowers have long been a symbol of love, romance, beauty, and renewal.
People have used flowers, fruit, and herbs for centuries as offerings
to assure good fortune, ward off evil, ensure fertility and celebrate
rites of passage such as birth, death, and marriage.
In the last 200 years, flowers have been an integral part of the
entire wedding ritual. The event that most influenced present day
weddings occurred in the early 1800s with the marriage of Queen
Victoria of England to Prince Albert. Their ceremony departed from
past royal weddings in that Victoria's gown was of white satin trimmed
with orange flower blossoms accompanied by a Honiton lace veil anchored
to a wreath of orange blossoms in her hair. Even though wedding
gowns of various colors continued to be used, Victoria firmly established
the ideal of the white wedding dress from that day to this.
During the Victorian era, flowers were assigned specific meaning.
The Victorian bridal bouquet was carefully selected by the bride
to reflect her sentiments and feelings. Bridal bouquets were small
and round and often arranged in a tight circle of concentric rings.
These were called posies or "tussie-mussies." They were often held
in one hand with a beautiful embroidered handkerchief.
Toward the late 1800s, the posy evolved into a spray and became
the "shower bouquet." This was a large central floral arrangement
with graduated lengths of narrow ribbon tied with small flower buds,
blossoms, and bows that cascaded almost to the floor. For variation,
brides often carried muffs, fans, and Bibles covered with flowers,
or bouquets attached to walking sticks.
The American Art Nouveau movement from roughly the 1890's to 1910
influenced wedding fashions by stressing a naturalistic style of
design. This emphasized flower buds, vines, insect wings, and delicate
sinuous lines. Japanese-style garden weddings and softer, more natural
bouquets were popular. The Art Deco period from 1920 to 1940 employed
designs incorporating clean geometric shapes. Wedding bouquets and
arrangements became more streamlined with simple, spare lines. Shower
bouquets were smaller, looser and less formal than their Victorian
During the depression years, which overlapped the Art Deco period,
glamorous movie images inspired wedding fashions. Advances in florists'
tools led to bridal bouquets shaped into cascades, crescents, wedding
rings, and Grecian fans. Arm bouquets, also known as presentation
bouquets, of calla or Easter lilies and round bouquets with dropped
satellite clusters were popular.
World War II heralded a period of austerity. Wedding planning often
became a matter of days or hours as many marriages took place during
the groom's military leave. Often a wedding corsage and boutonniere
were the only flowers present.
The post-war years saw Americans return to traditional ideas of
love and marriage. Contemporary style romanticized the female figure.
Wedding bouquets were more angular and geometric with strings of
pearls, glittered netting, fabric and lace. The 1950s were an age
of novelty for wedding bouquets. Florists created bouquets the shape
of butterflies and hearts, and parasols with garlands.
The 1960s and 1970s styles reflected social changes in American
society and a return to nature. Ceremonies were performed in parks
and forests, beside waterfalls and at the ocean. Brides carried
simple arm and hand bouquets without artificial accessories. Baby's
breath and daisies were a popular duo and natural earth colors were
featured instead of gold and silver. A floral wreath or a small
bouquet of flowers was often worn on the head by brides instead
of a veil.
The wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles heralded a
return to romance in the 1980s. In the 1990s, florists incorporated
new colors and varieties of flowers along with traditional themes.
Today, couples can choose almost any floral wedding theme or style
to express their feelings, interests, and style. Rules no longer
dictate what must be done, say floral designers. As a statement
of who the bride and groom are, flowers play a major role in celebrating
the couple's hopes, dreams and plans for the future.