Bridal 2001

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 predecessors.

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.