Buttonhole Etiquette – How to Wear Your Buttonhole

Neutral Dried Flower Buttonhole on Tweed Jacket

Wearing a buttonhole is a wonderful thing. Not only do you bring the beauty of nature close to your heart, you also connect yourself to the thread of tradition.

You do as generations have done before you, wearing flowers to mark out an occasion as joyous, momentous or celebratory. In order that the weight of tradition does not bring anxiety on to your shoulders, I would like to share the simple etiquette of wearing a buttonhole.

How to Wear a Buttonhole

Traditionally, gentlemen wear their buttonhole on their left lapel while ladies wear a buttonhole on their right.

Your buttonhole, stems and all, should rest on the outside of the lapel, over the top of the buttonhole, not through it. The flowers should point upwards towards the shoulder.

Flamingo Dried Flower Buttonhole
'Flamingo' Buttonhole - Mary Elizabeth Flowers
Buttonhole vs Corsage vs Boutonniere

Although the names are often used interchangeably, there is a technical difference between a buttonhole, a boutonniere and a corsage.

A corsage is not simply a buttonhole worn by a lady. There is a difference in construction. To let you in on some technical floristry intel, a corsage has a double-ended construction so the stem is hidden.

If a lady is wearing a corsage, rather than a buttonhole it can sometimes be best pinned on with the stem facing upwards towards her shoulder because it may sit better that way, depending on how it has been made, and since you can’t see the stem it doesn’t appear to be upside down.

A boutonniere technically differs from a buttonhole because it is made of a mix of flower types and foliage, while a buttonhole is a single flower, perhaps accompanied by some foliage. (So yes, technically, Mary Elizabeth Flowers ‘buttonholes’ are in fact ’boutonnieres’.)

Dried Flower Buttonhole Yellow
'Sunny' Buttonhole - Mary Elizabeth Flowers
Wearing and Caring for a Dried Flower Buttonhole

If your buttonhole is made from dried, rather than fresh flowers, you are relieved of the need for wilt-anxiety. While fresh flowers may begin to get hot and tired towards the end of a wedding or a long evening event, your dried flower buttonhole will be perky and unperturbed. You also have the advantage of being able to wear your buttonhole again, for future events, weddings and celebrations. You only have a very low level of responsibility in order to keep your buttonhole in pristine condition and always ready for the call-up.

Here is some advice to help you get the best out of your buttonhole:

  1. Wear your buttonhole with a gentle dignity to avoid damage…avoid the crush of the crowd.
  2. Keep out of reach of children and pets who might try to take a nibble.
  3. To preserve the colours, avoid storing your buttonhole in direct sunlight.
  4. Prevent your buttonhole from getting wet. Avoid storing it anywhere damp or humid.
Dried Flower Buttonholes
Dried Flower Buttonholes - Mary Elizabeth Flowers
A Word on Following Traditions and Etiquette…

Academically I do understand rational arguments on the side of throwing off tradition and doing away with rules of etiquette. But… at the same time the notion as a blanket policy goes against something somewhere in my heart and soul that registers feelings of comfort, satisfaction, ease and peace when traditions are upheld. My actual experience is that following tradition often feels good. There’s no better time for observing that than occasions like Christmas, birthdays and weddings. A chocolate orange in your stocking, being ‘king for the day’ on your birthday, which side to wear your buttonhole, I offer as exhibits A to C, respectively. 

Sunny Yellow Dried Flower Buttonhole
'Sunny' Buttonhole - Mary Elizabeth Flowers

There is comfort and confidence that comes with following the path you know; That you or others before you have tried, tested and found to work; The route that’s had the creases ironed out of it over time. 

Following traditions helps avoid embarrassment or discomfort if you’re someone who isn’t one of those exceptionally rare beasts truly at ease with standing out from the crowd. And I think there’s something not insignificant to be said for that. Not everyone can be a maverick. Not everyone is fit for it. The world couldn’t cope with it.

The holders of the first and last word in British etiquette, Debretts, make the case that “Etiquette is about feeling at ease, and putting others at ease, in a variety of social situations. Good manners are attractive and empowering, removing anxiety and minimising social difficulties or awkwardness.” And I agree.

There’s also benefit in saving the time and energy that would have to be spent coming up with the whole thing from scratch every time, which frees you up for other endeavours. If you have to think through what will work, what’s most practical, what the possible problems might be for every single moment, interaction or ceremony you would either exhaust yourself, get 90% of things wrong, get nothing productive done or all of the above. Following tradition is like outsourcing empirical testing and evidence-based decision making to people of the past (and they outnumber those of us alive and in charge of the reins today).

I am highly aware of my position, atop the shoulders of giants, and feel reluctant to attempt an entire re-write of the rule book since much of it seems sound, and who am I to try fixing something that isn’t broke. 

Blue Dried Flower Buttonhole on Jacket
'Oxford Blue' Buttonhole - Mary Elizabeth Flowers
Tentative Pushing of Boundaries

However…I’m not saying traditions can’t or shouldn’t be updated incrementally. It’s just that evolution, rather than revolution, tends to be my preference. One new bauble on the tree each year, if you know what I mean. I know some people’s modus operandi is for an entirely new Christmas decor theme each year – last year pink, this year monochrome – but my personality is such that I find my bliss bringing down the same old friends every year from the box in the loft and taking the trip down memory lane as each one takes its branch. 

So with that in mind (and with the awareness that one can roll out an analogy for only so long before losing one’s audience), may I make a few suggestions for the gradual evolution of the traditional role of the buttonhole as lapel-adornment. 

Buttonhole Anarchy

Since your dried flower buttonhole is rewearable, why not get the most out of it by experimenting with new placements?

Attach it to the brim of a sun hat for a floral finish to a garden party outfit.

Pin it to a bag and liven up an old favourite.

Wear your buttonhole for a casual occasion like a coffee catch up with a friend. Why deprive yourself of the joy of wearing flowers at any occasion when it’s at your fingertips?

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