Floral Arrangements

If you ever went to a prom, most likely there was one of those over-designed boutonnières attached to your lapel with a pin. Well, it's time to forget what you think you know about them.

There is no need to be afraid of flowers just because you carry XY chromosomes. As Art of Manliness put it: "Great statesmen, warriors, and poets have worn flowers for over a millennium." In other words, toss the insecurity aside because there's plenty of precedent.

That lapel hole originally had a purpose besides decoration. Besides being a vestige of coats that were fastened up to the neck, they came to be used specifically for holding a flower. Modern suits and sport coats still retain this feature simply because it has been around so long. The average department store offerings have them merely as nonfunctional stitching, though more upscale clothiers and tailors will make them functional devices with a stem loop on the underside of the lapel to hold a boutonnière in place. Since its only purpose doesn't involve fastening anything, a straight rather than keyhole shape is the more elegant option. Like the direction of trouser pleats, Milan may disagree with Savile Row on this -- I've seen many high end jackets from Italy with keyholed lapels. However, the advantage of a straight hole is that the stem is kept firmly in the middle.

Straight lapel hole, the choice for every well dressed man. At least in my opinion.
Stem loop in use.

Boutonnière is obviously French but literally translates to "buttonhole". Oddly, it is referred to as the English word in the UK which must certainly be confusing sometimes. Besides prom, you may have seen them on grooms at weddings. One of the few modern rituals that still require it. The thing is, they don't need to be as complex as a female date's corsage or bride's bouquet. Ask your florist for a red carnation or rose with the stem trimmed. White is also acceptable. Take care in the choice if you're going to be someone's date since roses symbolize love. Contrary to some misconceptions, you can wear a pocket square and lapel flower at the same time. It is certainly not too much.

Overdone. What's worse is the buttonhole underneath not being used for its intended purpose.
Masculine icon Harrison Ford demonstrates the only real way to attach your flower, through the lapel hole.

Naturally, you may not always want to spend money or have a garden available every time the inclination strikes. Luckily, there are synthetic boutonnières available that will look good for the rest of their useful life. Kent Wang sells some as does The Knottery. They aren't quite the same thing as a real flower, but serve the same aesthetic function.

Felted craft paper from Kent Wang. Pretty convincing.
Crocheted cotton from The Knottery. Not so convincing, but probably not meant to be.

Black tie events are the perfect excuse to try a lapel flower if you're timid, since touches like it and pocket squares are expected. But even if you don't wear one, just having a buttonhole there is a neat touch that makes the lapels look more finished and less cheap. I'm not sure why so many manufacturers neglect to put them on dinner jackets at the moment. It makes no sense as a cost saving measure since they are priced just as much as or a little more than regular suits. When even Brooks Brothers' $2100 Golden Fleece dinner suits don't have it, there is definitely something wrong. Luckily, you can have a skilled tailor put in a buttonhole and stem loop if you're crying for it to be there.

Naked lapel on Hugo Boss "Cary Grant Tuxedo".
Adorned lapel on the real Cary Grant tuxedo.

Shawl collars get in on the action now and then. More often than not, they don't -- even from the same manufacturer or tailor. Why the exception? Well, many feel that a buttonhole interrupts the smooth look, a virtue that sold well during the minimalism of the '60s. The shawl also originates from smoking jackets which had no need for a lapel hole. They were, after all, glorified cigar smoke catchers for your nice clothes. This one's really up to you in the end, but designer Tom Ford seems to be bringing it back or at least trying to.

007 predecessor Sean Connery dons a sleek, featureless shawl collar from Anthony Sinclair, 1962.

007 successor Daniel Craig spices things up with a buttonholed shawl collar from Tom Ford, 2008.

I certainly hope the lapel buttonhole, as well as the boutonnière, never completely disappears. As always, I'm curious what your thoughts are on this.


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