Head Garlands and Nosegays
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The History of Head Garlands and Nosegays

People have always enjoyed flowers for their beauty and fragrance. It would be difficult to document the first time a shy young lad presented a flower to bring a smile to the face of his beloved.

Flowers have been worn about the head and neck for centuries. Long before the traditional bridal veil, flower stems were woven into a garland and worn atop the head at weddings and other special occasions. When Anne of Cleves married Henry VIII, she wore a head garland of rosemary.

Medieval weddings called for lavish floral displays. Most important was the bride’s crown of flowers. Chaucer describes the bride being prepared for her wedding by her ladies, who combed her hair and crowned her with flowers.

Many cultures today still wear head garlands as part of their traditional dress on holidays or at fairs around the world.

The term nosegay means simply "nose-gay" or "nose-happy". It was quite common for men as well as ladies to wear nosegays on their lapels as they strolled through town. This permitted them to turn one’s head to the side and breathe in a floral scent to keep the "nose-gay".

Flowers were essential to daily life, not so much for ornament as for their medicinal value and sweet smells that could mask unpleasant ones. Foul odors were ruefully accepted as part of civilized life. Bathing was infrequent, plumbing nonexistent, clothing seldom washed, and people often smelled like the animals and livestock that were part of everyday life.

By the mid-seventeenth century boutonnieres were worn by men and tussie-mussies carried by both men & women. Colonials carried nosegays in their hands when they went visiting. Country folk wore them at weddings, fairs, and to church, just like the figures in the Court of England.

When Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 tussie-mussies were established as the key accessory. Mothers taught their daughters the art of making hand bouquets. Courses in Flower Appreciation were taught in finishing schools where each flower and herb was assigned a special meaning. The properly instructed young lady should be able to decipher whatever message might lurk in the bouquet sent by an admirer.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century hand-held nosegays were replaced in popularity by the corsage.

With the exception of weddings, the twenty-first century has seen precious little of nosegays, and bouquets. However, current bridal styles are favoring small, mixed flower bouquets with natural stems showing tied together with a simple ribbon. The return of the nosegay may be just a few years away.

Last modified on May 14, 2008