How much, for a buttonhole?

How much, for a buttonhole?
A tray of pink rose wedding buttonholes and corsages ready to be pinned on | Limewood Flowers | Lincolnshire wedding florist | Eco florist | Image courtesy of Cluskey Smith Wedding Photography

When Mr Smith and I got married I wasn’t a florist and I remember thinking, ‘how on earth does a buttonhole cost that much?’. My very talented florist, slightly wearily, explained the amount of work involved. Now that I am a florist I completely understand and I can see the look on other people’s faces when they see the price.

Back to basics, what is a buttonhole?

In many ways a buttonhole is exactly what it says on the tin, it is a tiny bunch of flowers worn in the button hole of a formal suit. Tradition has it that the men wear the buttonholes on their left lapel and in the past the flower stem would be placed in the buttonhole, to hide the stems. For most weddings now suits do not have a buttonhole or they are sewn shut. This means that the buttonhole flowers are simply pinned to the lapel.

It is normal at weddings for buttonholes to be made in coordinating colours or with the same flowers as the bridal bouquet so everything goes together. However, you can have anything you want, paper decorations, Lego figures or even, um, buttons are quite popular on Pinterest!

There seems to be quite a bit to say on how to wear buttonholes and the traditions around them so I will put that together in another blog post.

For now, lets crack on with why buttonholes (or boutonnieres as they are called in America) cost more than you expect.   

Modern or traditional?

Wedding buttonholes are frequently very traditional – a single flower, often a rose, with a little foliage. This style is usually a fully wired design and even if it appears that only one main flower is used the cost of the buttonhole is reflected in the time it takes to fully wire and tape every single stem and then arrange it.

Recently however there has been a trend for more alternative modern buttonholes, in effect a miniature bouquet of lots of smaller flowers, seed heads and foliage. This design is generally tied or taped together (like a bouquet) and the cost comes from the longer time it takes to arrange such fiddly designs.

Each kind of design has advantages and disadvantages. The key advantage with a traditional design is that the taping seals the end of each stem, keeping the moisture in and the flowers should last the entire day. However, this is not as fashionable now and a large rose can be too heavy for modern suits with smaller lapels, causing the fabric to pull. A modern design may be lighter and coordinate better with on trend suits. Yet, flowers can wilt quickly and it is better to ask about which flowers will last out of water and adjust the design.

Anatomy of a traditional buttonhole

To give you a better idea of how a traditional wedding buttonhole is put together let’s look at the component parts.

  • Focal flower – often a rose
  • Accent flowers – often astrantia or astilbe
  • Supporting foliage – ivy leaves, fern or soft ruscus  
  • Ribbon – to coordinate with the wedding colours

There are so many YouTube videos on how to make a wired buttonhole but I will run you through  a typical process for just the focal rose and ivy leaves. If you do watch YouTube videos on this you will see that every florist has a slightly different technique. None of these are necessarily wrong it is simply about what is needed to make the design secure and how much time is available.  

Traditional wired buttonhole with a pink rose
A traditional buttonhole – you can just see the pin holding the sepal to the rose petal

Wiring a rose

As roses are quite large flowers, they are heavy and to make sure the design doesn’t fall apart three wires are used. Firstly, the stem is cut off and a larger supporting wire pushed up into the base (calyx) of the rose (ouch!). Next two tiny wires are pushed horizontally through the calyx of the rose to cross in the middle at a 90 degree angle. The two smaller wires are then pulled down and wrapped around the larger wire to keep the flower in place. After all this, tape is wound around the calyx and the wires sealing all the cut areas.

In addition, tiny little hoops of wire may be used to keep the sepals (tiny green bits under the flower head) in place. This means each of the five sepals has to be individually pinned and I don’t think this is anyone’s favourite job! The other benefit of this is that it can stop the rose opening too much or too fast in the heat of the day, so keeping it pristine looking for longer.

Even if this description doesn’t help you visualise the process it should at least show how time-consuming the process is. After this, every other element is also wired and taped – at least these only usually need one wire, phew!

Stitching a leaf

The idea behind wiring the flowers is so that they can be arranged precisely where they need to be. Sometimes flower stems just want to go where they want, which is why the stem is cut off and a wire added. Individual leaves can be even trickier and wiring these is a delicate process. Essentially a tiny wire is used to make a stitch over the middle vein of the leaf (from the back). These wires are then bent down towards the stem and wrapped around it for security. The remaining stem is removed and again everything is taped. But the important bit is that now the leaf can be gently curved to fit perfectly underneath the rose.

The final buttonhole

After all the wiring and taping the buttonhole can finally be arranged, the wires trimmed and taped again to make sure they are no sharp edges. The tape may be covered with ribbon or string just to look prettier.

How are you all feeling about your buttonholes now? Does the cost of a buttonhole feel more justified now?

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