Putting On a Boutonniere: Easy Guide for Perfect Placement

Many of us will only encounter a boutonniere a few times in our lives—typically, for formal dances, like proms and weddings. Because they’re not part of even the most stylish gent’s daily life—it’s not like you will throw a boutonniere onto your business casual outfit—they’re often underestimated. 

It’s enough to just pin it somewhere and hope for the best, right? Not quite! There’s a lot to be said for learning how to wear one correctly, ensuring you can always be the most stylish soul in the room. Luckily, you have the expert minds at Oliver Wicks to help you. Today, we’ll break down all-things-boutonniere, so you’ll always feel confident wearing one.

What is a Boutonniere?

Let’s start with the basics—what even is a boutonniere? At its simplest, it’s a floral decoration worn at lapel level on a formal suit. The word is derived from the French term for buttonhole. At one point in history, the boutonniere was a default for men’s wear in any formal situation. 

If you’ve ever pictured yourself as the Mr Darcy to some aspiring Elizabeth Bennet, you would have donned a boutonniere as a matter of course at every ball and large social meeting. However, as menswear trends turned towards a sleeker and simpler look, the boutonniere, and lapel decorations in general, fell out of favor. Today, you’ll usually only see them at weddings and some formal dances, like proms and particularly fancy sweet sixteens. 

Many men, especially if they’re not used to dressing for style, feel gauche and awkward with a tiny bouquet stuck to them—especially when wearing a tuxedo instead of a standard suit. However, it’s a little piece of social etiquette with a fascinating history and an excellent way to enhance your special lady’s formal ensemble too. They have become associated with the “Southern gentleman of leisure” look today, and every man with true style aspirations should know how to wear one well. Luckily, Oliver Wicks is here to help!

Boutonnière Étiquette

Grey Suit with Pink Flower Boutonniere

No one really knows where the core idea of the boutonniere came from. Some claim its origins were the English Civil Wars, where participants pinned an in-bloom flower to their clothes to identify which side they were fighting on. Others give it a much more romantic history, tying them to the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. You’ll find as many explanations for its origin as you will find styles of boutonniere, so there’s no one true answer.

However, as with anything with a rich, if ambiguous, social history, there is a wealth of boutonniere dos and don'ts that the smart gent needs to know, so let’s break down some boutonniere etiquette.

How to Pin a Boutonniere

Boutonnieres belong on the left lapel of your suit. They stand parallel to the outer edge seam and lie in the middle of the two seams for balance. When boutonnieres were more commonly seen, a special buttonhole would be built into the suit at this precise location. While many modern suits don’t have this little detail, you may still see it in some high-end menswear (yep, including Oliver Wicks, where a boutonniere is often the default option!). By having a built-in access point, you can avoid scuffing the lay of your suit fabric with a blunt pin or the end of the arrangement.

When pinning your boutonniere, you need to consider the weight of the arrangement. If it’s a single flower, it is easiest to pin along the stem at its thickest point. This ensures stability and keeps it perkily upright. The pin itself should enter from the back of the lapel and face away from your chest and down so there are no accidental pricks. If there’s an arrangement, you’ll want to pin it securely so it doesn’t droop, shift, or flop.

Keeping a Boutonniere Secure

With modern boutonniere trends for weddings particularly leaning toward a more elaborate arrangement, you may find you need several pins to help maintain stability. Remember, you will be moving around, and there’s little sadder than a floppy boutonniere that’s barely clinging on for life. 

You can also experiment with angling the pin, either vertically with the boutonniere or diagonally across the strong point of the stem. For looks and comfort, ensure it always pins away from your chest and towards the floor, and keep the pins in the same direction.

Ideally, the ends should be hidden. This stops you from accidentally pricking your partner and looks neater overall. Without a lapel buttonhole, this can be tricky. Today, most arrangements will be constructed to mask the stem tips. But do make sure that your pins finish at the back of the lapel rather than visibly at the front.

When is a Boutonniere Appropriate?

Today, a full and elaborate floral boutonniere is typically reserved for weddings, although you may wear a smaller one to match your partner at a formal dance. However, it can also make a sweet and romantic gesture for other special occasions with your partner. If you like the idea of a little adornment on your lapel, lapel pins offer a similar aesthetic without being over-the-top for other events.

Casual fashion has no limitations though - If you want to wear a boutonniere as “your thing” in your downtime, go for it! It’s certainly quirky, it’s a little bizarre, and it’s highly unusual… but casual wear is the open category to have fun with your look!

How to Put On a Boutonniere

Navy Suit with White Floral Boutonniere

Now you know a little more about this traditional adornment for men’s formalwear, let’s get to the nitty-gritty—how do you put one on like a superstar?

With a Buttonhole

If you are lucky enough to be using a suit with a lapel buttonhole, attaching your boutonniere couldn’t be simpler. 

  • Gently thread the stem or attachment point of the boutonniere through the lapel, being careful not to snag the fabric. 

For most arrangements, that should be all you need to secure it fully. 

  • HOWEVER: If it’s a particularly heavy arrangement or top-heavy and pulling your lapel forward, you can consider bracing the base of the stem with a discrete pin. 
  • Many suits with a buttonhole at the lapel have a small latch or loop lower down on the back of the lapel for this exact purpose, and then you can proceed pin-free.

Curious as to how lapel buttonhole tailoring works? You can learn more in this interesting video

If you are purchasing a custom-made suit from Oliver Wicks for your wedding, consider asking our expert tailors to include a boutonniere hole at the lapel for your convenience (you can also check for this option yourself from the “More Options” button when choosing your customizations). We work with only the very best European and Italian fabrics, so building this discreet little detail into your suit can be a smart move to avoid any potential damage to the lapel. It will also allow you to experiment with adding some personal flair through lapel pins if the idea attracts you.

“Will I still be able to wear the suit for normal wear?” - Yes, absolutely! When not in use, a boutonniere alone is a nice detail in its own right. The opening is barely an inch across, so opening up your navy suit’s boutonniere for a wedding will in no way affect your ability to wear the suit in a business meeting the following week. 

Pinning Without a Buttonhole

If your suit doesn’t have this convenient feature built in, don’t worry—you can still wear a boutonniere quickly. The only tricky bit will be locating the correct spot on the lapel to place it. 

  • Ideally, the arrangement should be just above your heart on the left lapel. 
  • Let the seams in this area guide you, and arrange the stem or length parallel to the lapel edge.
  • Use sharp and high-quality pins, and work slowly and carefully to avoid snagging the fabric or pulling a strand. 

Need to see it? Try this helpful video

While you can pin both vertically and diagonally, we recommend a diagonal pin for extra stability on everything but a simple flower. Work the pin through from the back of the lapel so there will be as little of the metal showing as possible. This will help you stay neat and elegant. Depending on the boutonniere, it may need two pins to fully secure. In this case, keep the pin angle consistent throughout the length.

Using a Boutonniere on a Dress Shirt

Typically, you will always wear a full suit at a function requiring a boutonniere. A suit and the sort of formal function at which a boutonniere is required go hand-in-hand. You’ll also want to wear a proper dress shirt with French cuffs and cufflinks. However, wedding trends do evolve, and some less-formal weddings (think summer, beach, and destination weddings) may ask you to wear one but forgo the suit. Luckily, you can still attach a boutonniere to a dress shirt!

Do remember, however, that unlike your suit lapel, which is carefully constructed with a stiff and supportive inner layer, your dress shirt is a single layer of fabric. If it is made from silk or high-grade cotton, it is a lot more fragile than a suit lapel, and you will need to work very carefully and with the utmost care and attention to both the fabric and your skin! Additionally, it will be a lot more prone to shifting and pulling forward, so you may need to experiment with placement a little.

  • As with a suit, you should position the boutonniere above your heart—imagine where lapels would fall on a suit jacket. 
  • If the dress shirt has a pocket, you can pin it to the top of the pocket seam, which will also be reinforced. 
  • If possible, try to work the pin from the back once again for added neatness. 
    • However, this cannot be done with open-ended pins as you will scratch yourself with the end if it lies beneath the shirt. In this case, plan for the pin to be visible, and opt for a high-end and attractive pin rather than whatever you can scratch out of a sewing kit. Something with a decorative head is good. 
  • Unlike on the lapel, you will position the boutonniere directly upright.

Confused as to the technique? Try this video, and these extra points should help too:

  • Lightly pinch the fabric at the right point. 
  • You want to make a “pocket” to enclose the stem but, ideally, do not want the final effect to be puckered unattractively. 
  • You will work the pin through the fabric, over the stem (so the pin length and backing fabric create that secure “pocket”), and back into and out of your shirt fabric to secure it. 
  • Don’t be afraid to tweak the way the shirt falls once the boutonniere is in place.

Unlike lapel and buttonhole boutonnieres, it’s going to be easier to have another person help you when using a boutonniere with a dress shirt.

If you do prick yourself with the pin (it happens, especially when we’re a bit nervous and shaky!), just be careful to keep your hand well away from your outfit, and other people’s! Blood stains may pass for Halloween… but it’s not ideal otherwise!

The Boutonniere and Fit

Whichever way you will be attaching your boutonniere, remember, it’s only a tiny part of your overall look (but it’s a major focal point!). While this may seem silly at first, it can be a smart move to practice wearing yours before the big event. To maintain an air of elegance and sophistication, you don’t want to be second-guessing or side-eying this unusual weight at your lapel throughout the entire evening. Ideally, you’ll want to set it and forget it, as the saying goes—especially if you are the groom or a notable person at the function. So, it pays to get comfortable with what you’re wearing. Think of it as an extension of the famous Oliver Wicks motto—the fit that suits you! 

Don’t forget to pay attention to your overall look, especially if this is a brand-new shirt or suit you will be breaking in at the event. When you have a well-tailored and great-fitting suit, you won’t feel stuffy and uncomfortable and can instead focus on socializing, networking, romancing your partner, or simply enjoying the ambiance of the event with confidence and grace. If you’re not sure how to evaluate the fit of your suit or shirt for comfort and practicality, Oliver Wicks is proud to offer a simple video series to help. To get access to this, a wealth of other style tips and tricks, and our helpful newsletter, you can simply create an account on the website—no purchase necessary.

Now you should feel fully confident strutting your stuff with a boutonniere. Attention to small details like this can help you feel as great as you look, no matter the event. So, attaching a boutonniere is a skill worth learning—and remember, our expert tailors at Oliver Wicks are always happy to help. Contact us at custom@oliverwicks.com, and don’t be afraid to reach out as needed—we love to hear from you!