A Sparkling Vintage Life


“After the Prom”
Norman Rockwell

Do girls still wear corsages? We’re getting into prom season, which is one of the few times a year when the flower corsage gets to make its star turn. As a child, I remember square white boxes from the florist taking up real estate in the refrigerator in anticipation of some dance or formal. The best boxes had clear tops, so that a kid sister could admire the flowers without opening the box and getting accused of snooping or spoiling.

Corsages used to make an appearance on ladies’ shoulders at Easter or Mother’s Day, but I haven’t witnessed that trend in a while.  Sometimes they’re distributed at weddings to honor the mothers and grandmothers of the happy couple. Otherwise the corsage, as a rule, seems to have gone out of fashion, except for proms, homecomings, and other formal events.

For those of you born too late to ever have been given a spray of dyed-to-match carnations festooned with ribbons and baby’s breath (poor you!), a corsage is a small bouquet of flowers meant to be worn on a dress, like jewelry. Traditionally the corsage was worn on the left shoulder (“corsage” is a French word meaning “bodice”), but might also be worn on the wrist, like a bracelet, which also kept the flowers from being crushed if your date held you close while you danced.

Here’s what Veronica Dengel says about corsages, circa 1943:

“Too often do we see a corsage, all tied up in silver or satin ribbons, pinned on upside down! Flowers grow with their blossoms looking up; and corsage blooms should be worn that way. They are lovely enough in their natural beauty without the further adornment of ferns and ribbons. Nor do flowers always have to be pinned on the left shoulder. You can find more interesting and suitable places to carry them, as in your hair or on your wrist for evening festivities. At the V of your neckline, or perhaps at the waistline is often effective. With a suit, your flowers should be more of the “field variety,” but certainly never orchids! In fact, the only orchids that are correct in the daytime are the small green, speckled variety, or a pure white one for the older woman. Purple orchids are for evening wear, Easter parades to the contrary. The young girl looks charming with a cluster of sweetheart roses instead of long-suffering gardenias, carnations, or roses that one sees at school dances. Why not be different?”

Why not be different, indeed? To wear a corsage at all in 2013 would set one apart from the crowd. But before you pin one on, take heed of this warning from Miss Dengel:

“No matter how tempted you are to wear your corsage to the office the day after a special celebration, just to ‘show the girls,’ don’t do it unless the flowers appear fresh. Withered blossoms are as sad as any other dying thing.”

Check out this site for some very cute examples, Vintage Corsage.com. You could even jazz up an everyday outfit by pinning a simple, single blossom to a suit jacket or cardigan sweater. What better way to welcome spring? You even have my permission to pin on a purple orchid in the daytime!

When was the last time you gave someone a corsage, or wore one yourself?