History of the bridal bouquet

When you think about it, carrying arrangements of plant genitalia seems rather odd and maybe a little lewd. But believe it or not, there is actually a history and purpose to the use of flowers and bouquets for weddings. It actually dates back thousands of years, in which times women wore certain combinations of aromatic herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits (think of garlic being used to ward off vampires, and sage used to clean the air of impurities). Exact customs varied from culture to culture, but the use of foliage and flora as symbols of new life and protection were common.

The predecessor of the modern bridal bouquet stems from Queen Victoria.

Quite the trendsetter was ‘ole Vicky. Not only did she begin the trend of wearing white bridal gowns, but she transformed bridal bouquets as well. A student of history will tell you about the Victorians and their fanatical obsession with rigid codes of conduct and the infusion of meaning into every little gesture. Flowers became a huge part of courtship, and meanings were assigned to colors and varieties.

For instance, Marigolds were very popular in bridal bouquets. The flowers used were usually edible: marigolds, carnations, dandelions, day lilies, English daisies, etc. It was common for bride and groom to feed one another dill flowers, as it was said to increase sexual desire. Dill was known as the flower of lust. I know, I know. Those Victorians and their paradoxical rules and rituals.

I’ve yet to see a bride eat parts of her bouquet, but the tradition of the bride and her ‘maids carrying something down the aisle persists. Here are a few ideas on how to choose the perfect bouquet for your day. *Note: these are general suggestions. As always with floral arrangements, check to see what is in season, and don’t let your florist bully you into anything you don’t want.

Matching the bouquets to the ladies

You’ve agonized over the gowns for the bride and the ‘maids. You’ve tried on every pair of gold or silver strappy sandals in season. You’ve torn pages out of magazines for ideas about your hair. You can’t forget about the bouquet. It’s another little finishing piece, like the right jewelry or makeup. It’s important.

The bouquets have to complement the looks of the ladies. So, to that end, the following are some tips for getting it right:

– Bouquet must complement the style of the gowns.
Meaning, if the bride and her friends have very feminine dresses, they need feminine florals. If they’re looking more haute couture, the florals need to be similarly designed: nix the greenery, go for a boldly designed flower like orchids or amaryllis, etc.
– Bouquet must be an accent, not the centerpiece
It’s an accessory. It has to complement and complete the look, not overwhelm the woman wearing it. A simpler gown can stand a larger or bolder bouquet. A more embellished gown needs a smaller or more subdued arrangement.
– Choose one: size, vibrancy of color, multiple varieties.
Choose one of the three elements above and make it the focus. If you want a large bouquet, don’t make it stark red or deep purple, or the result will be all eyes on the bouquet and not on you. It will draw focus in person and in photos. You want a bright red bouquet? Make it a small one. You want to showcase a bunch of varieties and filler? Keep it less vibrant; maybe opt for a bunch of similiarly colored elements in soft tones. You get the idea.


Oh yes, there is more than one shape to a floral bouquet. Here are some of the basic ones; I bet you’ve never seen the majority of them. Before your fierce judgement takes hold of you, realize that you can make any shape modern and fresh. The keys are flower choice and good communication with your florist.

Imagine the shape of a crescent moon. This is the basic shape of this kind of bouquet. The effect is flowers spilling out of your hands. The crescent can be vertical or horizontal.

The crescent shape is equally appropriate for formal and casual events. It provides drama for a formal wedding, but the asymmetrical shape can also reduce stuffiness and work well for a garden wedding. It’s all in the size and flowers used.

Round, aka Nosegay
This is the kind of bouquet you are most likely to see today. The round is extremely popular.

You can’t really go wrong with a round. Making it match the feel of your wedding is all about the flowers chosen. The photo above has a very feminine and fun feel to it.

The all-white bouquet is very traditional and demure.

Hello drama!

As the name suggests, the oval bouquet is an elongated variation of the round.

These are just a couple of the shapes available. So don’t feel like you have to have a round style. By keeping in mind the feel of the gown (and the bride’s personality), size, and colors, you can ensure your bouquet will complete, not compete.

Bridesmaids bouquets

Naturally, the flowers carried by the bridesmaids need to complement those of the bride. Bouquets can be the great unifier among the bridesmaids, in the event they are not already perfectly matched head to foot.
Matching bouquets for bride and bridesmaids ties the group together. Usually, the bride’s bouquet will be larger.

Small pink rounds really bring out the dark blue of the ‘maids’ gowns.

Alternatives to flowers

Okay, so maybe you have really bad allergies, and you can’t handle the idea of being high on Claritin for your big day. You need to replace the bouquets. Lucky for you, it’s never been more popular to pitch tradition to the wind and do your own thing!

Fans are back. And for the ever-popular summer wedding, they’re far more practical than flowers. Check out this bride and her entourage:

Just looking at this photo shows me this bride won her battle against The Generic Wedding. And she did it with flair.


Seriously. How fabulous do these ladies look?!


Muffs are perfect for a winter wedding.

There are all kinds of alternatives: think about incorporating candles, lanterns, clutch handbags…anything traditionally carried by a lady or that can add to the ambiance of the event should work.

There: a broad overview of bouquets and their alternatives, and how to make them work for you! Remember, the number one rule: make the bouquets complement you and your ladies, rather than compete.