Wear a Boutonnière Like James Bond

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The boutonnière is a flower traditionally worn in the lapel buttonhole of a jacket. Wearing a flower in this manner got its name because “boutonnière” is actually the French word meaning “buttonhole”, and some even call the flower itself a “buttonhole”. Some mistakenly call it a “buttoneer”. For this article, it will be referred to as a “boutonnière”, a “flower” or the type of flower to not confuse it when talking about literal buttonholes.

Sean Connery wearing a red carnation in Diamonds Are Forever

The lapel buttonhole’s primary function today is to house a flower rather than fasten a button, which was its original purpose. Because this buttonhole is decorative and used for flowers more often than it is used to fasten one lapel over the other, the buttonhole is typically made straight rather than with the more functional keyhole shape.

The proper way to wear a boutonnière is with the stem through the lapel buttonhole, hence the name of the flower. Is it still a boutonnière if the flower is pinned to the front of the lapel rather than worn through the buttonhole? After all, the name of the flower means “buttonhole”. Modern usage of the word would mean that any flower worn on a jacket is a boutonnière. On many jackets the lapel has a sham buttonhole or lacks this buttonhole altogether, and the only way to wear a flower is to pin it to the lapel. Bouquets of flowers are popular to wear today, but these are garish and do not fit through the lapel’s buttonhole. Boutonnières are also pinned to the front of the lapel because many people do not know how to wear a boutonnière through the buttonhole.

Sean Connery inserting the boutonnière into his dinner jacket’s buttonhole in Goldfinger

Pinning a boutonnière is a shortcut and does not look as elegant as wearing it the proper way through a buttonhole. Pinning the boutonnière can also damage the lapel. To secure a boutonnière through the buttonhole, a loop sewn to the back of the lapel below the buttonhole holds the stem in place. As long as the jacket has a proper buttonhole in the lapel, a tailor can easily add this loop to the back of a lapel. If there is no lapel buttonhole, no boutonnière should be worn.

The lapel buttonhole and loop below the buttonhole on the back of the left lapel on my Anthony Sinclair suit, with a cut elastic band threaded through both to demonstrate where the boutonnière stem would sit.

Boutonnières are typically worn for holidays and more formal occasions, particularly for weddings and any other occasions that call for morning dress. There are few limits to when one can wear a boutonnière, and it is appropriate as long as one is wearing a jacket or coat with a buttonhole in the lapel. A boutonnière should not be pinned to a shirt or to braces (suspenders). A boutonnière is not just limited to formal dress; it can be worn in the buttonhole of a suit jacket or sports coat for a dandy look. Draco in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wears a boutonnière with his three-piece suit when he meets Bond.

Some prefer not to wear a boutonnière with a pocket square because the jacket’s lapel buttonhole and breast pocket sit very close to each other, but if the pocket square is discreet—like one in white linen—the combination still can look tasteful. M (Robert Brown) and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) both wear folded white linen handkerchiefs along with a white carnation boutonnière in their morning coats to Ascot in A View to a Kill. On neither of the outfits does the combination look crowded or disagreeable.

Q wears a folded white linen handkerchief in his breast pocket, which does not compete with his boutonnière

James Bond always wears a boutonnière with morning dress, though he is best known for wearing boutonnières with black tie. His flower preference is either a white carnation or a red carnation, and these are the most formal and traditional flowers. He only wears a single flower in the traditional manner, never a bouquet since bouquets are overwhelming when worn on a jacket. And he always wears his boutonnière through his lapel buttonhole and never pins his boutonnières to his lapels.

Red Carnation

The red carnation is the flower that James Bond is best known for wearing since it first appears with the ivory dinner jacket at the start of Goldfinger. Bond wears the red carnation with black tie because the colour looks bold in the evening and stands out against the ivory dinner jacket. A white flower would instead either blend in with or clash against an ivory jacket.

Picking a red carnation out of a bouquet for a boutonnière in Diamonds Are Forever

The red carnation returns in Diamonds Are Forever, when he picks it from a bouquet in his Whyte House hotel suite to wear with with his black dinner suit. The red contrasts elegantly with both the black dinner suit and the white shirt and picks up the burgundy in the fancy artificial silk lapel facings. The latest appearance of the red carnation is with Bond’s ivory dinner jacket in Spectre, which recalls the first time that Bond wears it in Goldfinger.

Daniel Craig wearing a red carnation in Spectre

The red carnation is also an appropriate flower to wear with a lounge suit, but Bond is not dandy enough to attempt this and saves it for black tie. This is the flower that Draco wears with his three piece suit. John Steed in The Avengers wears a red carnation with his three-piece suit in the sixth series opening titles. And Kananga wears a red carnation with black lounge in Live and Let Die for representing his country at the United Nations. A boutonnière with a lounge suit is best worn for social occasions rather than business, where it may come across as too flamboyant.

White Carnation

A white carnation for James Bond’s wedding in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

James Bond chooses the white carnation, the most formal of flowers, to wear with his formal daytime dress, such as morning dress and black lounge. This is the flower that James Bond wears with black lounge for his wedding in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He wears it again with morning dress to Royal Ascot in A View to a Kill and a third time with morning dress to his friend Felix Leiter’s wedding in Licence to Kill. All of the men that accompany Bond at these fancy events also wear white carnations in their buttonholes.

James Bond, Sir Godfrey Tibbett and M in white carnations for Royal Ascot in A View to a Kill

With all the mistakes in the morning dress at Felix’s wedding, they do a proper job of wearing the boutonnières through their morning coat buttonholes and don’t do the common mistake of pinning them. The morning coats at the wedding are most likely supposed to be hires (rentals), and hires are rarely equipped to properly handle a boutonnière.

A white carnation for Felix Leiter’s wedding in Licence to Kill

16 COMMENTS

  1. “Some prefer not to wear a boutonnière with a pocket square because the jacket’s lapel buttonhole and breast pocket sit very close to each other, but if the pocket square is discreet—like one in white linen—the combination still can look tasteful.”

    This. A zillion times this. If I had a nickel for all the times I had to correct future brides and grooms when I was at the menswear shop…

    Of course, they often used the overwrought bouquet style and pinned them to the lapel even when their jacket had a functional flower hole. Can’t win ’em all, as they say.

    • I agree with Matt. I prefer the real flower, however, some fake ones look very realistic.

      For example, Gentleman’s Gazette makes some artificial boutonnières out of silk that look amazing.

  2. In my experience, flower shops will assume that people are gonna pin a boutonnière to their lapel and wrap the stem so thick that it can’t fit through the buttonhole.

  3. Interesting take on the little loop on the back of the lapel: first I saw of it was, I think, a description of Oxxford tailoring, and it said the loop was for a very small vial which held a drop or two of water. The stem was then inserted, and this kept the flower fresh longer.

    Hercule Poirot had a more complicated thingy, which fastened to the front of his lapel, same purpose.

    • No – I would do it if I had an ecru dinner jacket. Which I may one day own. An alternative is to wear a silk pocket square in a shade from dark scarlet to burgundy which would be a great contrast to the colour of the jacket.

  4. There were some advertisements of brioni back in the day showing mean wearing flowers their lounge suits. I always thought wearing a flower with your suit makes you look like a London jeweler or an avenger.

  5. I’m curious about one little factor. A the beginning of the dining car scene in Spectre, you can see Bond affixing the red carnation to his lapel.

    If you pay attention, you will notice that every table has a bud vase with a single red carnation, except for his table, where there is an empty bud vase.

    Although this perfectly explains the presence of a fresh flower on his lapel, it raises another issue entirely.

    Is it, under any circumstances, acceptable to pluck your boutonniere from the centerpiece of the table? I think not.

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