Changes in styles of wedding flowers are a direct result of our economic, religious, and social lives. The earliest years of marriage rites and rituals carried out by brides were intended to honor gods for a good and fruitful marriage by offering wheat for fertility, white lilies to symbolize purity and perfumed flowers and sweet-smelling herbs to mask body odor. Much of this is now outdated with the advent of IVF, the invention of deodorant, the waning of Christianity, and other social changes.
Migration and an evolving religious landscape, among other things, have contributed to a society that sees fewer traditional English church weddings. Brides’ lives have changed hugely as well. Many women have been freed from the daily grind of domestic labor with modern appliances, ready meals, and child-minders. Weddings tend to be less about the bride leaving her family unit to join that of the groom and more about friends having fun in a party atmosphere. Divorce is quicker and easier, and remarriage, even multiple times, carries less stigma than it once did.
When we look at the changes to the floral arts themselves over time, we can see that the first flower arrangements were loose and open with no means of dividing or holding stems in place. This was followed by attempts to secure design with small twigs wedged inside vases, an idea brought over from Japan. Sand and moss were then used in the same way by the Victorians, but designs were still natural and flowing. Wedding boughs carried over the bride’s head, or secured to the gates of the church, were loose garlands of flowers and foliage, and there was no means of keeping the plant material fresh. Brides’ bouquets were originally just a few tied stems of flowers; later bouquets were either bound with string and built up to form a handle or wired into a moss ball, a construction method thought to have been introduced to England by French maids.
Constance Spry (1886–1960), an English florist, laid the foundation for some of the traditional floristry we see today. Although many of the flowers Con- stance used were from the garden and the wild, which grew in a natural, unwieldy manner, good advice on lines, color, proportion, and form were given and published in her many books over the years. During this period, crumpled chicken wire or pin holders ‘Kazan’s’ were used inside vases and containers to hold items in position.
When flower production started again after the lull of the war, flowers were cultivated with straighter stems, making them easier to box and send to the market. The ubiquity of the telephone now made possible an international system for sending flowers, and the need to standardize arrangements grew. Meanwhile, the development of floral foam made the precise positioning of flowers easier. Arrangements and wedding bouquets took on a rather stiff, unnatural look, but were uniform and easy for the florist to copy.
Styles of wedding bouquets and headdresses have been repeated down the centuries; it is mainly the method of construction that has changed. Modern flowers, of course, are larger hybridized versions of the original species and although lilies have fallen out of fashion for weddings at the time of writing, the one flower that has endured throughout time is the rose. The rose has been used for weddings both to decorate venues and in bouquets in every century. Wars, religion, economic and social change, and technological advances have influenced our choices of flowers, containers, the places we choose for weddings and styles of dresses. Today we are conscious of greenhouse gases and air pollution and now seek out local flower growers, not only for the economy or environmental reasons but to source those endearing English country flowers with graciously bent stems. We have turned back the time on flowers standing straight, favoring the natural curvaceous flowing stems of the past!