The vintage corsage fashion basics: Common styles, where to wear them, how to attach your corsage.

Vintage Corsages & How To Wear Them

From the 1930’s to the 1950’s corsages were mainstays of fashion. While we reserve their floral beauty for formal occasions, women in the past wore them daily and far more inventively! Corsages are versatile accessory often overlooked by modern aficionados of vintage fashion, probably because we’ve never been taught how to wear them.

But those days are over.  I’m about to walk you through some gorgeous vintage corsage styles and ways to wear them.

A Brief History Of Corsages

The term “corsage” is French and originally referred to the fitted bodice of a dress. The reason the flowers worn to adorn formal attire are now called corsages is because women once wore these flowers pinned to the bodices of their dresses. These flowers were known as the “bouquet de corsage,” and over time this phrase was shortened to just “corsage.”

In ancient times, flowers were often to ward off evil spirits during special events. The scents of herbs and flowers were thought to keep evil at bay, especially during weddings or other momentous occasions. During the reign of the black plague people carried flowers ( A pocket full of posies ) thinking the smell would keep the disease away.

The Victorian era saw a single flower worn at the center of the neckline ( drawing attention to those assets ladies ) or a huge cascade worn on the shoulder. By the 1930’s people were less afraid of evil spirits, and more interested in the fashion aspect of corsages.  Styles and positioning became more creative and it’s the 1930’s to 1950’s era that I’ll be focusing on today!

 

Norman Parkinson for Vogue 1946. Woman in striking purple dress with large floral corsage on the shoulder

Basic Corsage Styles

Looking through photos of vintage fashion, you’ll notice three corsage shapes that pop up again and again. I haven’t been able to find any ‘official’ terminology for these, so this is how I refer to them. Obviously there are exceptions, but these are the basic styles.

The Posy: Designed after a bouquet of flowers, the posy corsage generally looks like a bunch of flowers with the stems still attached.

The Cascade: My personal favourite, the cascade corsage looks like a vine or tumbling row of flowers. This corsage usually features larger flowers at the top and smaller flowers or buds at the bottom.

The Buttonhole: The buttonhole is a floral arrangement that sits flat and has no stems. Usually smaller than other styles, the buttonhole could be a single large flower, or an evenly shaped group of smaller flowers which are often backed by leaves or a bow.

Corsages could be made of fresh or artificial flowers and greenery embellished with ribbons, small ornaments, beads or glitter. War years saw a surge in fabric and felt corsages which could be made at home from small fabric scraps, with magazines publishing corsage tutorials and patterns.

The war bride below is wearing a cascade of pink roses and leaves , while the lady in the left is pinning a posy to her friend’s dress. You can just see the stems underneath the ribbon bow.

 

A war bride wear a blue suit and hat with a pink rose corsage. A girl pins a corsage for her friends in the 1930s

 

Posy style corsages were immensely fashionable in the 1950’s and early 1950’s.  From left to right below you’ll see a large round posy on a 1940’s summer outfit, a long posy placed diagonally on a 1950’s suit and a cascade worn on a 1930’s ensemble.

 

Photos of women wearing corsages in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's

 

Where to Wear Corsages

The short answer? Wherever you want.

The long answer is that corsage placement changes with the era.

Early corsages were worn on the low shoulder and the center of the bodice. The thirties and forties saw corsages climb to the high shoulder, often pinned to a jacket’s shoulder pad or gown strap. Ankle and wrist corsages made an appearance in the thirties. The forties were a bold time for fashion with corsages worn everywhere from the hat to the shoulder, glove top and waist to the ankle.

The photos below show Rita Hayworth and a Vogue magazine cover showcasing waist corsages in the 1940’s, while the middle image features a striking glove top corsage photographed for Vogue. And that flirty flapper? That’s Anita Page accessorising her beaded dress with an ankle corsage.

 

In the 1930's and 1940's corsages were worn in the shoulder, waist or arm, as seen in these images including Rita Hayworth and Lisa Fonsagrives

 

You’ll see that corsages were mostly asymmetric and worn on one side of the body. Symmetric dress clip style corsages did exist, as the photo below demonstrates, but don’t seem to have been as popular. Matching accessories were fashionable, so go ahead and wear matching corsages and hairpieces.

* Can I draw your attention to the plunging low neckline in the 1930’s portrait on the right!? How stunning is that!*

 

1930s and 1940s fashion ladies wearing floral corsages

Vintage Marie Claire cover of a model wearing a white dress with a large brightly coloured floral embellishment

How To Attach A Corsage

Okay so you’re sold on wearing corsages, but how to you actually wear them?

Vintage corsages don’t always have a pin or brooch back attached. Using pins, women would just pin them on wherever they wanted, so you could attach the corsage to your clothing, hat, hair or a wrist or ankle ribbon without a back fixture getting in the way.

I attach a brooch backing to all the handmade corsages in my Etsy boutique for your convenience, but I do recommend tacking them with a few pins as well. The extra pins help distribute the weight of the corsage and allow you to position it exactly how you’d like it! You can get extra long, thicker pins just for corsages, but I find they can leave bigger holes in my clothes than I’m comfortable with.

 

1940's photo of woman in navy blue suit, hat and large orchid corsage Beautiful colorized photograph of young fair haired lady with rose in her hair.

Marlene Dietrich wearing a tuxedo with a white corsage, and a headpiece consisting of two large roses.

Glamour goddess Marlene Dietrich rocked a large buttonhole corsage with her signature tuxedo, and could be seen wearing large corsages and hairpieces on a regular basis.

Now you’ve seen how fantastic corsages can look, go experiment! Be bold! Explore the different styles, textures and colours artificial flowers and materials can offer. Whether you’re a vintage purist or a modern pinup babe there is a corsage that’s perfect for you. I prefer wearing vintage inspired corsages with my dresses from the 40’s and 50’s. You can find my designs in my Etsy boutique and I love making custom orders if you’re after something extra special.

With Style & Sass,

Velvet DeCollete

3 comments

Emily Kitsch

Gorgeous! I loved reading about corsages and their history, what a fascinating – and beautiful – topic!

velvetdecollete

Aren’t they fantastic!? Such an underutilized accessory these days.

Emily Kitsch

They really are and that is so true! I can’t remember the last time I saw a corsage.

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