I am a big fan of the period drama Downton Abbey and was delighted that Edith Crawley finally found happiness with her marriage to Bertie Pelham.
As I have been researching social history and 1920s wedding flowers I was particularly interested in Edith’s bouquet and wedding attire. The overall effect was charming. However I am not convinced that the flowers were typically 1920s in style. Edith is carrying a shower bouquet and newspaper articles from the 1920s do refer to `Shower Bouquets’ of roses, lilies and carnations. However over time fashions have produced numerous variations on the traditional shower bouquet. I feel Edith is carrying a bouquet which is more typical of a late 1980s style shower bouquet, wired into a floral foam plastic holder, than a 1920s Shower Bouquet.
Cascading bouquets were originally referred to as shower bouquets in the Edwardian period and replaced the fashion of neat Victorian posies.
This style became exaggerated by 1920, with much larger bouquets, so large they almost concealed the bride. They reached their peak from 1920 – 1930’s until WWII.
1920s Shower Bouquets
In shape a wired shower bouquet is softly roundish at the top but pointy at the bottom and is designed to spill over the brides hands in a cascade. The shower bouquet also became known as the Princess in honour of the late Princess Diana and her impressive 1980s bridal bouquet.
1980s Shower Bouquet
Lady Edith’s bouquet is much neater in shape than any of the shower bouquets I have seen in original 1920s photographs. The wired shower bouquet was originally made on a moss ball. Sphagnum moss was made into a ball about the size of a golf ball and into this was poked a long hairpin-like wire. Every flower or piece of foliage was then mounted onto a suitable wire and the wires were then made into a handle. The shape was large and loose with trails of foliage. The trails were bound together with binding wire. Some florists used green silk-covered wire. Gutta tape wasn’t used. Most of the photos I have seen show 1920s shower bouquets to be big, loose round shapes with cascading foliage.
1929 wedding of Minnie Ratcliff and Leslie East
1921 wedding of Dorothy Greaves and William Shaw
These two 1920’s shower bouquets are reminiscent of my Grandma’s wired 1930’s bouquet with white carnations and Asparagus setaceus fern trails. The whole effect is much more round in shape and sparse, being less tightly packed then Edith’s bouquet.
Flowers and Foliage used in a 1920’s Bouquet
My research has shown me that the vast majority of 1920’s shower bouquets were made with either carnations or roses. The blooms were usually white or pale pink in colour and mixed blooms didn’t tend to be used in the same bouquet. I have found only one reference to red flowers and newspaper reports suggest that most bouquets were just one colour. I think it is very unlikely that a 1920’s bouquet would contain red, white and pink roses as depicted in Edith’s bouquet. Apart from the ubiquitous carnations and roses I was surprised to be able to compile quite a long list of flowers mentioned in 1920s bridal bouquets – orange blossom, lily of the valley, white heather, pink tulips, white sweet peas, chrysanthemum, white lilac, orchids, gladiola, aster, belladonna delphinium together with both longiflorum and arum lilies.
Bridal roses tended to be white or pink. From my research I was amazed at the number of references to named varieties of garden roses. When I got married I was advised that `garden roses shouldn’t be used in a bridal bouquet as they are not bred for the cut flower trade.’ I thought this was such a shame. Roses grown for bridal bouquets are now often bred on a large scale to maximise stem length and longevity, but they often lack the beautiful fragrance of garden blooms. Named varieties included Niphetos, a white `bridal rose’, pink Dorothy Perkins and Catherine Mermet.
Grantham Journal – Saturday 03 September 1927
Cornishman – Wednesday 07 September 1927
Carnations have gone out of favour largely due to the wide availability in supermarkets at competitive prices. However they were viewed completely differently in the 1920s. Malmaison Carnations date back to the 1850s. They were originally bred in France in 1857, and because of their quartered flowers looking similar to the bourbon rose, Souvenir de la Malmaison, they were named Malmaison Carnations. Malmaison Carnations (Dianthus) were richly clove scented and were prized for cutting. There were 40 cultivars in the carnation’s heyday and sadly now only five remain.
Burnley Express – Saturday 02 June 1928
In the 1920s orange blossom was used extensively. However at that time a lot of big gardens had an orangery and great care was taken in the care and cultivation of orange trees. Scented English orange blossom was therefore much more widely available.
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Friday 08 July 1927
Western Times – Friday 19 September 1924
Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser – Friday 22 July 1927
Western Morning News – Monday 10 December 1928
Gloucester Journal – Saturday 19 September 1925
Lily of the Valley
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Saturday 07 August 1926
Sheffield Independent – Thursday 20 June 1929
Western Morning News – Thursday 11 August 1927
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Friday 08 July 1927
Compact 1920s bridal bouquets were more often seen in the USA. In the UK a 1920s shower bouquet tended to be larger with masses of foliage, yet relatively few flowers. British bouquets looked more disorganised and had long trails of green foliage compared to those seen in photos from the USA. American bridal bouquets had some greenery, but were more likely to be bulked up with an abundance of trailing ribbons, bows and attached sprays of flowers.
Dundee Courier – Tuesday 05 January 1926
Fragrant, trumpet-shaped pure white flowers 6-8cm in length. Flowers in the Summer.
Not to be confused with the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) is believed to be the flower given to Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the Angel Gabriel when Mary found out she was pregnant. Paintings from the time of the Middle Ages often feature the flower in depictions of the encounter.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Tuesday 25 August 1925
This old variety is white with a gold band in the centre of the petals, with brown speckles.
Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press – Saturday 25 May 1929
In 1920s photographs I have seen several varieties of fern used as foliage including Asparagus setaceus, Asparagus asparagoides and maidenhair fern. Do check out my guide to ferns as there are a surprising number of different types. Myrtle was often used as an aromatic foliage. It has became a royal tradition to carry a sprig of myrtle in the wedding bouquet. Kate Middleton’s bouquet contained a sprig of myrtle from Queen Victoria’s garden. In fact, every royal bride since Queen Victoria has incorporated myrtle into their bouquet. Edith’s bouquet does contain maidenhair fern. However I can’t decide if myrtle has been used or whether it is Eucalyptus foliage I can see. Either way I feel the foliage should have cascaded a bit more and we should have seen some trailing feathery plumes of Asparagus foliage.
Nottingham Evening Post – Thursday 22 April 1926
1920s Over Arm Sheaf Bouquets
The other style of bouquet that was popular in the 1920s was the arm sheaf bouquet. They first became popular in the early 1900’s under the name of Bernhardt bouquets; inspired by the presentation bouquets given to the actress of the day, Sarah Bernhardt. They were long stemmed flowers and foliages carried by the bride cradled in her arm. They could be single-ended, with stems showing at one end, or double-ended with no stems showing. Most typically they were made using longiflorum lilies, but any long stemmed flowers could be used. Popular floral choices for arm bouquets were calla lilies, gladiolus, orchids, long-stemmed roses, delphiniums, and larkspur. Ribbons were sometimes woven into the design.
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Friday 08 July 1927
Some of the photos I have seen show the bride carrying a different style bouquet compared to her bridesmaids.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Saturday 11 September 1926
There were two important royal weddings in the 1920s – the marriage of King George V and Queen Mary’s daughter, Princess Mary in 1922 and that of their second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923. Elizabeth was also a bridesmaid at Princess Mary’s wedding.
Lord Louis Mountbatten married The Hon. Edwina Ashley on 18th July 1922 at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London in a glittering social event, with all the Royal Family in attendance. The wedding was the social event of the decade and attended by a vast gathering of Royalty which included King George V.
Edwina’s bouquet was a simple, elegant over-arm sheaf of orchids and her bridesmaids carried delphiniums. There is no foliage to be seen! Edwina’s bouquet is in stark contrast to the enormous fern filled bouquets I have seen in middle-class photographs.
What flowers do I think Edith would have chosen for her wedding in 1925? It was customary for the groom to provide the flowers. Constance Spry stated in 1934 `The bride’s flowers are the gift of the bridegroom – although, nowadays she often chooses them herself, and decides on the price. The old idea of the gift of flowers coming as a delightful surprise on the wedding morning unfortunately is dead. The bridesmaids flowers are also his gift.’
As Edith Crawley mixed in High Society I presume she would have been influenced by the recent Royal Weddings and the Mountbatten wedding. When Edith was jilted at the altar earlier in the 1920s she was portrayed carrying a small pretty posy of roses. Edith’s sister Lady Mary opted for a much more elegant sheaf of calla lillies when she married Matthew in 1920. Edith’s earlier bridal bouquet also seems a bit modern to me. I haven’t found any images of simple hand-tied posies in the 1920s. Mary’s bouquet is similar in style to the 1922 Mountbatten wedding.
Edith is portrayed in the costume drama as a modern 1920s woman who kept up to date with the latest trends and fashions. Mary tends to wear clothes which are elegantly cut and less girly than Edith. I personally think Edith would have included some foliage to soften her bouquet and a different style to her rival sister.
One high class florist warned that elegant, simple sheaves of lilies `connoted a dignity, an austerity even, which is a personal characteristic to begin with. Brides who have other charms but lack this, should leave Madonna lilies alone.’
I actually rather like the sound of the `golden bouquet’ described in this article for Edith as I think it would suit her colouring. I may well have a go at making my own `golden bouquet’ based on this description.
Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail – Tuesday 26 April 1927
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – Friday 12 November 1926
Lincolnshire Echo – Saturday 08 August 1925
These last two articles seem to imply that a fashionable lady such as Edith Crawley with her social status would have had a sheaf of flowers rather than a rounder shower bouquet.
This my version of an Elegant 1920s inspired overarm bouquet which in the light of my research would have been a good choice for Edith even if I do say so myself!
1920s inspired Calla Lily bouquet