The bridal bouquet is a collection of flowers held by the bride as she walks down the aisle. It's meant to be a complementary addition to the overall theme of the wedding and the style of her dress.
But why do brides carry flowers? More than just something to keep a bride's hands busy when she walks down the aisle, the bridal bouquet ties all of a wedding's design and decor together. It’s an accessory, a focal point, and one of the first peeks guests get into a celebration. So if you're a bride-to-be, deciding what you’ll carry as you make your way to the altar is actually pretty important.
Meet the Expert
- Maxine Owens is a florist based in Texas and the founder of Max Owens Design.
The variety of flowers will differ as will the size of the bouquet. There are some instances in which the couple foregoes the tradition altogether. Wherever you land on the matter, there are often questions that arise, like, well, do I have to carry one? What should I do with the flowers after the wedding? And where did the tradition originate?
Ahead we talk to wedding florist Maxine Owens to learn why brides carry flowers and the history behind the bridal bouquet tradition.
The History and Meaning of the Bridal Bouquet
"The practice of brides carrying bouquets dates to antiquity," Owens tells us. "Ancient Greeks and Romans, even Egyptians, carried fragrant herbs and spices to ward off bad luck during weddings." Though the floral garlands worn by both the bride and groom and small posies of old paled in comparison to the grand bouquets we've come to know, the flowers symbolized a new beginning and brought hopes of fertility, happiness, and fidelity. Additions such as dill (considered to be an aphrodisiac), rosemary to represent loyalty, wheat for fertility, ivy for an unbreakable bond, and thistle, thyme, heather, or basil for protection were common.
Another big reason brides originally started carrying bouquets centuries ago was because of the perfume of the flowers, which masked their body odor (you know, back when bathing wasn't such a frequent occurrence) or the surrounding smell of death during the plague. If bodily odors weren't a factor, pungent additions like garlic and spices were added to the arrangements to ward off evil spirits and keep away any bad luck (or curses) that may bid the newlyweds harm.
This was also the beginning of the bouquet toss tradition. Touching the bride or, better yet, running off with a piece of her wedding dress was considered to bring good luck and an impending proposal of one's own. The bouquet toss was invented as an escape strategy, both distracting and satisfying the frenzied mobs of young ladies so the bride could leave without being harmed.
The Elizabethan era is when bouquets began taking on their more decorative purpose. Small bouquets became a bridal must-have and posies were even created to give as favors to guests. Fashionable brides began wearing complementary flowers nestled in their elaborate hairstyles for additional flair. Prior to this, brides would wear their hair flowing and sometimes accent with a small floral circlet (the humble predecessor of modern flower crowns).
"It wasn’t until the Victorian age that we see the birth of the wedding bouquet as we know it today," Owens says. "While flower symbolism was hugely popular then, and brides were able to communicate their romantic sentiments through their specific floral choices, that practice has faded a bit, with modern couples choosing their flowers based more on beauty and color."
Since today’s brides aren’t so concerned with hiding an unpleasant smell or keeping evil spirits and frenzied mobs at bay, the bouquet’s main purpose these days is to be a beautiful accessory and amplify the rest of the wedding decor. However, the symbolism and meaning of certain flowers still exist—perhaps not to the botanist extent of the Victorians—and guide some bouquet choices to this day.
Bridal Bouquet FAQs
What kinds of flowers should I use?
This part can be overwhelming, but a lot of the time, the kinds of flowers you choose comes down to three things: personal preference, the color theme of your wedding, and the time of year it's taking place.
What style bouquet should I have?
"There are no 'wrong' bouquet styles," Owens says. "Whether it’s traditional, loose and organic, minimal, or even non-floral, our advice is to choose what feels comfortable and what reflects a couple." When it comes to the size of the bouquet, she adds that it should be proportionate to the bride, "to make sure she isn’t swallowed by one too large or the impact is not there with something too small."
Should it complement my wedding dress?
Owens says the final design of the bouquet has a lot to do with the design of the gown. "A sleek, clean-lined gown perhaps calls for a more minimal bouquet, so as not to overpower the dress," she says. "Likewise, a larger ball gown might be able to handle a larger, more elaborate bouquet."
No matter what the style of the bouquet is, one thing to keep in mind is balance in size, color, and types of flowers used.
How much does a bridal bouquet typically cost?
It typically ranges anywhere from $150 to $350, but that doesn't include flowers for everyone else in the wedding party. You can learn more about those additional floral costs here.
Who else in the party needs flowers?
If you’re opting to outfit everyone with flowers, it's typical to have bouquets for your bridesmaids; a basket of petals, nosegay, or flower crown for your flower girl; wrist corsages, nosegays, or floral clutch clips for female family members (like mothers, grandmothers, and sisters); and boutonnieres for the groom, groomsmen, ring bearers, ushers, and male family members (like fathers, grandfathers, and brothers).
How do I differentiate between bouquets?
Most commonly, brides opt to have their ‘maids carry a slightly smaller version of their own bouquet, sometimes designating a certain flower to appear in the bridal bouquet only. You could also choose a variety of blooms for your own bouquet and then have each bridesmaid carry a single bloom or a few stems of a single variety. Another great option is to play with color, either adding an additional tone to your bouquet or having one be quite bright while the other is more muted.
Do I have to toss my bouquet?
No. After putting all that work into designing the perfect photo-worthy bouquet, the thought of throwing it over your head can be totally heartbreaking. Also, many female wedding guests have expressed intense aversion to the entire practice of the bouquet toss, so you may want to save them the ordeal. If you do decide to do a bouquet toss, either ask your florist to create a smaller (and less expensive) nosegay for you to throw, or grab one of the bridesmaid's bouquets. The smaller style will be much easier to throw and less dangerous for those trying to catch it.
What should I do with it after the wedding?
If you’re attached to your bouquet, look into options for having it preserved. You can press a few of the blooms in a book, dry the flowers and place them in a shadow box, or have a professional preserve it for you. Otherwise, stick the stems in a vase, and pop by your local florist for flower food to add every few days to keep the flowers alive as long as possible. Then relish in the pictures from your photographer.
Bridal Bouquet Alternatives
"Not every bride chooses a traditional round bouquet, and that’s okay because there are lots of other equally elegant options," Owens says. "Asymmetric shapes, smaller bouquets resembling posies, cascading designs, are all beautiful and appropriate. The elements used can go far beyond basic roses and peonies. Tropicals, dried floral elements, and interesting color combinations create unique bouquet statements."
If you want to buck tradition even further, you can opt to hold a single bloom, make your way down the aisle with your pooch on a leash, or leave your hands empty so you can grab your parents for that important walk. Owens adds, "Lanterns, floral wreaths, paper flowers, wearable live floral pieces, like statement necklaces and dramatic headpieces, could be fun options for the bride hoping to skip the traditional bouquet altogether."