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Are Lapel Pins For You?

I have a confession…

I’m addicted…

Addicted to lapel pins!

Even though I’m highly selective, my collection is growing.

(I’ll tell you what my most prized pin is at the end of this article…)

Pins can add a fun accent to even the most conservative suit jacket or blazer.

They also boost your most non-traditional looks.

Lapel pins come in a great variety of designs, themes and materials.

They can signal you are part of a club, organization, business. They can display your support for a cause or your patriotism.  

Together we will look at a few of these choices, from the formal to the funky. We’ll also find out how to secure and display lapel pins, and help you decide which pins suit your personality.

First: A Clarification

Boutonnieres and buttonholes...what’s the difference? The French word boutonniere means buttonhole in English. While the French and Brits use the word to refer to a buttonhole, in the U.S. we use it when referring to the actual floral lapel decoration. And we use “buttonhole” to mean, well, buttonhole.

Where to Stick it?

Have you noticed how the actual buttonhole on your left lapel doesn’t really connect to a button on the right side? Fashion lore suggests the hole was once used to secure a button attached to a thread attached to a hat. This would prevent the hat from flying away with the wind. Hmmmm…sounds plausible if a bit uncomfortable.

Another idea is that when the hole first appeared it did connect to a button on the other lapel to help shield the wearer from the cold. Hmmmm…maybe…wouldn’t a scarf be a better solution?

In any case, the buttonhole has been the home for boutonnieres and pins for many years. And it will be for many years to come.

First Things First

Check to make sure your buttonhole is actually open. If its not, you can either open it yourself using small scissors, or take it to a tailor for a professional touch. The latter option is the better since the tailor will not only open the hole, they will also finish off the threads. An unkempt buttonhole is not a good look.

Always wear your pin on the left buttonhole, above your heart. The pin should be applied by following the angle of the buttonhole, and not be stuck straight up in the middle.

Now, let's get pinned!

There are thousands of pins out in the world. Let’s look at some of the more popular choices to get you started:

Floral Essence

flower-boutonniere

Flower lapel decoration can be traced back to the Aztecs, Egyptians, the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Sadly, all of those men used flowers during military campaigns, but the practice gave rise to one of the most enduring and masculine accessories.

Since boutonnieres are made with real, living flowers, extra care must be taken to safeguard the bud and make sure it doesn’t die while you are wearing it. You don’t want drooping, dropping petals do you?

Usually reserved for life’s special occasions (weddings and proms come to mind), boutonnieres can be worn any time. Actually, boasting one for no reason at all just might be the best reason to do it.

Natural Stem

Since boutonnieres are made from natural flowers, it follows that their natural stem will be used to secure it in your buttonhole, or directly onto the lapel.

Ideally the stem will be wrapped in some type of colored tape or a cloth covering for a finished look. Then a stick pin can be stuck through the stem and secured to your jacket. There are a couple schools of thought here:

1. The stem shouldn’t appear at all. Therefore, it should sit “flatly” on the inside of the lapel. This is accomplished either by sliding it into a loop underneath the buttonhole (on the underside of the lapel), or taping it to the underside of the lapel.

2. The stem is part of the overall design and should be displayed. If you choose this route, secure it with a stickpin by “threading” a stick pin through the stem and your jacket’s fabric. You could also ask the florist to adhere a safety pin to the stem wrapping.

Accomplish both looks by sticking the stem into a tussy mussy. A what? A small (usually 2”) bud vase that is secured to your jacket with either a thin chain and hook or a safety pin. In this case, the stem doesn’t need to be covered with anything as it will fit snugly into the vase.

This handsome accessory was perhaps made most famous by the always elegant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, as portrayed by David Suchet (for the British network ITV). 

NOTE: A tussy mussy can also refer to the actual bouquet of small flowers.



A less formal, but still striking, alternative to a live flower is a flower pin. Made from different materials such as silk, linen, cotton, satin and enamel, the flower pin is a standard for most well-dressed men.

The flower design shouldn’t be gaudy or over-the-top (unless that’s what you’re going for). The size should be appropriate for your lapel proportions, and the color should complement your overall outfit.

Generally the flower will be attached to a stickpin (see below for description). The pin can either be displayed on the front of the lapel, or hidden at the back. The choice is completely yours.

Be Whimsical

Pins don’t have to be one dimensional. Actually, reliefs such as cameos are great foundation pieces.

3D metal sculptures of animal heads are very cool.

You can even find tiny stuffed animals! Let yourself play and have fun.

Pop Up

Celebrate your love for a singer, a band, a comic book, a TV series, a movie, an actor, a character by choosing from among the thousands of designs out there. Pretty much everything pop has been made into a pin.

Some will be round or square badges, while others will be cut-outs. Go crazy! 

Sporting Fun

Just like pop culture, wearing a pin celebrating your favorite team is a great way to tell the world who you’re cheering for.

Get Activated

Passionate about a social cause or politician? Display your affiliation by wearing a badge or pin to raise awareness and start conversations.

Now that you know what the fronts can look like, it’s on to the backs:

On Pins and Needles

backing-lapel-pins

Not all clasps are the same. Here’s a handy overview of what you can expect:

Stick Pins

Stick pins are exactly as the name implies: a long, thin needle (the stick) capped with some type of adornment, and secured with a stud.

Safety Pin / Safety Clutch

For lapel accessories, the pin is either part of the design or attached to the back after the design is cut. The needle is stuck through the fabric and inserted into a hook or a clasp.

Screw and Nut

The threaded prong is stuck through the fabric or the buttonhole, and secured in place by a nut on the back-end.

Magnetic Clasp

One magnet is attached to the pin, and the other is used as a stud to secure it to the lapel.

Butterfly Catch

Similar to the Screw and Nut, the needle is pushed through the fabric or the buttonhole, and secured by a butterfly clutch.

NOTE: Pins might cause a tiny hole in certain fabrics. Always test them out in a discreet place before wearing.

My Favorite

My favorite pin isn’t an ode to a band or TV show. It isn’t an allegiance to a social issue or a politician. Neither is it a tribute to a sports team.

No, this pin was fashioned at the turn of the 20th century during the Belle Epoque in Paris. It is a sterling example of Art Nouveau craftsmanship.

My favorite pin is...

antique-dragonfly-pin
...an antique dragonfly brooch made with mother of pearl, silver and diamonds.

I have worn this timeless piece to formal events, a casual day out, part of a Halloween costume, and just because. It never fails to get attention and was almost stolen right off of my lapel once!

If I had to choose only one pin, the dragonfly wins.

The Wrap Up

If you are new to the world of pins, start with something traditional like a flower pin in a neutral color. If you want to push your boundaries, branch out to something a bit more bold. In any case, trust your instincts and have fun.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

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1 comment

  • I am a long term collector of stick pins and unusual cuff links. Before I retired from teaching high school special education, I found that wearing a unique stick pin (a butterfly, small lizard, lion holding a diamond in his teeth, gold coin, Aztec figure, etc.) encouraged questions from otherwise shy students. Each odd pin or unique cuff link gave rise to a story and a chance to get to know my students. My collection continues to grow; questions still arise and have led to many chances to get to know many intrigued strangers.

    THOM NEWTON,

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