‘In the Orchard, where the sun
goes, in some seasons, to colour the fruit,
we sit back to back and imagine the wreaths
we will make for our hair when the flowers
once again unfold their scented hands
to caress the air’
– M.T.C. Cronin
Wearing a circlet, wreath or diadem has proved to be the most enduring of all bridal traditions. Steeped in myth, the meaning behind each headpiece is often as captivating as the decoration itself. Today’s ‘something old’ will explore the history behind one of our favourite styles of antique headwear: wax flower crowns, carefully crafted to resemble orange flower blossoms.
Wax flower crowns gained popularity during the second half of the nineteenth century, following Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert on February 10th, 1840, at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. In a romantic gesture, Queen Victoria declared that she would make her marriage vows to Albert as his future wife, rather than as the monarch.
‘…A rich white satin gown trimmed with orange-flower blossoms… Her Majesty wore no diamonds on her head, nothing but a simple wreath of orange blossom’ – The Times, 1840
To mark her devotion to Albert, Victoria chose a simple white, satin gown and a wreath of orange blossom attached to her Honiton lace veil – a significant departure from the crimson velvet robe of state or the gold and silver embroidered gowns and bejewelled tiaras worn by royal brides before her. In doing so, Victoria changed the norms of bridal fashion and sealed the place of two traditions in history.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their wedding day
Following Victoria’s wedding to Albert, millions of brides followed the queen’s example both in dress and headwear, favouring white gowns over the colourful wedding dresses which typically preceded them, and halos of orange blossom in one form or another. In fact, with hugely influential etiquette manuals of the nineteenth century depicting orange blossom crowns practically as a requirement, the headpieces became so ubiquitous that the phrase ‘to gather orange blossom’ took on the meaning of ‘to seek a wife.’
Victoria’s choice of orange blossom would have had particular poignancy for Albert, since one of the first pieces of jewellery he gave to his betrothed was a gold and porcelain brooch in the form of a sprig of the flowers.
Wax flower crown circa 1910, sold by French Art Antiques
Following the royal wedding, the prince continued to surprise his wife with jewellery inspired by orange blossom. When Albert died, in 1861, so precious were these gifts that Victoria insisted they be kept in the ‘Albert Room’ in Windsor castle after her death, not be passed on in the family.
‘My beloved one gave me such an unexpected present, a wreath. It is entirely his own design and beautifully carried out. The leaves are of frosted gold, the orange blossoms of white porcelain and four little green enamel oranges are meant to represent our four children.’ – Queen Victoria’s Journal
However, while Victoria and Albert’s wedding planted a notion which soon became custom amongst brides in the nineteenth and twentieth century, the sweet smelling blossom had already long been associated with a prosperous marriage.
According to Roman mythology, Jupiter, the king of the gods, gave Juno, the goddess of love and marriage, an orange on their wedding day. Since orange trees bear ripe fruit and flower at the same time, the blossom was believed to be an emblem of fertility and the promise of motherhood. By the Victorian era, the snowy white flowers were thought to symbolise innocence and purity and the tree’s evergreen leaves to represent everlasting love.
Sully’ top + ‘Lincoln’ skirt, both by Laure de Sagazan & wax flower crown
For many brides in Northern climes, and for those without the luxury of an orangery, fresh orange blossom was an extravagance they simply could not afford. Seeking a more affordable option, brides turned to wax replicas of the blossom instead, with the tradition for wax flower crowns continuing well into the middle of the twentieth century.
Delicate and intricate, the process of creating a wax flower crown was threefold. First petals and buds were crafted using paper to resemble orange blossom, next the paper flowers were dipped in wax to create a pearlescent sheen and, finally, they were attached to a metal wire wrapped in ribbon or paper to form a circlet or tiara.
Early 1900s wax flower crown, sold by Vivian Elise Vintage
Recently wax flower crowns have been enjoying something of a renaissance; the perfect ‘something old’ for the boho bride seeking to adorn themselves with the beauty and meaning behind the highly treasured pieces.
While the fragile nature of the wax means that relatively few Victorian wax flower headpieces have survived, examples from the early twentieth century are both more plentiful and wearable in their unmodified form.
Happily, the increasing popularity of wax flower crowns has also led to a revival of a craft which had all but died out by the 1960s. A handful of talented crafts men and women are creating bespoke pieces using antique wax flowers, with some artisans crafting entirely new wax flower crowns from scratch.
A new wax flower crown, handcrafted by Which Goose
Many Mews brides have chosen to complete their look with the timeless elegance of a wax flower crowns. At once a crowning glory and a simple adornment, there is so much charm to be found in the faded beauty of wax flower circlets; an heirloom which can be treasured forever.
Mews bride Camilla, wearing the ‘Margot’ gown by Stephanie Allin + ‘Attar’ top by Laure de Sagazan; photo by Andy Green at Harrera Images
To try on our beautiful gowns please do drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Annora Sutton