The Posy or Nosegay

Carrying flowers has been a tradition for centuries. What started off as a means to ward off disease and social odors has now become a floral accessory designed for special occasions.

The posy, tussie-mussie or nosegay, as this floral ornament is called, has a very interesting beginning. Just the name alone “nosegay” translates to: appealing to the nose or nostril. This miniature hand held bouquet made its unofficial debut in Medieval Times. This period was full of hardships, when bathing was not frequent, the washing of clothes was limited, social odors were extremely unpleasant and disease began to run rampant. The Black Plague made its first appearance during this Era and scents, flowers and herbs were thought to ward off disease.

Artist: Joris Hoefnagel 1542 – 1601

Posies began to be carried in one hand, pinned onto clothing or even worn atop the head. Today, we call these variations of the posy by their own distinct names such the corsage, boutonniere or hairpin. Most of us are familiar with the childhood song “Ring a Ring o’Roses”. This interactive playful nursery rhyme is in fact quite dreary. The song represents the role of the posy bouquet in warding off The Black Plague. “A ring” describes the rosy circular shaped rash that was a common symptom of the plague. “A pocket full of posies” is exactly that, the posy bouquets society carried to ward off the disease.

Artist: Thomas Webster (1800 – 1886)

It was not until the end of The Black Plague that posies or nosegays were given away as floral gifts. During the reign of Queen Victoria, the posy bouquet began to be referred to as a tussie-mussie. Used to relay secret messages with The Language of Flowers, tussie-mussies were a popular statement of the day. They also had become a trendy accessory for women to carry about. This tradition continues in modern times, although now it is reserved for only special events.

Edward Killingworth Johnson
 (British, 1825–1896)

Today, the posy remains a dainty floral accessory. The modern posy bouquets are traditionally made using a holder of some sort, most commonly a conical metal holder although it may be simply hand-tied and adorn with ribbon. These modern versions are popular choices amongst brides for their bridesmaids or flower girls. Carried as a beautiful addition, it may also be used as a ceremony or reception accent tied to a pew or chair back.

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