MASSILLON – When the McClymonds occupied Five Oaks mansion, one of the daughters might have received a bouquet of flowers from a suitor.
Did it mean he liked her? Or that he wanted to be friends? Or maybe their love would never bloom?
During the Victorian era, people combined ancient legends and modern theories to develop a language built upon flowers.
“People during that time weren’t free to share their feeling or emerging love,” Jill Hutsell said. “They were reserved and had to be proper. They used flowers to convey secret messages to each other.”
Floriography was the secret language of flowers in Victorian times. Between 1827 and 1923, there were at least 98 different flower dictionaries circulated in the United States to help people decode flowers, Hutsell said.
Hutsell used the once popular past time of the Victorian era and created a floral fantasy fashion show as part of the Massillon Woman’s Club’s annual Daffodil luncheon last week.
‘Since the Victorians made flower symbolism a very popular pastime and Five Oaks is a Victorian home, I put them together.’
With the help of her friend and seamstress, Michele Alessandrini, Hutsell dreamed up botanically-inspired costumes for the show that also featured floral-themed clothes from the club’s gift shop. Hutsell was set to put on the fashion show in 2020 but it was delayed by the pandemic.
“I was really inspired by some runway models I had seen on the internet and … I contrived the idea in my head — these floral fantasy outfits,” said Hutsell, who chaired the luncheon. “Since the Victorians made flower symbolism a very popular pastime and Five Oaks is a Victorian home, I put them together.”
The flower-filled fashion show was a break from the norm, but Hutsell wanted to give attendees something new and fun while allowing them to learn something.
“Fashion is inspired by flowers — from the shapes and the colors and how we apply flowers to clothing,” she said.
The emojis of Victorian times
The fantasy outfits created for the show featured a variety of flowers, including sunflowers.
“The creations are absolutely phenomenal,” model Suzie Thomas said. “Actually they are spectacular.”
The crowd agreed. As each fashion made its way onto the runway, the crowd gasped and cheered.
Dressed in a black skirt adorned with sunflowers, model Amy Zelle pranced across the stage holding a giant replica of a sunflower and wearing yellow sunglasses and a hat.
The sunflower was worshipped by the ancient Incas and was turned into oil to be used for medicine and food.
The sunflower was suspected to bring good fortune and loyalty.
For Victorians, the flower symbolized gratitude but if this sunflower was combined with myrtle, it meant your love was fake and not worth professing.
Daffodils are strong and resilient. Victorians believed they stood for chivalry.
If you received a single bloom, it was a warning of upcoming misfortunes, but if you found the first daffodil of the season, you would be blessed with good fortune.
If someone gave you a bunch of daffodils, it ensured happiness was in your future.
What do different flowers mean?
Dressed in a black gown adorned with a bustle of teal, green and purple tulle, Julie McCann strutted as proudly across the stage as a peacock.
Hutsell explained to the crowd that the peacock was a sign of royalty and majesty, and the wealthy often brought the beautiful bird to their estates to show off.
Victorians believed the feathers showed their faith in the resurrection because the color did not fade.
The pom-pom-like hydrangea symbolism varies from culture to culture. In Japan, the hydrangea represented heartfelt emotion and gratitude for understanding.
In Europe, it conveyed arrogance and boastfulness. European men would send the bloom to a woman who rejected them, accusing them of frigidity.
Hutsell joked if you are unhitched, you might want to check your yard for a hydrangea bush. It’s said that women who grow them in their front yard never get married.
Lavender has been around for centuries. In ancient Egypt, the oil was used in the mummification process.
Later, it was believed to help cure insomnia and often was stuffed in pillows to bring on restful sleep.
But the Victorians held lavender in suspicion and didn’t trust someone who gave them the plant. Perhaps that was the case because lavender was sometimes used to mask a bad odor, Hutsell added.
Spring rain symbolized new growth
Besides the beautiful bloom-inspired couture, other costumes were inspired by spring rain and statues that adorned Victorian gardens.
Spring rainfall was a positive occurrence during the Victorian era, Hutsell said.
“The spring rain brings replenishment,” she said. Without the rain, how would plants regrow after the winter months?
It symbolized new growth.
Dressed in a green ruched gown draped in shades of green tulle, Hilary DiSimone represented the garden statue. Her hat was made of eucalyptus, which prompted protection and healing, and dogwood blooms, a symbol of purity, strength and affection.
No Victorian garden was complete without ornamental pieces, including gazing balls, birdbaths and statues, Hutsell explained.
DiSimone represented grace and elegance, she said.
Model Jeana Hutsell joined the stage dressed in a white frock with a high, wide neckline that mimicked a wrapping around a bouquet. The dress was tied with a red, silk bow. Around her head was a wreath of flowers, including red roses, sweetheart roses and daffodils.
The bouquet would have sent Victorians straight to their flower decoding dictionary to learn what each flower combined meant.
Floriography was so popular that it was regularly discussed in magazines, including “Harper’s Bazaar.”
“It really was the emojis of the Victorian era,” Julie Hutsell told the crowd. “The world is colorful because of plants and that part of nature puts a smile on our faces.”
While flowers might not take on the same meanings today, they still convey many things including love, congratulations and even sorrow.
“They can speak volumes,” Julie Hutsell said. “Take time to smell the flowers.”
Reach Amy at 330-775-1135 or [email protected]
On Twitter: @aknappINDE
This article originally appeared on The Independent: Massillon Woman’s Club models flowers in fantasy fashion show