The Time: January, 1936.
The Plot: Errol Flynn has just become the prototypical overnight sensation as a result of his performance in Captain Blood. The burgeoning star has a dinner meeting with a gaggle of senior executives from Warner Brothers to discuss a possible new deal with the studio. Warner Brothers has the upper hand … Flynn still owes them two more movies under his existing contract with the studio’s low-budget subsidiary, Cosmopolitan Pictures, and they want Flynn to work cheap for at least one more flick. Flynn really has no bargaining power at all, so it’s the kind of meeting where a guy wants to be on his best behaviour.
Halfway through the meal the wife of Hal Wallis, second-in-command at Warner, arrives fashionably late. All of the men politely stand as she arrives at the table – except for one. One of the studio creeps eschews the standard etiquette and Flynn calls him out on it. The movie mogul is less than contrite about the incident, mumbles a half-hearted apology … and Errol Flynn, best behaviour be damned, hauls off and punches him in the face.
The moral? Real men take manners seriously.
Also, Errol Flynn was wearing a boutonniere.
From the last decade of the 19th century and well into the depression years, a boutonniere was the way for a well-dressed man to show a bit of flash and a shitload of confidence. It was part class, part “what the hell” insouciance, and completely cool. Street corner flower sellers would open early each day and hand-craft boutonnieres to order from their daily stock. Whether you were a captain of industry, an ambitious young executive, a breakout movie star, or just a well-dressed ne’er-do-well, a freshly twisted flower in your lapel was a simple and stylish way to let people know that you were not of the common herd. A man with a proper boutonniere was a bull amongst steers. A ram amongst sheep.
A man amongst mopes.
No one really seems to know what happened to the boutonniere. But a good guess is that the wartime austerity of the 1940s, the move to suburbia in the 1950s, and the long descent into terminal casualness throughout the 1960s and 70s combined to doom this once-awesome accessory. Along the way there have been some exceptional men who re-claimed the boutonniere and made it an essential part of their style and persona – Pierre Trudeau comes immediately to mind – but they have been sadly few and regrettably far between.
However (and you probably saw this coming) all is not lost. The fine folks at Edward Armah have crafted a line of handmade fabric boutonnieres that are subtle, stylish, rakish, bold, and best of all, will last pretty much forever. Wear one in your sports coat or blazer on a Friday at the office. Pair one with a pocket square in your favourite suit to totally dominate a meeting. Or finish a suit and shirt combo with a little hit of arrogance that no tie can ever match for your next dinner date. A great starting point would be this sublime black and merlot number that will work with virtually anything you own. All you need is a functional button hole – another reason to avoid cheap suits – and enough attitude to pull it off.
Errol Flynn was a man’s man. If you can rock a boutonniere, maybe you are too.