Explore the evolution of this delicate headwear, from its humble origins in Greece to its renaissance in Hollywood.
Since hitting their pop-culture peak in the early 2010s, flower crowns have become something of a cliché, whether they’re resting atop the head of a bohemian bride or a Coachella attendee. Before that, they were staples of farm weddings and fashion runways. However, floral wreaths were common throughout history, from ancient Greece through Victorian England and beyond.
It’s difficult to say any particular culture “invented” the flower crown, because they appear in so many different parts of the world. In the western hemisphere, crowns were popular in both ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks were big fans of the laurel wreath, often seen in depictions of the god Apollo and awarded to victors in athletic competitions (including the Olympics).
Other gods had their own plants—myrtle for Aphrodite, grapevine for Dionysus, and so on—but the wreath form remained. Meanwhile, in Rome, successful generals earned crowns as highly coveted military decorations.
Indigenous Americans also incorporated flower wreaths and crowns into their ceremonies, wearing them during rituals and dances.
In the eastern hemisphere, ancient Chinese brides wore crowns of orange blossoms to their weddings to encourage fertility in the marriage. Wreaths also proliferated among Indigenous tribes of islands in the South Pacific, where they were popular with both men and women as adornments and ceremonial gifts.
It’s tempting to think that medieval women accessorized their brocade gowns with crowns of goldenrod, but in the Middle Ages, floral wreaths took on the air of the forbidden thanks to their association with Druids and other practitioners of the pagan arts.
Beltane (or May Day), for example, marked the beginning of summer in Gaelic cultures and culminated with a large bonfire where believers would sometimes leap over flames. While the festival was linked to the natural changing of the seasons, it also came to be associated with the supernatural.
During the Industrial Revolution, flower crowns became a symbol of a simpler, more agrarian time when cities weren’t clogged with exhaust from coal-burning factories. Picture Marie Antoinette in the Petit Trianon at Versailles, playing at country life while wearing a wreath of wildflowers (or Kirsten Dunst doing the same in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette).
Across the English Channel, Queen Victoria topped her veil with a wreath of orange blossoms for her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert, kicking off a bridal trend that’s survived almost 200 years later.
Flower crowns pop up everywhere throughout art history, both in depictions of real people and in the fanciful work of rococo master Jean-Honoré Fragonard. During the Renaissance, artists helped bring them back in vogue after they fell out of fashion because of their association with witchcraft. And, by Rembrandt’s day, the look had come full-circle—and increased in size, too (see his 1654 painting Flora).
They made their way into literature as well, most famously in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Ophelia gives her flower speech—“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” and so on. The play was published in 1603, but artistic renderings of the doomed heroine adorned with a wreath of pansies and columbines persist to this day.
But, no artist is more associated with the flower crown than Frida Kahlo, who wore them in her everyday life and incorporated them into her many self-portraits, as well. One of her most well-known quotes? “I paint flowers so they will not die.”
Crowns in Modern Pop-Culture
While flower crowns were only kind of a thing in the 19th century, their popularity absolutely exploded in the 20th. By the 1950s, they were already a wedding staple—see Audrey Hepburn’s circlet of white roses for her 1954 wedding to Mel Ferrer—but, by the 60s, they were everywhere, thanks in part to hippies bound for San Francisco.
It wasn’t just would-be groupies who hopped on the trend. Screen icon Elizabeth Taylor wore an enormous crown of lilies of the valley and white hyacinths for her 1964 (first) wedding to Richard Burton, setting the standard for veil-less brides for the next fifty years.
Flower crowns never disappear entirely, but their next massive surge in popularity came in the 2010s. This is partly attributable both to the appearance of Lana Del Rey, whose love for 1960s Americana naturally extended to flower crowns, and the rise of Coachella as a global institution.
The inaugural edition of the California festival was held in 1999, but it took early aughts street-style blogs and Instagram (founded in 2010) to turn “festival wear” into an aspirational clothing genre visible to everyone.
By the time Lana donned a giant crown of blue roses for her Born to Die music video, released in December 2011, you could buy your own knockoff at Urban Outfitters.
Just when the wreaths started to decline in popularity, Snapchat brought them back to life in 2015 with the ubiquitous flower-crown filter, which showed up both on the faces of celebrity power users like Kylie Jenner and civilians trying to score a date on Tinder.
Fashion took notice, too, with designers like Rodarte and Dolce & Gabbana incorporating elaborate—and expensive—flower crowns, both real and faux, into their runway shows. The style gatekeepers at Vogue even gave their blessing, putting crowns on cover stars Elle Fanning in June 2017 and Beyoncé in September 2018.
And then there was Midsommar, the 2019 film that made flower crowns terrifying. Casual, simple crowns abounded throughout Ari Aster’s tale of a summer solstice celebration in remote Sweden gone terribly wrong, but Florence Pugh’s finale look—a living, breathing crown and matching robe—brought new, horrific life to rings of petals.
Ariana Grande was such a fan that she even chose Midsommar as the theme for her 27th birthday party in 2020, flower crown and all. (She also tried, and sadly failed, to buy the original dress at auction.)
Coachella fashion may be on the wane, but the flower crown, it seems, is here to stay.
Need a few more floral inspirations? Take a look at these beauties:
- Incorporating Fresh Flowers into Portrait Photography
- Tips for Taking Extraordinary Portrait Photographs with Fresh Flowers
- In Full Bloom: How to Use Floral Trend in Your Designs
- 5 Unique Approaches to Fantastic Floral Art
- The History and Symbolism of Paisley
Cover image via Olesya Kuprina.