Few accessories have aroused such commentary, for and against, than the flower crown, so trendy of late among the neo-hippie festival crowd. Despite detractors, these decorative headpieces, whose history in mythology and art can be traced back to ancient civilizations, show no signs of fading from favor. Not only was actress Fan Bingbing a flower-crowned vision on the red carpet at Cannes this week, but, thanks to a new exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden, Fridamania (appreciation of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who often wore flowers in her hair) is raging.
It’s a look that has roots. In agrarian societies, tied to the land and the seasons, flower crowns had great symbolic meaning. Worn for practical and ceremonial reasons, they could illustrate status and accomplishment (Olympic olive wreaths). The language of flowers and herbs was well-known, with each carrying its own meaning (“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please remember, love. And there are pansies, they’re for thoughts,” says Ophelia in Hamlet.) Full of significance, floral headdresses were woven into the social and dress traditions of places as distant as Russia and Hawaii.
With increasing industrialization the flower crown became a romantic sign of the simple “country” life (longed for, in a stylized version, by Marie Antoinette) and increasingly appreciated for its decorative value. While brides continued the ceremonial traditions of flower-wearing, it was the earth-mother hippies who have most influenced the accessory’s current incarnation. Finding themselves partying rather than plowing, these flower children would truss their slept-in hair with wildflowers to signify their connection to nature.