How Flowers Became a Powerful Symbol in Times of Resistance

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Peace and love. Seduction or protest. A flower has always meant something more, especially in times of political resistance and war.

Let’s start with daisies, the flora of little girls’ swimsuits and pinafores. Daisies scattered over rolling meadows — the kind with a light breeze, a beautiful bride, a few tumbling puppies. Or the depletion of white petals in the hands of a young woman. A “loves me, loves me not” ritual. Try to think of something that telegraphs innocence like a daisy. You can’t do it.

Then there’s the rose. A rose will woo you, it will seduce you, it will teach you to love, and when the time is right, it will ask for forgiveness. But you’d best keep up because a rose brings with it a dark side. Subversive. This flower is also the hallmark of the wicked. It’s the one that lures you in, pricks your finger, makes you suffer, delivers you to reckoning. Don’t believe it? Just ask that prince who spent all those years as a hideous beast.

A demonstrator offers a flower to military police at a Vietnam War protest in 1967.

A demonstrator offers a flower to military police at a Vietnam War protest in 1967.

(Photo Courtesy of National Archives)

Flowers are never just flowers. The decrepit ones in Miss Havisham’s hair. The enticing ones that lulled Dorothy to sleep. The pansies that Ophelia gave away as easily as her sanity. Whatever mood or sentiment we can imagine, we can find a flower to articulate it. We use them to offer friendship, to send condolences, to get laid. Flowers have killed world leaders and stopped wars. They see us through baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Flowers have a unique ability to be all things to all people. They say as much or as little as we choose.

Martin Luther King Jr. wearing wreath during the Selma Montgomery march. (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)

Martin Luther King Jr. led the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965 wearing a lei, a Hawaiian symbol of friendship.

(Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)

We use them to decorate: a ranunculus in our hair, peonies on our desks, lilies on our night tables, even a paper-thin forget-me-not on our cheeks. Here at Allure, we have always celebrated flowers for their ability to make us smell better, to make us look better — to simply make us feel better.

Flowers will always come into fashion when political indifference falls out of it. We look to these bursts of color and joy when the world turns dark. And the darker the turn, the more significance our flowers assume. They lift us up when our leaders fail to.

Maybe it’s no surprise that the runways this season were in full bloom. Daisies splashed across a trench at Michael Kors or sprinkled over slides at Prada. A hat laden with crimson poppies at Gucci and orange blooms glowing against black boots at Balenciaga. But it’s their rich history and unparalleled symbolism that make flowers so much more than a device at a fashion show.

Dolce And Gabbana - Runway - Milan Fashion Week SS17

Hibiscus in the hair at Dolce & Gabbana during Milan fashion week spring/summer 2017

(Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Whether they were offered to soldiers at the Pentagon in 1967 or handed out to demonstrators at the Women’s March in 2017, flowers epitomize peaceful protest. We slide them through a ponytail in a quiet gesture of defiance. We weave a dandelion crown in an homage to summer, joy, and love. They say, “I will not fight.” They are dissidence of the highest, most beautiful order. “I will meet your ugly with my inalienable beauty.” “I will meet your hate with dignity and grace.” A horticultural “When they go low, we go high.”

Demonstrators in Hyde Park in 1967.

Demonstrators march in support for the legalization of drugs, Hyde Park, London, 1967.

(Photo by Stanley Sherman / Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

A flower can make us cry or whimper. It can lift us up and give us hope. We hold it; we cherish it; we dry it or press it. All to savor its beauty.

A flower can speak volumes — and never make a sound.

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