The Next Step: The Buttonhole


I recently attended a screening of Oliver Parker’s take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. Parker, having directed two of Wilde’s plays previously, turned his Wilde-loving hand to this notoriously tricky gothic horror with relative ease. Like most of Fitzgerald’s work, Wilde’s only novel is exceedingly difficult to translate to the screen as most of the poetic beauty in the work is only possible with Wilde’s language and observation. What works on the page, and in the mind’s eye of the reader, does not necessarily work on the screen. Nevertheless, it was rather entertaining and artfully conceived – the critics will bay, no doubt, but as Wilde stated in the preface to the novel it matters not: all art is quite useless.

To live for a useless thing would irk most men of a sensible nature. Most people do not like to be told that they have no purpose or that what they do has no value other than decoration. The artist comfortable with the uselessness of his own artistry is a happy fellow, but a rare one. Wilde himself pursued and commented on art and vilified its manifestations as vehemently as he celebrated them; fashion was one of his favourite subjects for attack. While wittily cynical about the artless side of fashion, he was often effusive about its potential for beauty; “A well made buttonhole” he quipped “is the only link between Art and Nature.”

If a well-dressed man is rare, a well-dressed man with a buttonhole is almost unheard of. Men are somewhat terrified of flowers. Even when they procure them for a lady love, they walk with an embarrassed shuffle, horrified that someone would see that they have purchased such extravagant tokens of affection. They hand them over with a puzzled frown as if their gift was possibly radioactive and they gripe with a rueful sneer when the expensive blooms begin to wilt. Men are mercilessly practical; beauty that inevitably dies is scarcely worth the purchase. However, as Dorian Gray teaches us, some beauty is more precious because it fades. “The world is yours; for a Season” spoke Lord Henry.

I rather like that buttonholes, impressively inexpensive from the right florist, are not eternal. I like the fact that they wilt and die. Wilde was right; they are the coming together of Art and Nature. They bloom with the majesty of Michelangelo and wilt with more tragic splendour than the Bard’s finest lines. Their purpose is not at issue; their value is unquantifiable. It’s strange that some men consider they are entirely useless in the context of dress when they themselves adopt silk pocket squares that will almost certainly never be used for the purposes of a cold or even the tears of a shoulder-leaning young lady. There is plenty that is useless about a gentleman’s attire, adding a purely decorative flower will not denigrate the ‘utility’ of the ensemble further. However, if utility is your chief concern in matters of dress these words will mean nothing to you.