Tussy Mussy History

A nosegay of tiny blue forget-me-nots on wood.
... Epitavi/iStock/Getty Images

Call it a tussy mussy, a tussie mussie or a nosegay, this small bouquet of flowers was born of necessity. The lack of bathing meant that the populace was once a lot more "fragrant" than what you find today. Put a group of people from a past era together and enclose them in a church or opera hall -- and that fragrance might be overpowering. Having a tussy mussy pressed against your nose could make the aroma more appealing.

1 First It Was a Nosegay

During the Georgian era in English history, roughly from 1714 to 1830, this fragrant flower bundle was called a nosegay. The word itself dates to the 15th century. Translated, the Middle English word for nose still means nose, and the word "gay" meant ornament. Nosegays were frequently held close to the nose, or worn as a brooch, a hair ornament, or tied around the waist.

2 Queen Victoria and the Tussy Mussy

The term tussy mussy, or tussie mussie in this era, dates to the time of Queen Victoria, who reigned in England from 1837 to 1901. The monarch was fond of carrying these floral bouquets wherever she went. Victoria was also fond of lavender bottles, a sort of reverse bouquet made from lavender stocks. The ends of the stocks were folded up and around the blooming flowers, creating a "cage" to hold in the fragrance. Both of these types of fragrant accessories were needed, since hygienic practices in Victoria's time were almost as bad as those in centuries prior.

3 Secret Message Board

The Victorians also used the tussy mussy to deliver secret messages. Most often these floral gifts were sent to members of the opposite sex. Courtship in that era followed strict protocols, at least among the upper classes. Unmarried men and women weren't allowed in the same room or on an outing without a chaperone. "Dating" was taking tea in the drawing room with the family, which understandably stilted the conversation. The bouquets did the talking. Present your intended with a rose tussy mussy and you were saying "I love you." If she sent one back with a yellow rose, that meant friendship. But if your tussy mussy came back with a coral rose, your intended was saying she desired you.

4 Tussy Mussy Today

The small tapered metal vase that holds small bouquets is now sometimes called a tussy mussy, as are the fragrant flowers in that vase. Tussy mussies are typically used as bridesmaid's bouquets, often crafted with the bride's wedding colors in mind. The boutonnieres are reminiscent of the smaller tussy mussies worn in the Victorian age, and earlier, as are corsages. Though no longer used to mask offensive odors, these fragrant mini-bouquets are still treasured.

Monica Wachman is a former editor and writer for FishersTravelSOS, EasyRez.com and Bonsai Ireland. She has an AA degree in travel from Career Com Technical and is an avid RV buff and gardener. In 2014, she published "Mouschie and the Big White Box" about an RV trip across North America.