Secret Life of Antiques | Always in Bloom


Once the darlings of fashion, millinery flowers, with their hand cut, hand painted ethereal petals forming exquisite flowers, are collected for their sheer beauty and art form. Always in bloom, these flowers are not just for wearing, but create a personal, engaging display in your home.


Not to be confused with the faux flowers of today, these beauties are in a quality class of their own. My story on how to collect and care for antique and vintage millinery flowers is in the January 2017 issue of Romantic Homes Magazine. {If you love my antique collecting articles, could I shamefully ask you to write the editors and let them know?}





Millinery has existed since the early 16th century, the term derived from the name for traveling haberdashers who came from Milan, Italy. These merchants, know as Millaners, traveled to northern Europe to trade their silks, ribbons, braidwork and other fine trims.



In the 18th century, milliners launched the millinery profession by establishing retail shops where one could purchase hats made to order. The milliners created bonnets and hats to go with fashionable clothing, they also offered trims, laces and fabric flowers for sale.


Rose Bertin of France is the first celebrated milliner, her name is linked to the extravagant hats and headdresses of Marie Antoinette. Together with T.J. Wenzel, the queen’s flower maker, she is credited by some, along with Marie, with establishing haute couture in Paris.


By the 19th century, flowers decorated most hats, but were also worn as corsages, and used to decorate interiors, even Hanson cabs. The millinery flower trade flourished world wide.


Paris, the leader of the fashion world, was home to the most important flower factories, at one time there were over 2000 companies creating millinery flowers there. Made mostly by women, petal by petal, hand dyed, curled and painted, each flower was created to resemble those in nature.


In the early 1920’s hats and clothing became more stream-lined, and eventually the making of those ethereal flowers became a small portion of the millinery trade. Today, there are still a few companies producing the high quality, silk flowers, mostly for haute couture designers.


What to Buy.

As with all antique and vintage items, buy what you love. Look for unstained, relatively well formed flowers or bunches.

Buy from a reputable dealer, and buy the best quality you can afford.


How To Care for Millinery Flowers.

1. Antique and vintage millinery flowers can be a bit crumpled when you first buy them. Most will benefit from allowing them to “breathe” a little on a flat surface, then using gentle manipulation to reshape them into the desired form.

2. Use a soft toothbrush or paint brush to gentle whisk away soil and debris from the flowers, or a blow dryer set on low and cool will also do the trick. For velvet flowers, a lint roller applied ever so gently will pick up decades of lint.

3. Should your flower not be coaxed into shape by using the method outlined above, place a splatter screen over a pot of boiling water, and lay your flowers on the top. The steam should gently force the petals open, allowing you to gently press the petals back into their original shape after a few minutes.

4. For displaying your collection, a glass case is the best way to offer a view of your floral lovelies but keeping them safe from dust. Be sure to only display your flowers in a place where they will not be in direct sunlight, as these old pieces tend to fade quickly.

5. When you are not displaying or wearing your millinery collection, store your flowers in acid-free tissue paper, in a cool and dry place, preferably a closet.


A collection of antique and vintage millinery flowers allows us to bring the glamor of bygone eras into our lives, and enjoy the beauty of the fairest objects of creation in winter.  You can see the antique and vintage flowers we have for sale.


pinthis howtocareformillinery

Do you have a collection of antique or vintage millinery flowers? Do you wear them, or display only? I’d love to know!

Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and uniquely yours. Visit our shop

11 thoughts on “Secret Life of Antiques | Always in Bloom”

  1. noreen

    Lidy, such an interesting and informative post! I have 3 hats that I have kept: my straw boater from high school (sans the petersham ribbon), a green soft straw with veiling, I bought from a European milliner’s atelier downtown which I wore to a friend’s wedding 39 yrs ago and a black Italian straw from a large department store, which closed in the 80’s. I love the fine straw handcrafted hats, unfortunately now a rarity!

  2. Ginger Valdes

    What a beautiful collection you have, and I always learn a little French history on these posts. Thanks for spreading the word about these works of art. I’ve always loved the one you wear on your website photo, and of course tickled to write the editor after the magazine comes out! X0 Ginger

    1. Ginger, thank you so much! I decided I was finally old enough to wear great, BIG flowers!!

  3. I most certainly will let RH know what a valuable resource you are to their free-lance team of writers! Since you’ve started your feature articles, Lidy, you have helped elevate RH’s quality of reading material from what I perceived as a slump. It’s a much better magazine for your contributions. This is yet another example of your wide base of antiques expertise. Thank you for sharing the history, broadening my own knowledge base, which previously focused on just 20thC (Coco Chanel’s work) and how she got her start in fashion with millinery work.

    1. Thank you Rita! I appreciate that, so much, especially from you.

  4. Where does one find acid free tissue paper……..?
    I did not know that bit about MILAN!!!!!
    I have a few floating about here………….

    1. La Contessa, you can google it, it will bring up many kinds, and places to buy. I suggest you buy from a place that deals in archival storage methods. I think there is one in New York that sells tissue online.

  5. Camille

    Such a gorgeous post, thank you! I love the little boxes of flowers you sell at FrenchGardenHouse, they seem to be such an amazing value, and are so beautiful! Happy Saturday! Lidy.

  6. I have some vintage hats and love the flowers…when I had lots of faux floral arrangements I used my hair dryer to “dust them”. Love these gorgeous vintage Millinery flowers and those beaded ones are gorgeous!
    Merry Christmas to you and your family Lidy!!!!

  7. Allie de Montgrand

    Such an informative post, I learned so much. I love seeing your beautiful photographs too .

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