The origin of the Green Carnation lies with Oscar Wilde. In 1892, Wilde had one of the actors in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan, wear a green carnation in the button hole of his jacket. He also requested select friends who were attending the opening night to wear one as well. Later when Wilde was asked why he had unique people wearing a green carnation, he gave several answers to different people. For example, it symbolized Irish Nationalism, a homage to the hallucinogenic drink absinthe or simply a symbol of the artists nature of being unique or an outsider. Wilde even uses the color green to paint the life ofThomas Griffiths Wainewright in his biography of the artist and forger.
Others believe the Green Carnation symbolize the unnatural or bizarre, which could easily be translated as Wilde trying to make it a badge of homosexuality. At that point in time, the word homosexuality was only a clinical term used by psychiatrists. Wilde is documented in claiming to have originated the trend but some believe the trend originated in Paris in 1880’s, same time Wilde was living and writing in Paris. Wilde’s grandson believes that at that time the green carnation craze, it symbolized artistry and not homosexuality. His claim is that if it had symbolized as homosexuality then it would have been used against Wilde in his 1895 trial.
In 1894 author Robert Hichens published The Green Carnation, a novel based on the love the affair between authors Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas during the late 1800’s which became a scandal widely known from Europe to the states. The novel was published right before Wilde was to go trial for a libel charge he made against a Lord Queensbury (who had left his calling called at Wilde’s club, with a hand written message calling Wilde a sodomite). Sadly The Green Carnation along with Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray were used as evidence for the defense and Wilde would eventually drop his prosecution. Queensbury was released without charge and charges were filed and a warrant issued for Wilde. The charges were sodomy and gross indecency. Wilde was advised to flea the country for France by friends, while his mother told him to “Stay and fight like a man”. Wilde did nothing and stayed in the country and was eventually arrested. Sadly Wilde was found guilty on all charges and after several month of trial, Wilde broke down crying on the last day in the courtroom. Shattering the strong willed and prolific facade he had become known for.
Regardless the origin of the green carnation, this tiny part of Wilde’s legacy would live on. The Green Carnation became popular again in the 20’s and 30’s in Paris and London, Partygoers wore it for many reasons, literary reference, signs of sexuality, or even gain entrance in to a certain room at a party. Today the green carnation symbolism has grown to in compass more than homosexuality. Think of it as a symbol for those with open hearts and accepting of all.