How the Flower Crown Became the It-Accessory of Coachella

April 7, 2015 | Yahoo Beauty

For hundreds of years around the spring equinox, young maidens have donned garlands of freshly picked flowers on their heads, prancing in community-organized celebrations situated on open fields, partaking in libations, and dancing to the rhythmic beats of live music in order to ensure another year of fertility and prosperity. Nowadays, these rites of spring are sponsored by Sephora and H&M, but the tradition of wearing floral wreathes—now paired with cut-off shorts—goes on at Coachella,Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and other outdoor music festivals.

These aren’t just popular accessories for spring frolicking, though. From as early as Frida Kahlo and Mary Todd Lincoln (yes, Abe’s wife—though music festivals probably weren’t her thing), these wreathes have been donned by women as subtly subversive hints of their identification with empowering social movements and free-spiritedness across the world. (Just ask Lana Del Rey.) Courtney Love, who has worn many flower crowns the past (supposedly even on the cover of Details way back in 1986), told in 2014 that “Flower crowns are over. F— flower crowns.” But the evidence and history is au contraire: Flower crowns have been a lasting trend for hundreds of years.

In Ukrainian folkloric tradition, young unmarried women picked fresh flowers and made the traditional hair crown, the vinok, for themselves. “Traditionally, the crowns symbolized that the girl was of marriageable age,” Dr. Yuri Shevchuk, a lecturer on Ukrainian language and culture at Columbia University, tells Yahoo Beauty. “The crowns were not allowed to have more than 12 flowers, and each flower had its own meaning.” Periwinkles, for example, helped the young maiden find her beloved, while poppies symbolized fertility, youth, and dreams. The multi-functional crowns also protected the wearer against evil diseases and bad spirits (not the alcoholic kind—if only floral crowns prevented hangovers!). Ribbons with symbolically chosen colors would hang down the crowns to protect the young women’s hair, which was considered one of their most prized possessions. “Of course, this tradition has died away because people no longer go to fields and they can’t tell the difference between periwinkle and poppies,” says Dr. Shevchuk. “And now people use silk flowers.” Recently, there’s been a resurgence of wearing the flower crown in Ukraine in everyday life as a marker of nationalist identity and pride. “Wearing wreaths by young Ukrainian women is not just an attempt to be fashionable,” Olha Ivanova, the 1st secretary of the U.S. Embassy of Ukraine, tells Yahoo Beauty.

In neighboring Russia, floral crowns were worn by girls for fortune telling. Moscow-based headpiece designer, Evgenia Linovich of Masterpeace, tells Yahoo Beauty that during the Eastern European summer solstice celebration of Ivan Kupala, girls would float floral wreaths down rivers and try to gain foresight into their relationships by interpreting the flows of the water. Linovich’s line of designer headpieces, sold at luxury e-tailers like Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi, is based on the Russian tiara, called the kokoshnik, which dates back to as early as the 17th century. “Since the beginning of the 18th century, kokoshniks were already divided into various categories, symbolizing the marital status, caste, and even region that a girl was from,” says Linovich. “It is believed that initially such a conspicuous head accessory was designed for brides—or rather for women looking for grooms.” Married Russian women were not allowed to reveal their hair in public, so they wore kokoshniks—which ironically were elaborate and ornate—for modesty. In the 19th century, kokoshniks for nobility were made with silver and pearls.

Early 20th century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was well known for her self-portraits, some of which featured her wearing crowns made of flowers. Kahlo, who was already revolutionary and subversive to traditional norms of beauty and femininity with her unibrow and severe looks, braided her hair with bright thick yarns and ribbons before topping them with freshly picked flowers. “I paint flowers so they will not die,” she once said. For Kahlo, like for many artists, flowers symbolized sexuality—but she didn’t just paint them. By wearing them in her self-portraits, she was refusing to separate her sexuality from her identity and from her femininity—an uncompromising and provocative message that still remains relevant to women today.

One group of young women who have re-appropriated the young maiden’s floral wreath is Tavi Gevinson’s army of Rookie readers, who would wear these “crowns of love” (as they’d call them) to meet ups around the country. These crowns were originally based off of British-based label Meadham Kirchhoff’s iconoclastic flower crowns and tiaras from several seasons, including Fall 2010 and Spring 2011, which Gevinson had gushed about on her personal blog, The Style Rookie. After Rookie posted a video tutorial in 2011, readers around the world shared their homemade flower crowns—Rookie dubbed it a “Crown Party,” and it was open to anyone who wanted to belong to the feminist teen publication’s community. You can sit with us, especially if you don a “crown of love.” “It’s very clear from this post that only the best and most creative people read Rookie. Amen to us and that and everything,” a Rookie reader named Nishat commented.

26-year-old Jasmin Larian, the founder of Cult Gaia, which makes silk flower crowns worn by celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens, Kendall JennerParis Hilton, and Miley Cyrus, started her line because she was wearing flower crowns to go out as a college student in New York City. Her school, the Fashion Institute of Technology, was adjacent to the flower district. “Doormen would recognize me as the flower crown girl!” Larian tells Yahoo Beauty. “Guys would approach me because it was an easy way to charm the girl they were with: ‘Can I buy this off of you and give it to my date?’ they’d ask me.” Entrepreneur Sean Parker (remember him from Napster and Facebook?) ordered Cult Gaia flower crowns as gifts for the guests at his medieval-inspired wedding, which took place in fairytale forest-like Big Sur.

Stone Fox Bride offers $185 crowns made of fresh and silk flowers, worn by celebrities like Lily Aldridge and Jemima Kirke. The brand’s creative director, Molly Guy, tells Yahoo Beauty that they have become popular due to a yearning of women to look supernatural and goddess-like at their weddings. In the ‘60s, the stereotypical flower child hippie was well known for this “earth mother” aesthetic (which was borrowed from the ancient Greeks and Romans who wore special wreathes for celebrations)—and even high fashion couldn’t avoid its irreverent allure: model Jean Shrimpton was photographed in a flower crown for Vogue in 1965.

Nowadays, fake flower crowns are sold at mass retailers like ASOS and Topshop, and you can find indie designers on Etsy willing to make you custom crowns, headbands, and wreathes. Floral design company Celadon & Celery, which makes surrealistic fresh floral crowns, worked with Jeff Koons on a version worn by the pop artist himself on the cover of New York in 2013. (For the most part, men are not wearing flower crowns yet, but flower beards did have their moment.)

Like any trend that emerged in 2011 and peaked in 2013, you can now choose from budget-friendly chain store options and custom-made or off-the-runway designer options—but for young women who want to make more than just a fashion statement about their hair accessories, the most empowering and sentimental option seems to be making one’s own. Just ask the young women of Ukraine, Kahlo, or the readers of Rookie.