The Hidden Meaning Behind Jackie Kennedy's Wedding Bouquet

In 1952, John F. Kennedy — a 36-year-old war hero and soon-to-be-U.S. Senator whose family was already a political dynasty — began courting 24-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier. The noted photographer remained at his side on his journey to the White House, and though their story ultimately ended in tragedy with the shocking assassination of Kennedy in 1963, the couple has remained a symbol of mid-20th-century glamour and style.

The pair eventually became the talk of the society pages and newspapers, and their wedding on September 12, 1953, cemented the couple as the next generation of political movers and shakers. In a contemporary column, Time magazine described a "glittering" ceremony at a church in Newport, Rhode Island, which was led by Archbishop Cushing and opened with the reading of a special blessing from Pope Pius XII himself. At least 700 guests were in attendance for what was described by many as the wedding of the year.

And wedding watchers of course paid a great deal of attention to Jackie's wedding outfit, a traditional and flowing white dress made by the revered dressmaker Ann Lowe. The dress was accompanied by a beautiful bouquet of white gardenias and sprays of pink and white orchids. The chosen flowers fit into the overall color scheme for the wedding, with the gardenias matching the white tones of Jackie's dress, whereas the pink hues of the orchids perfectly complement the garments worn by the bridesmaids. Both flowers are also considered highly symbolic, particularly in a wedding context.

Fragrant gardenias

As well as looking like a beautiful addition to a wedding dress, a bridal bouquet is expected to emit a sweet and refined aroma throughout the wedding day. Gardenias are therefore a perfect choice for any bride, as they are famed for their complex fragrance with hints of citrus zest and sweeter notes of coconut. The flower is also often used to provide fragrance in perfumes and candles.

The name derives from the aptly-named botanist Alexander Garden, who cultivated them in Charleston, South Carolina, after settling there from Scotland in the late 18th century. The flower took on much of its symbolic meaning in the Victorian era when its red variety became a common gift between secret lovers. Meanwhile, white gardenias — such as those that were part of Jackie Kennedy's wedding bouquet — also symbolize love, but within the context of marriage represent trust, honesty, and purity. They are also said to denote gentleness within a relationship.

Luxurious orchids

The wedding of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier was a highly publicized merging of two of America's richest and most influential families, and in the selection of orchids, it appears that the wedding party wasn't shy about letting their wealth shine through. In recent decades, the exotic flowers have been cultivated in a wide array of shapes and sizes throughout the world. However, traditionally they were hard to come by and reserved only for the richest families who could import them from tropical climes. 

They still have an air of exclusivity about them today and signify refined opulence as part of a wedding bouquet. They are considered some of the most refined blooms available as cut flowers and certainly suited Jackie, who became an icon of style and grace in her public life. For millennia the delicate flowers have also been associated with physical love and fertility — and continue to be thought of as floral heralds of a marriage that would be blessed with many healthy children.