In the Victorian era, a tussy mussy was a popular gift to a lady from her suitor, and typically incorporated the language of flowers to convey the suitor's sentiments. However, they were first used as a nosegay—a way to ward off smells from the street before regular bathing was common. These nosegays incorporated many herbs both for their scent and their medicinal properties. The word "tussy mussy" probably comes from an older word, "tus," meaning a cluster of flowers.
Traditionally, the holder is made of silver, although it can also be made from other metals. The famed Fenton Glass Company even made some out of hobnail glass. You may see it spelled as tussie-mussie, tussy-mussie, or tusee-musee.
What Is a Tussy Mussy?
A tussy mussy is a Victorian-style bouquet in which a small group of flowers is placed in a metal vase specifically designed to be carried, rather than sit on a table. The term can refer to just the metal holder or to the entire bouquet, including the holder.
Using It in Your Wedding
If you're having a Victorian wedding, you might want to use a tussy mussy as your wedding bouquet or as bridesmaids' bouquets. They're a great way to incorporate something old if you are following the lucky saying "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." You should remember that these bouquets are naturally small; if you're a petite person that can work to your advantage, but larger brides may not feel that they are proportional.
Where to Buy
Look for vintage tussy mussy holders at antique stores and on eBay, although beware of new reproductions being sold as authentic antiques. Modern reproductions can be found through many floral accessory sellers, like Amazon.
Many tussy mussies have a long chain with a "finger ring" which allowed a woman to hold on to her posy while she was dancing. These examples also have a nail or pin which kept the posy inside the holder even when held upside down. Other tussy mussies just have a ring incorporated into the end or just a decorative finial.
For weddings, you should also look for a tussy mussy with a stand, so that at your reception it can become a centerpiece. The stand is called an epergne or a posy stand. This is especially convenient if you have many bridesmaids so that you don't have to buy any additional centerpieces, allowing you to save money on your wedding flowers. If you use a stand, make sure that your bouquet is not too big and that it easily stands up.
You can also look for Victorian vase pins, which hold a small nosegay in a brooch pin. Victorian gentlemen wore a more simple version, while ladies had more fanciful ones that held a slightly larger bouquet. These are great for the groom and groomsmen boutonnieres, as well as corsages for mothers of the bride and groom, or even their grandmothers.
To arrange flowers in a tussy mussy, start with a ball of soaked floral foam. Securely fit this inside of your tussy mussy, then start by adding greenery and base flowers like you would for any bouquet. Keep the arrangement type and general formal, so as to match the formality of the holder.
For a bridal bouquet, consider following Victorian tradition and use particular flowers for their meanings. Use red roses for true love, red tulips for a declaration of love, white baby's breath for innocence and purity, blue violets for faithfulness, lily of the valley for trustworthiness, and myrtle for hope and love. When Kate Middleton wed Prince William, she carried Sweet William to represent her Prince and gallantry, lily of the valley for the return of happiness and trustworthiness, hyacinth for the constancy of love, ivy for fidelity and marriage, and myrtle for hope and love.
Since the groom traditionally pays for the bride's bouquet, you could also follow Victorian tradition by having the groom decide which flowers to include as a message to his soon-to-be wife. He could either send the bouquet to her dressing room with a love letter, or, if they are doing "first look" pictures before the ceremony, he could formally present the bouquet to her then. For same-sex weddings, both people could choose the flowers in the other's tussy mussy or vase boutonniere.
However you choose to use a tussy mussy in your wedding, it will add a level of formality, a nod to the past, and a little bit of extra shine and sparkle.
Laufer, Geraldine Adamich. Tussie-Mussies: the Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers. Workman, 2000