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Candy Birthday Corsages: A Vintage Tradition Poised for a Comeback?

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I love all things retro, from recipes and décor to old-school traditions.

A Retro Candy Corsage

A Retro Candy Corsage

Candy Corsages From the 1950s to the 1970s

The vintage candy birthday corsage marked a girl’s passage from one year to another, from age 10 to 18. It was made to resemble a floral corsage, and it might have included flowers, but its most important element was candy. Each year had a different kind of candy that symbolized an aspect of a growing girl’s life. Where the symbolism originated—except for year 16, which has always been known as “sweet 16”—no one seems to know.

Gifting girls with candy corsages that incorporated specific candies for specific years seems to have been a regional tradition. I grew up in northern New Jersey and remember this tradition well. Those of you who grew up in that congested region of the country, northern New Jersey and metropolitan and suburban New York, may know what I’m talking about right away. In researching candy birthday corsages, I have found few references to them outside of this regional pocket, and no information about how the tradition began.

Corsage Candies and Their Meanings

YearCandyMeaning

10

Lollipops

Unknown

11

Gumdrops

Unknown

12

Tootsie Rolls

Unknown

13

Bubble Gum

Unknown

14

Dog Biscuits

Puppy Love

15

Lifesavers

Unknown

16

Sugar Cubes

Sweet 16

17

Lemon Drops

Sour 17

18

Cigarettes or Beer Bottle Caps

Coming of Legal Age

Year 14 is an oddity, featuring dog biscuits instead of candy. If any of you ever knew of candy in the shape of a dog biscuit, let us know in the comments below! Year 18 is another oddity: The cigarettes were meant to be candy cigarettes, not real ones, but I knew girls whose corsages featured the real thing. Also, in some places where the drinking age was 18 instead of 21, beer bottle caps might have replaced the cigarettes.

A close-up, inside view of the candy corsage showing the tape and tube forms of bubble gum, tiny white silk flowers, satin ribbon, and a recycled metallic "fountain" bow.

A close-up, inside view of the candy corsage showing the tape and tube forms of bubble gum, tiny white silk flowers, satin ribbon, and a recycled metallic "fountain" bow.

The long lace pieces of ribbon were tied into a bow, securing the corsage on the wrist. White tissue paper protected the corsage inside the white and gold-ribboned box.

The long lace pieces of ribbon were tied into a bow, securing the corsage on the wrist. White tissue paper protected the corsage inside the white and gold-ribboned box.

Attempts to Bring Back the Candy Birthday Corsage: A Bit of Personal History

When my daughter turned 16, long after the tradition I’d known had passed, I visited a local florist and asked if he could make a sugar-cube corsage to honor her birthday. He had no idea what I was talking about. However, he did make a lovely pin-on corsage, incorporating 16 cubes of sugar and autumn flowers for her October birthday. That corsage weighed a ton!

When I presented it to my daughter and told her what the tradition meant to me, she was quite unimpressed. But, she wore it through her birthday party, even though it made her shirt sag quite horribly. In other words, this kind of a corsage was not part of her or her friends’ experiences, and so, even though I was pleased to share this tradition with her, it really didn’t mean very much to her, then.

Just a few days ago, my daughter was invited to a coming-of-age celebration for one of her girl students who had just turned 13. The invitation said nothing about a gift (the student had already just celebrated her birthday, but my daughter wanted to bring something. I suggested a bubble-gum corsage.

Much to my surprise, my daughter jumped on the idea. She raided our box of craft supplies, went to the store to buy bubble gum, and crafted a beautiful bubble gum wrist corsage for her student along with a gorgeous box to hold it.

The student’s reaction? Well, it was much like my daughter's reaction when she turned 16. The student had no concept of this tradition. After my daughter told her about the history and meaning of this gift, she politely wore the corsage for a photograph, but that was the limit of her interest. She just didn’t know what it was, and nor did the other women present at this coming-of-age gathering.

My daughter was not at all let down by her student's reaction, I suspect because she remembered her own reaction all those years ago while also taking stock of the good memories she has today about her sixteenth birthday corsage. Those good memories were what prompted her to carry on this tradition with her student. I have no doubt that sometime in the future, the student will think about this sharing moment with her teacher and want to pass the tradition on through sharing with another special young woman.

Annemaeve bought fresh bubble gum, but everything else for the corsage came from a box of scrap wrapping paper and ribbons. She assembled the corsage with hot glue and a needle and thread. The blue and pink "ribbons" are bubble gum.

Annemaeve bought fresh bubble gum, but everything else for the corsage came from a box of scrap wrapping paper and ribbons. She assembled the corsage with hot glue and a needle and thread. The blue and pink "ribbons" are bubble gum.

A Vintage Tradition Due for a Comeback?

Here are the reasons I think the vintage candy birthday corsage tradition ought to enjoy a comeback.

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Read More From Holidappy

Candy birthday corsages marking each birthday in a symbolic way were gifts that women friends and family members truly looked forward to making or buying and giving. It fostered a special bond among women young and old. I have never heard of anyone receiving one of these corsages from a member of the opposite sex. I don’t think there can be too many ways to bond with the young women in our lives, and the sentiment expressed in this gift deserves to be one of them.

Making candy corsages is a great birthday party activity. With a bit of planning (and supervision for younger girls), guests at an all-girl birthday party can have a lot of fun making their own souvenir corsages to take home.

What about that box of gift wrapping scraps, and also your stash of sewing notions, fabrics, and trims? These are items just waiting to be turned into a thoughtful and symbolic gift at little to no cost. In these “green-conscious” and challenging economic times, a candy corsage fashioned from recycled goods makes a lot of sense.

The real thing. A Tootsie Roll birthday candy corsage in its original box, found in Queens, NY.

The real thing. A Tootsie Roll birthday candy corsage in its original box, found in Queens, NY.

How to Make a Candy Corsage

More on How To Make a Candy Corsage, Plus Resources for Buying Candy Birthday Corsages

There are many resources on the Internet for learning how to make candy corsages and bouquets. Take a look at some of these and see if you get inspired.

  • Ehow has a number of articles on making candy corsages. Start here with this set of candy corsage directions and then check out the "You May Like" suggestions on the right-hand side of the page.
  • If you'd like to try your hand at a bouquet instead of a corsage, try these directions for making a candy bouquet.

About Those Dog Biscuits for the 14th Birthday Candy Corsage

I haven't been able to find any pre-made, commercially available candies in the shape of dog biscuits, but if you like to make candy and chocolate, I did find a variety of dog-biscuit molds, some large and some small, in the shape of dog bones as well as in paw-print and puppy shapes.

I can imagine wiring the small candy bones (or other shapes) to a 14-year-old's candy corsage with brown pipe cleaners, or even embedding a length of floral wire into the liquid chocolate. The larger shapes would be perfect for an accompanying candy bouquet.

If you believe, as I do, that this tradition is deserving of a comeback, keep the nine symbolic birthday candies in mind when you make or order your next candy birthday corsage for a special young woman.

A Request

I've researched this topic through friends, my local library, and resources on the Internet but have found little about the history and symbolism of this tradition. Please share your knowledge of this vintage tradition in the comments section below. Thank you!

© 2012 Sherri

Comments

MariaTursi on August 10, 2020:

One of my favorite memories of my childhood. We used real dog biscuits and the birthday girl usually took a bite out of one just for the fun of it!

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on July 17, 2020:

I like this. Since cute ideas and corsages.

Johanna Mayol on July 14, 2020:

I lived in Brooklyn and we had a florist shop on the corner of Lafayette Ave and Broadway where all my friends would get the candy corsages made for their birthdays. It was such an exciting time back then. I remember looking forward to being 18 and getting the cigarette corsage, never mind that my strict parents would have killed me for implying that I could smoke. I am 73 yrs old and so grateful that I lived through those innocent years.

MaryAnn J on July 07, 2020:

I grew up on Staten Island and we had these corsages. I love them! My granddaughter will be 14 on her next birthday coming up. I think I will try and make a corsage for her.

Ary on June 29, 2020:

I grew up in Brooklyn. We had them and I always looked forward to mine. I make them for my granddaughters and explain their meaning. They like them. So sad many traditions are being lost.

Diane Shaw on May 17, 2020:

If the corsage is too heavy to wear on clothing...make it a wrist corsage. That will confuse the young generation to no end. LOL

saunjf on March 13, 2020:

there is a scooby doo graham cracker cookie in the shape of dog biscuits its crazy because they are for human consumption but look like dog biscuits

patricia nisenholz on February 29, 2020:

I grew up in northern NJ and remember vividly wearing these corsages. I am attempting one for my Grandaughters Sweet 16 right now.. not so easy to make.