When Lord Goring
comes home at the beginning of the third act, he exchanges a day buttonhole (a small flower arrangement, like a corsage) for an evening one. We shortly learn that the buttonhole, one of “the delicate fopperies of fashion,” is in fact out of fashion at present – no important people wear it. Its unpopularity does not bother Lord Goring, who believes that “fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear.” The buttonhole is meant to mark a person as insignificant or perhaps middle-class, but Lord Goring happily short-circuits the frigid signaling system that connects clothes and social status. Fashion, for him, is not that signaling system: it is the delicate, inscrutable transfer of meaning from person to object. The buttonhole, at that historical moment, is a trivial item, and Lord Goring wishes it to be “more trivial” still. Its triviality is a mark of its freedom from the serious social games of adults, games with interminable rules, harsh sanctions, and very few rewards. The games extend so far and wide that it requires constant vigilance and good humor to distinguish them from life, and Lord Goring’s buttonhole is a sign of that vigilance.