8

Several songs mention pink carnations.

"A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)" by Marty Robbins

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3C_RWToGrCw

A white sport coat and a pink carnation
I'm all dressed up for the dance
A white sport coat and a pink carnation
I'm all alone in romance

(...)

A white sport coat and a pink carnation
I'm in a blue blue mood

"American Pie" by Don McLean

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RciM7P9K3FA

I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died

"Machine Gun Blues" by Social Distortion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qs-s0_yGpyg

I just left your town, took all your loot,
bought a pink carnation and a pinstripe suit,
a hopped-up V8 Ford and some two-tone shoes

Language of Flowers

Of course, flowers, and plants in general, are known to have symbolic meaning.
According to Wikipedia, carnations in general mean "fascination; distinction; love" while pink carnations mean "a woman's love, a mother's love".
Other sources on the Internet have pink carnations meaning gratitude.

What do the pink carnations mean in these songs?

Do they have the same meaning? Are any of the later songs inspired by an earlier song? Is there another reason for the pink carnations besides their possible symbolism?

5

The flower in all cases seem to be a stand in for the desire for the love of a woman's, that for all intents and purposes that these men are strapping bachelors seeking love. Usually when a man dresses himself up in anything specifically fancy and symbolic, he is expressing a desire for that symbol to help him get what he wants, not that he believes he already has that symbol's value.

Marty Robbins: he's at a dance and he gets to dance with a prospective lover and the lovely woman turns him down and he is crestfallen.

Don Maclean: here, the implication is that the narrator was once young, naïve and looking for love but that was before the tragedy and he might not have been the same man after.

Social Distortion: he has left town and dressed himself up to be fine a suitor ready to dance.

2

The simplest explanation is that the pink carnation was commonly used as a boutonniere during those gentlemen's youth. An inexpensive, durable flower, it continues to be used for this purpose at special events like proms. It makes for a vivid, visual evocation of a young person getting dressed up for a fancy, hopefully romantic occasion.

2

Although I agree with other answers in that this may be an iconic image of youth at a dance in America the mid 20th century, especially in the 1950's, and in the context of pursuing young love or sex, geraniums themselves are also Biblically symbolic flowers...

With a history that dates back more than 2,000 years, it's not surprising that carnations are rich with symbolism, mythology and even debate. While some scholars suggest that their name comes from the word "corone" (flower garlands) or "coronation" because of its use in Greek ceremonial crowns, others propose that it's derived from from the Latin "carnis" (flesh) referring to the flower's original pinkish-hued color or "incarnacyon" (incarnation), referring to the incarnation of God-made flesh.

Today, carnations can be found in a wide range of colors, and while in general they express love, fascination and distinction, virtually every color carries a unique and rich association. White carnations suggest pure love and good luck, light red symbolizes admiration, while dark red represents deep love and affection. Purple carnations imply capriciousness, and pink carnations carry the greatest significance, beginning with the belief that they first appeared on earth from the Virgin Mary's tears – making them the symbol of a mother's undying love.

Worn on Mother's Day, Teacher's Day, St. Patrick's Day (in green, of course) and at weddings, this hardy, sweetly fragrant flower is also the state flower of Ohio, the January birth month flower and the 1st wedding anniversary flower.


In addition, it may be possible that the "echo" of the pink carnation lyrics mentioned in these songs are referencing each other and/or the original song A White Sport Coat and all in relation to producing the feeling of a 1950's America, but I have no proof yet to back this idea up.

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