Years ago a hat was necessary to complete every outfit and for all special occasions. Some people were able to go to milliners to have unique hats made for them, while others created their own, or restyled a hat they had. Millinery flowers and leaves were used by all to give a special touch to a hat. They were available "to the trade" from millinery supply dealers, but the average person got them at a general store, a millinery shop, a department store or at a 5 and 10 store! Up until the 1940's, the flowers and leaves were usually created in Europe, especially in France, Germany and Czechoslovakia. In the 1940's Japan started producing the simpler leaves and flowers. In the 1950's and 1960's Woolworth's Department store carried many of these "Made in Japan" millinery flowers, and often had a huge selection of these blooms. Many were fashioned with a pin on the back so that they could be easily attached to a hat or lapel.
Today they are still used to decorate hats, but also for a wide variety of projects including art projects, home decorating, scrapbooking, doll clothes, altered art, jewelry, women's garments, and many more creative uses.
I find them fascinating and I have been so fortunate to be able to purchase the estates of several milliners and use their vintage goods to stock my eBay store, Vintage Millinery Flower Shoppe. http://stores.ebay.com/Vintage-Millinery-Flowers-Shoppe