- a band of lace or ribbon that sits above the bride’s right knee
- modern garters are generally elasticated to ensure a snug fit, but can be tied
- can be a simple as a plain piece of lace or more decorative, involving charms, beading and stones
- often feature a bit of blue to be the bride’s “something blue”
The history of the Bridal Garter and Garter Toss: There are loads of traditions surrounding the humble garter – for such a small piece of kit, it certainly has quite the history!
Back in the day, the garter was a legitimate piece of clothing, used to hold up the bride’s stockings on her big day. In the Dark Ages it was common practice for wedding guests to accompany the new couple to their bedroom and watch them get into bed to make sure they made it there safely. Initially these ‘witnesses’ would take the garter back to the reception as proof of consummation. However, obtaining the garter somehow turned into a bit of a game and became quite rowdy, with guests becoming so eager to get their hands on the garter that they started ‘helping’ the bride out of her clothes to get at it. To avoid this, the bride (or groom) would quickly remove the garter and fling it into the mob to distract them so that they could finish undressing on their own.
In 14th century Europe it was considered good luck to have a piece of the bride’s clothing and guests would go as far as ripping off pieces of the gown for luck. To avoid this, brides began tossing various things to the guests, including the garter. Traditionally, she would toss the garter to the men for luck, but as the toss became a custom, some men would get drunk and impatient and try to remove the garter themselves. This was obviously not an ideal situation to be in, so the groom began removing the garter from his bride and tossing it to the men to keep them at arm’s length.
In Northern England, there is an Old Custom that involves the Groomsmen rushing the bride at the altar after the ceremony to remove the garter – the bride’s garter represented consummation, fulfilment and fertility and was highly desirable. In their excitement to get their hands on the tiny piece of fabric, the bride was often knocked over and trodden on, so in order to avoid injury she would remove her garter and toss it to the men before they got too close. The lucky man would then wear the garter on his hat until he presented it to a woman of his choosing for luck.
In the 18th century, guests would come into the bridal chamber and the men would undress the groom while the women undressed the bride. Once prepared the couple would sit on the bed and guests would toss their clothing (particularly the stockings and garters) at the couple and the first person to hit them would be the next to marry. This even happened in Royal Weddings – Frederick, Prince of Wales had stockings tossed at his head after his wedding in 1736.
In 19th century England, the local youths would race from the ceremony to the brides house. The winner was granted permission to remove the brides left garter, which he then tied around the leg of his own true love as a protection against unfaithfulness.
The modern traditions surrounding the garter stem from the reintroduction of the garter toss in the early 20th century. By then the groom was the one to remove the garter (usually at the reception) and toss it to the single men after the bride had tossed her bouquet to the single women. Once the garter was caught, the lucky man would then put the garter on the woman who caught the bouquet and they would be the next in the group to marry (although they would not necessarily marry each other).
In the 21st century, the garter is a purely symbolic piece of attire and is usually only worn if the garter toss is going to be performed (which is happening less and less). The style of garter ranges from simple to very decorative and many brides are using their garter as their ‘something blue’. Recently brides have even started wearing 2 garters – one for the toss and one for a keepsake to be removed in the privacy of the bridal suite.
- despite its waning popularity, the garter toss is thought to be the oldest western wedding tradition.
21st Century Garters
If a bride does decide to wear a garter, the options are endless. Elasticated or tied on, the styles available range from sweet and simple (great for under a form-fitting gown) to elaborate and bejewelled, often sporting a bit of blue for a touch of colour.
Hanky Panky, La Perla
Stella McCartney, Lillian Rose