The Wedding Garter: A Provocative History

To Toss or Not To Toss?

The playful act has a storied and perplexing past, said to be one of the oldest wedding traditions.

Let’s just say that the fun-loving, good-natured modern wedding garter toss is an extremely mellow version of what once transpired.  Curious?  We’ll take you on that journey.

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DARK AGES

Nicolo da Bologna, 1350

Nicolo da Bologna, 1350

Wedding dresses were made out of the finest blue colored fabrics that the bride could afford, giving birth to our modern day tradition of "something blue" (wear a modern day blue wedding gown with these dreamy Elie Saab blue gowns or this Zac Posen!). After the wedding festivities, guests accompanied the bride and groom on a wedding march to their bedroom to ensure the couple arrived safely and wish them well.  Because the bride’s attire was considered good luck, she dutifully returned the favor by offering guests a piece of her wedding dress. 

Pieter Brueghel (the Younger)

Pieter Brueghel (the Younger)

 

MEDIEVAL PERIOD

It seems order can only last so long.  What was once a returned favor derails into a wild wedding romp during the Middle Ages. Guests accompanied the bride and groom on a wedding march to their room after the festivities, and would tackle the bride and “help her out of her wedding attire” to encourage the new couple to start a family as soon as possible.  Rumor has it that the bride began throwing a particularly valuable piece of her attire across the room to distract the overeager help.  And as fashion develops, blue wedding dresses fell out of favor, replaced by the more luxurious gold color.

The Wedding of Arthur and Guinevere, Speed Lancelot

The Wedding of Arthur and Guinevere, Speed Lancelot

 

RENAISSANCE

The tradition of guests accompanying the newly married couple to their bedroom finally dies down. For better or for worse, though, it is replaced with guests rushing the altar shortly after the bride says “I Do”, grabbing whatever small piece of the dress they could, with the ultimate good luck charm being the bride's garter, a "love token with magical properties" as it became known. The man who acquired the bridal garter would pin the garter on his hat to show off his new found luck.

Wedding of Duc de Joyeuse with Marguerite de Vaudemont, Hieronymus Francken

Wedding of Duc de Joyeuse with Marguerite de Vaudemont, Hieronymus Francken

The Wedding Dance, unknown

The Wedding Dance, unknown

 

LATE RENAISSANCE

Finally, the tradition evolves to be a much less embarrassing act - the bride retains her entire wedding dress, in one piece, and is not accompanied to the bedroom, nor rushed at the altar.  To appease the wedding guests and spread good luck, she tosses the most valuable part of her bridal attire, the piece blessed with the most fruitful childbearing and happiest marriage juju, the bridal garter, to eager unmarried men.

The wedding feast, unknown

The wedding feast, unknown

 

1920's

In Wedding Customs Then and Now, published in 1919, Carl Holliday advises women to "fasten it [the bridal garter] loosely to the bottom of her dress [or] find her clothes in rags after the struggle."  Point taken.  Bold flappers use unique garters to hold more than just the top of their stockings: pistols, make-up, and flasks are fastened to their legs by the trusted garter!

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1960's

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Prior to the 60's, both men and women wore garters daily; men, to keep their socks up, and women, to keep their stockings up.  Spandex stockings were made readily available to the public in the 60's, just in time for the arrival of the miniskirt trend (which also found a place in daring wedding dresses!), rendering most garters decorative instead of necessary.  By now, the bridal garter was quite established as a wedding accessory, and it’s good luck prowess made the wedding garter retain its importance on a bride’s wedding day.  Garters were now both decorative and utilitarian.  The wedding garter toss lives on!

 

1980's

wedding-garter-lace-for-the-bridal-garter-toss

Hanging a caught bridal garter on your muscle car’s rearview mirror becomes a trend.  Why not show off your hard-earned good luck charm?

 

2000's

The luxury bridal garter is born in 2007 with Bleu Garters leading the movement, creating bridal garters that are meant to be kept as wedding keepsakes, not tossed.  They take on a special meaning, representing a culmination of femininity, tradition, and good luck.  Those wanting to partake in a wedding garter toss purchase a second “toss garter” so that they can retain their keepsake bridal garter.  Bridal garters are personalized just as many other parts of the wedding are, incorporating initials, wedding colors, or pieces of a family member's wedding dress.  Bridal garters have become a luxurious memento, where part of the wedding garter set's magical wedding juju is kept by the bride, and part is tossed to single men.

 

Whether you choose to wear wedding garter sets or a single wedding garter, partake in the wedding garter toss or keep your bridal garter to yourself, you're participating in a tradition over 1500 years old!  Pretty cool, huh?  The bridal garter's mystique as a good luck charm, sometimes serving as the bride's "something blue", carries on.

Or maybe it's just a fantastic wedding keepsake.

Regardless, follow along with us on Pinterest and instagram for more fun garter facts and "something blue" ideas!

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