The Origin of the Wedding Garter Toss Tradition

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Wedding GarterCall me old-fashioned, but I’ve always disliked the wedding garter toss tradition – you know, that tradition where the groom removes a garter from his bride’s leg in public at the reception and tosses it to all the single fellas in the room.  The whole idea of it seems a bit sexist to me, and I’ve always wondered how and why this wedding tradition started.  Well, I finally did a little digging on the topic and was surprised to learn that the tradition started hundreds of years ago!

The general consensus seems to be that the wedding garter toss is one of the oldest wedding traditions still practiced today.  Although this tradition has its origins in something that was practiced in England back in the 1400s called “flinging the stocking,” most experts feel that the tradition can more accurately be traced back to France in the early 1500s.

In France back then, close friends and family members of the bride and groom would accompany the happy couple back to the bedroom after the ceremony to validate that the marriage had officially been “consummated.”  Once validated, the custom was to then snatch a piece of the bride’s clothing.  This was considered to be something of a good luck charm, and the lucky gent who successfully grabbed the piece of clothing would then proudly wear it on his hat at the reception.  At the end of the night, the tradition was for the man to give the piece of clothing to the girl of his choice as a gesture of good luck.

Luckily, the bedroom-accompaniment portion of the tradition went by the waist side in the 1800s as privacy concerns increased.  Hence, the wedding garter tradition began to morph into the tradition we practice today.  Of course, initially it was a bit different.  In the 1800s the event was akin to a free-for-all because it became a competition for the single men in the crowd to aggressively try and snatch the bride’s garter.  There was no garter toss per-se; it was simply a game of grab and go!  That said, oftentimes the bride would toss her garter into the crowd to distract them while she made a break for it!  So eventually, given the injury concerns, the tradition was altered so that only the groom could remove the garter.  Then once removed, he would toss it into the crowd so that all the men would have a fair shot at it.

In the modern era, the wedding garter is typically a white or blue colored elastic band made out of lace that is worn around the upper leg, and the tossing ceremony is tied to the wedding bouquet toss.  Generally speaking, the bride usually sits in a chair in the middle of the reception room, and the groom removes the garter and tosses it into a crowd of all the single men in attendance.  Whoever catches the garter then slides it on the leg of the single woman who caught the bouquet toss.  The tradition says that these two people will be next in line to get married (but typically not to each other!).

Overall, the wedding garter toss tradition is meant to be symbolic – the wedding garter represents fulfillment, purity, fertility and consummation.  But many modern couples are choosing to forego this tradition altogether.  In fact, statistics show that only about 50% of recently-married couples did this tradition at their wedding.  This is understandable – like many things in life, this tradition has both pros and cons.  The major pro is that it’s a fun activity that many of your wedding guests look forward to and even expect to see.  The cons are that it can be slightly embarrassing for the bride, and some single male guests may not want to participate (probably because they’re too cool for that…:)).  The bottom line is that it’s your wedding, so I say do what you want to do.  If you’re not comfortable with the concept of the wedding garter toss, ditch it.

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