One day, when I was about three years old, I made an exciting discovery. I had recently invented a new game called “Exploring Mommy’s Closet,” and on this particular day I happened upon a headband that was beyond my wildest dreams: an exquisite, stretchy satin thing with lace ruffles and a bow made of thin satin ribbon. Best of all, there was a big pink rosette (and at three years old, I was deep into my rosette phase). I slipped it onto my head and strutted out into the world feeling like an unstoppable princess.
Somehow, it took a full day for the adults around me to realize that I was running around with a bridal garter on my head. I think my mom laughed and decided that there was no point in spoiling my fun by explaining what it was – I clearly felt extremely glamorous – but after that, the garter vanished. When I asked for it, she suggested alternatives: my kitten barrette, perhaps, or the blue headband onto which I had glued purple rosettes. The garter, I was told, was a little fancy and more suitable for “special occasions.”
I eventually found out what the garter was and what “special occasion” it was worn for, but I had questions. Did people still even wear pantyhose? Could that slippery band of satin really hold up nylons? And why was there just one? Did brides only wear one stocking to get married?
The tradition of tossing a bridal garter dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, the era before elastic when both men and women relied on garters to actually keep their stockings up. Garters were no less subject to the vagaries of fashion than any other aspect of dress and ranged in style from a simple band worn just below the knee to elaborate straps that criss-crossed down the entire leg. Men’s garters were usually visible, but women typically wore long gowns that covered the knees and thighs. So a woman’s garter was a little more… mysterious.
At that time, having a piece of the bride’s clothing was thought to bring you a bit of her luck in love, and the garter was considered especially lucky. Savvy brides wore their garters loose and low around their ankles because wedding guests would try to rip it off of her as she and the groom headed home after the ceremony. Trying to get the garter wasn’t just for luck, though – it was also meant to “assist” the bride and groom with getting their wedding night started. In an era when people sometimes married each other simply by repeating three times that they were married (leading to all sorts of confusion), wedding night witnesses were required to make the marriage legally recognizable. Fortunately, society developed a sense of boundaries and realized that it might be more considerate to give the bride and groom some space. To appease the crowd, the groom began to remove his bride’s garter in private and toss it out the door to the crowd of wedding guests. Any bachelor who caught it would pass it on to his future bride to wear as a lucky token on their wedding day.
These days, garters are more decorative than functional, so tossing the garter is done more for luck than anything else. Garters come in a range of styles, from simple satin bands to frilly tulle ones. Ivory garters are quite popular, and blue garters are a great way to incorporate something blue into your outfit for extra luck. The tradition is fairly customizable, too – your partner can dive beneath your skirt and pull it off your leg in public, or you can privately remove the garter yourself and hand it to them to be tossed. If you like wearing a garter and want to keep it on all night, you can even purchase two garters – a more elaborate “keepsake” garter to wear all night, and a simpler “toss” garter to toss into the crowd. Just make sure you store the keepsake garter in a place where your toddler won’t find it, should you have children.
So however you decide to incorporate the garter into your wedding, just remember that it should make you feel beautiful and sexy, and that it is a special, time-honored tradition that for centuries has marked the beginning of a marriage and celebrated the possibility of those to come!