Throwing garters is considered to be the oldest surviving wedding tradition. Back in the Dark Ages it was customary for friends, relatives and guests to accompany the bridal couple to the marriage bed. At first this was to safely see the married couple consummate in their wedding bed and once established the crowd respectfully left the newly weds to their own company. No applause needed unless you were the French; they clapped at everything!The wedding garter toss became a game of sorts. The bridal party would toss the garter at the grooms nose and the person who successfully landed the garter on his nose would be the next to marry.The custom became rowdier and bawdier until the guests were eager to help the bride out of her wedding clothes. The wedding guests would try to grab the bride’s garter for good luck. It is thought to forestall such impropriety, the bride’s garter was given to the mob as a distraction. Soon this became an established custom. Nope, not American but European folks! We Americans add our own delightful ways of doing things even louder!
Throwing the garter to the groom’s men is what remains of the custom. In Northern England the old custom was for male guests to rush the bride at the altar when the ceremony was finished and remove her garter from her leg. In the panic this usually meant the bride was knocked over and trampled on. Some brides got badly injured so thank goodness churches put a stop to this behavior! Though sounds like a good-ol time to me.
Gradually brides made garters easier to detach and finally to avoid threat of future injury they tossed their garters away at the end of the ceremony. Garters were attached with fertility and the bride’s garter signified consummation, fulfillment, and was always fiercely sought after. Untying the bride’s garter had a deeply symbolic act. In the past the lucky guest to receive the bride’s garter would wear it proudly on his hat, before giving it to the girl of his choice for luck.
Another variation on this custom in the 19th century was for the local youths to race from the church to the bride’s house. The first was given the honor of removing the bride’s left garter. He would then tie this around his own true love’s knee as a guard against unfaithfulness. In the North of England , the custom was for the man to wear the bride’s garter in his hat.
Tossing the garter was reintroduced in the early part of the twentieth century. These days, the groom is responsible for removing the garter and tossing it at the eagerly waiting groomsmen at the reception. Much tamer that the early days. Bride would also have a second keepsake garter that they would keep with their wedding dress. But I have seen firsthand some of the old customs depending on how much alcohol the men had prior to the wedding!