This Is Where the Garter Belt Wedding Tradition Came From

Find out the history of the garter belt wedding tradition, and why new husbands throw their wives' garters out to the crowd for good luck.

Most wedding traditions are kitschy but cute: something borrowed, something blue; tossing the bouquet; unveiling the bride. But what about the garter belt wedding tradition? If you’ve ever wondered why guests watch as the groom uses his teeth to remove a lacy band from his new wife’s upper thigh before tossing it—it’s actually a very symbolic practice.

Wedding etiquette is pretty straightforward for the most part, but the wedding garter tradition has quite the unique history. We’ve gotten to the bottom of its origins, its symbolism, its significance, and whether or not brides still wear garters.

What is the purpose of a garter belt at a wedding?

These days, removing the garter is essentially the male equivalent of the bride’s bouquet toss. After the ceremony, generally at the reception, the bride sits on a chair so her new husband can take her garter belt off her leg with his teeth and toss it to a crowd of bachelors.

Technically, the purpose of the garter belt was originally to hold up the bride’s stockings, though since the invention of elastic and pantyhose, they’re no longer necessary. Today, they’re more for the tradition than anything. They can go on either leg, but many brides choose to wear one on each leg—one to toss, and one to keep.

What does the garter belt symbolize?

Believe it or not, the garter belt symbolizes good luck to the bachelors in attendance. Supposedly, whoever is lucky enough to catch it will be the next to get married.

Of course, this is a tradition that’s more symbolic and fun than realistic. In practice, it’s a raunchy charade for a group of men to chase after the garter once it’s tossed by the groom.

Where did the garter belt tradition come from?

Though historians haven’t agreed whether it started in the 14th or 19th century, it was during a time when a honeymoon wasn’t exactly a private getaway. Immediately after rings were adorned on ring fingers and the lucky couple said “I do,” they’d rush away to consummate the marriage, and guests would follow them to the bedroom, ensuring there were witnesses to make sure they really sealed the deal.

Rowdy wedding guests would grab at the bride’s dress, or undergarments that went flying, hoping for a bit of good fortune. The garters holding up the bride’s stockings became to-go prizes for guests.

Over time, people realized the practice was a bit intrusive, and societal expectations shifted. Instead, the groom would toss the garter to guests waiting outside as a taste of what he and his wife were up to behind closed doors. Eventually, the tradition became part of the reception—no need for guests to hover outside the hotel room.

Do brides still wear garters?

Although for the most part they’re unnecessary, yes, many modern brides do still wear garters. Today, this is as much up to the couple as is which knee the groom proposes on and what happens when someone objects at the wedding. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to weddings, and many brides skip the tradition altogether.

Sources:

  • The Knot: “A Complete Rundown of the Wedding Garter Tradition”

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