Why Do Brides Wear A Garter (Tradition & Meaning)?

If you’re planning on donning a garter on your big day, then rest assured you’ll be in good company. With over 85% of brides in both the UK and the USA choosing to wear a garter on their wedding day, the garter is a tradition that has stuck – but what does it mean?

If you’re in the early stages of your wedding planning or the biggest day of your life is just around the corner, this article will talk you through the tradition and meaning behind the garter.

We’ve made sure to do plenty of research (and delve into a history book or two) to create this informative guide that will reveal to you how the tradition of the wedding garter began, as well as why the garter is such a common fixture in weddings to this very day.  

The Wedding Garter: The Dark Ages

Interestingly enough, the first records of the garter actually date back to the dark ages, where it was initially believed that if one were to take home an item of the bride’s clothing, good luck would then follow for both the happy couple and the guests. 

During weddings at this time, it was also common wedding practice for family and guests to accompany the bride and groom to the bed chamber so that they would arrive safely, and along the way, they would rip pieces of the bride’s dress to keep for themselves as a good luck charm.

This wedding tradition didn’t stick, and soon after, items such as the garter became something that the bride would wear and then take off and give to a guest, as it was deemed to be a lot more refined and civilized way of carrying on the idea of taking a piece of the bride’s clothing as a good luck totem. 

In addition to that, the bridal garter also soon became a way for the bride and groom to provide proof that the marriage had been consummated, as the groom would return out of the bedroom to present the garter to the family and guests who would be waiting in anticipation to celebrate.

The Wedding Garter: The 18th Century

With the dawning of a new era came a change to fashion, and so the garter, despite its traditional usage, took on a more practical meaning as both bride and groom would often need to wear them in order to hold their stockings up under their clothing!

Nevertheless, similar to the way that the garter was used in the dark ages, upon speaking the vows and celebrating with guests, the bride and groom would be accompanied by their family and friends to the bed-chamber.

However, unlike the early traditions that would see the wedding party wait outside, the newly married couple would often take part in a game with their guests, that would require unmarried men and women of the party to remove the stockings worn by both the bride and groom.

At the time, it was believed that the game would bring blessings to the unmarried men and women partaking in the game so that they might also be able to join in holy matrimony with a partner of their own.

The stockings of the bride and groom would be tossed over the shoulders of those playing the game, and if the stockings happened to land on the married couple, then it would be seen as good fortune that the thrower would also be blessed with a happy and fruitful marriage, while also bringing good luck to the newly married couple, too.

The Wedding Garter: The Victorian Era

Soon came the turn of the century, where new garter traditions began to emerge. The most prominent of them all was known as a race for the garter, which was a game played by single groomsmen looking for wives, who would run from the church to the home of the bride after the ceremony had taken place and vows had been exchanged.

The first groomsman to get to the home of the bride first was declared the winner, and he was then given the prize of the garter, which the bride would toss to him so that he could catch. 

A slightly different alternative to this game that was also popular during the 18th century consisted of the groom tossing his bride’s garter to his groomsmen after the ceremony and vows had taken place.

Whoever managed to catch the garter was the winner, and would then proceed to pin the garter on his hat for good fortune and the hopes that he himself would also be able to enjoy a happy union.

However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the act of garter tossing became something of a scandal (particularly in the United Kingdom) and so was swapped out for the tradition of tossing a bouquet of flowers, which is a tradition that is still incorporated into weddings to this very day. 

The Wedding Garter: The Modern Day

Fast forward to the present day, and the wedding garter is a traditional accessory that is still worn by many brides around the world. It is usually taken off during the reception by the groom using his teeth, who then tosses it to his groomsmen.

It is believed that that bachelor that catches the garter is going to get married next, although in some instances the garter is simply thrown into a mixed crowd of people as a playful, celebratory gesture.

In some instances, the garter is not thrown at all, and instead worn throughout the entire day by the bride, so that the groom can remove it privately after the ceremony. In this instance, the bride will usually choose to throw her bouquet into the crowd, instead.

In modern weddings, the wedding garter is also sometimes used as a way to get around the “something old, something new, and something blue” tradition, with many brides opting to wear a blue garter in line with this additional wedding tradition.