The History Of The Garter Toss Is Surprisingly Disturbing

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Wedding season is almost here, and if you’ll be a guest at multiple summer weddings, you might see one or two instances of the wedding garter toss. In this long-standing tradition, the groom reaches under the bride’s dress to remove the garter and throws it to the male wedding guests. Often, this is a special-made, decorative "toss garter" used (sometimes doubling as a bride's "something blue"). In some instances, the man who catches the garter then puts it on the woman who catches the bride’s bouquet.
While this tradition can occur at a same-sex weddings and be adjusted to include wedding guests of all genders, both studies and anecdotes indicate that the garter toss is much less common at weddings with two brides, or two grooms, or a non-binary spouse-to-be. That might be because of its history.
"Back in olden times, newly-married couples were expected to consummate their union pretty much immediately after the wedding. And family members and friends would wait outside of their room to make sure that this happened,” explains Kim Forrest, Senior Editor, WeddingWire. “After the marriage was consummated, the groom would give the bride’s garter to the waiting crowd to prove that the deed was done.”
Forrest adds, “I've also read that in medieval times, people would try to rip pieces off a bride's dress for good luck. The bride would wear an easily-accessible garter to toss to the crowd so they would stop grabbing her!"
This all sounds very Game of Thrones, but the more recent history is a little less disturbing. According to wedding garter company Bleu Garters, by the late Renaissance period, the garter toss was simply done to spread good luck and fertility vibes — no clothing-tearing or proof of consummation involved. And the garter toss has remained a lucky tradition for the past 400 years or so, with tweaks for each era — for example, some flapper brides used their garters to hold a flask, and some ‘80s garter-catchers displayed their prize on their car’s rear view mirror.
Today, it looks like the garter toss may be going out of style. The Knot 2018 Real Weddings Study found that only 33% of to-be-weds were planning on incorporating the garter toss into their wedding, down from 41% in 2016. As with all wedding traditions, the garter toss is an option, not a requirement — so do it if you want to, and skip it if you don’t.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series