Your questions answered about the history of the garter toss…
A lucky keepsake
It was considered lucky to have something from the wedding day as a souvenir… but this led to guests tearing small pieces from the brides wedding dress. Even in the wealthiest households the dress was worn after the wedding as a best dress. A compromise needed to be made. In the 1800’s garters were used to hold up stockings and of course, two would have been worn, either just above or below her knees, at the narrowest part of her leg. Giving one away, the bride could save the other as a keepsake, so it made sense, the choice of tossing one of her garters was made.
The race for the garter
But it wasn’t randomly tossed to the single men, they had to race from the church to the bride’s house to claim it! A garter race is documented in Yorkshire in 1820, when thirty young men had raced four miles for the prize. The Lady, who wasn’t named, loved to follow old customs, stepped from her bridal coach and asked who had won the race? It had been one of the stable lads, Tom. Walking up the steps to cross the threshold, she called to Tom as she raised her silk gown to one knee, telling him to claim his prize, as she intended to be properly married and have the luck she was entitled to! She added “Take it off Tom, and give it to your sweetheart and may it bring luck to both of you”. I’m sure he would have gently remove it with his hands. I found this really interesting, I’d always though the luck was for the recipient, but in this piece, she clearly thinks the luck will bless her own marriage. The piece went on to say that the race could be quite dangerous, with no thought of safety when the lucky garter was the prize. Often strangers would get caught up with the furore as the male guests were like men ‘bereft of reason’ galloping over ground that in more sensible moments, they would have hesitated to walk a horse across. The last garter race was reported in the Times 9th April 1910. The wedding was held outdoors on the England – Scotland border. The bride lived in Cumbernauld, just 50 yards from the stream that defined the border and English law prevented marriage ceremonies in private houses. Her groom was from Roxburgh in Scotland, so they chose a Scottish minister to perform the ceremony on Scottish soil. The Times reported that after the customary young men’s race for the garter, the wedding party crossed back over the stream, for the wedding breakfast at the bride’s house. Maybe the race for the garter became less popular, because it was so dangerous? It’s certainly much easier to just toss the garter to the unmarried male guests at the wedding!
The garter toss
Who will catch it???
The garter toss is still really popular in the USA with various versions taking place and gaining popularity in the UK, although the bride generally removes it discreetly herself!
The toss garter, a gift for your MOH…
Coming soon, Throwing the Bouquet, Garter and Favours… History