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Tossing the Bridal Bouquet and the Garter:
Customs, Origins and Alternatives

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The practice of the tossing the bridal bouquet is believed to be an outgrowth of an idea that was popular in the 14th century, particularly in early French tradition. It was considered lucky to get a fragment of the bride's clothing. In those days, the bride was treated poorly. Guests would grab at her wedding dress in order to tear off pieces. Although brides continued to believe that they would not be wearing their wedding gowns again, they objected to its wanton destruction. They looked for an alternative and, instead began the custom of throwing personal articles, such as the garter, to the guests.

Other sources describe the garter as representing the virginal girdle. When the groom removed the garter, he was in essence demonstrating publicly, that the bride was relinquishing her virginal status. In medieval times, it was also traditional for wedding guests to accompany the newlywed couple to their bed chamber, after the ceremony. Sources say in following this practice guests became more and more rowdy, to the extent that some even attempted to disrobe the new bride or "take liberties" with her. In order to keep the other men at bay, the groom would toss the bride's garter as a means of distraction.

The practice of throwing the garter survived and became more focused. People not only subscribed to the superstition that whoever "won" the bride's garter (la jarretière) was lucky, but also that their good luck could be carried through . . . for it was believed that a man who gave his beloved a bride's garter would be guaranteed his loved one's faithfulness. It was up to the best man to "steal" the garter, tear it into small pieces and distribute it to the wedding guests. This notion was taken so to heart that oftentimes guests were seriously injured in the rush for the garter. Some guests apparently got drunk, became impatient and unruly and then tried to tear the garter off the bride. Brides became wary and modified tradition by allowing one garter to dangle, making it easy to reach.

The British practiced another custom, "tossing or flinging the stocking." Groomsmen would actually invade the bridal chamber and steal the bride's stockings. Then they would take turns sitting at the foot of the bed flinging the stockings over the heads of the couple. The notion was held that whoever threw the stocking that landed on the groom's nose would be the next to marry. Understandably, brides objected to this tradition because it was both undignified and embarrassing and the stocking throw tradition soon disappeared, evolving into the bouquet and garter toss tradition that many brides and grooms follow today.

In the 17th and 18 centuries, today's garter was a silk sash tied well below the bride's knee. The groomsmen considered the sash to be a trophy. Whichever groomsman "captured" the garter would wear it in his hat for the remainder of the celebration.

In keeping with the adage "something old, something new. . . ," brides may choose to wear a blue garter or sew a blue ribbon into their undergarments. This, it is thought, will protect the bride against bad luck or unhappiness. This concept may date back to the Order of the Garter, which was symbolized by a blue ribbon. It is one of the oldest orders of knighthood, and knights were known as the consummate protectors of women. The mantle of a Knight of the Garter was worn by royal bridegrooms over their wedding attire. In 1893, at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, Prince Edward married Alexandra and became the last royal to wear the blue velvet mantle.

Many brides today hold fast to the tradition of a garter toss. The groom removes and tosses the garter, right before the bride tosses her bouquet. Custom has it that the unmarried man who catches the garter must place it on the leg of the unmarried woman who catches the bouquet. It is said that they two will be the next to marry (not necessarily each other). For the sake of balance and egalitarianism, some brides choose to throw a bouquet instead of tossing the garter. Some simply throw a bouquet to the bridesmaids, while the groom throws the garter to the groomsmen.

With some couples, the custom of tossing the bouquet, albeit a very old one, has come under some criticism. It seems that in the rush for the bouquet, young children have been caught underfoot, and even adults have been injured. This actually prompted some musicians and photographers to include a liability release from the bride, should she insist, against their advice, to follow this tradition.

Some modern brides feel that the custom is embarrassing and tacky, because it singles out the single women who are with all good intention "dragged" to the floor to participate in the ritual. Those feelings have motivated changes. One way of "saving the tradition," but sensitizing it, is to have all the female guests, not just the unmarried ones, participate in the bouquet toss.

There continue to be objections raised both about tossing the bouquet and about tossing the garter. Couples today consider including new, alternative traditions. One such option is to call all the girls in their teens to come up to the bride's side and present each with a flower from a premade bouquet. Or, in order to avoid a stampede, the bride may call them all up and give out bags of candies or token gifts to the young girls and teens. Another alternative to tossing the bouquet and/or the garter is to throw dried rose petals, white sequins, confetti, or ribbons, or to blow bubbles and not to expect or invite anyone to catch anything. The bride might also choose to call up her bridesmaids. With the use of a premade, break-apart-bouquet, which is designed to separate it into smaller ‘arrangements,' she can give each attendant a "piece." This is a lovely, public way to thank her bridesmaids for their participation in the wedding party.

There is an elegant alternative to the 'tossing' tradition is for the bride and groom, which works particularly well with mature couples. The bride and groom ask all the married couples to stand. Then by groups of five or ten years, the married couples are asked to be seated as the length of their marriage is mentioned. The couple that remains is the one married the longest. They are "rewarded' with the bridal bouquet and the garter." Still another delightful tradition takes its place after the cake cutting. The couple say a few words and then ‘as a token of love and appreciation,' they give the bouquet to her parents.

Some couples make use of tradition, using the bouquet toss as a way to acknowledge a special person. It can, for example, be a way to single-out an engaged friend or relative. A centerpiece or corsage may be substituted for the traditional toss bouquet. Whatever the form of presentation, it's best to avoid a surprise and ask the recipient, in advance, for their okay. By "clearing" the concept, any embarrassment is avoided. Not everyone is comfortable being singled out in front of an audience, even for something pleasant.

The florist can be asked to replace the toss bouquet with a corsage or table centerpiece. At an appropriate moment in the reception, the bride can give the "refashioned" toss bouquet to her mother, mother-in-law or grandmother.

In that same vein, the bouquet may be dedicated to a deceased loved one. Mention may be made of this gesture at the reception or in the program. This is a moving way to make a loved one's memory part of a special day.

In Finland, there is another "tossing alternative." The single women form a circle around the bride, who has been blindfolded. The bride turns slowly in one direction and the women, holding hands, turn in a circle in the opposite direction. The single women's circle stops and the bride reaches out and hands her bouquet to the woman facing her. This works especially well when there aren't too many single women guests.

Whichever version the couple chose, the bouquet and garter toss are best done right after the cake cutting. This allows the caterer to cut and serve the cake while guests are being entertained. Many couples are dispensing with these two traditions altogether, while some hold fast to what they have known, like and wish to replicate.

Old traditions are hard to break, but bridal couples must be mindful that just because something has been around for a long time, doesn't mean that fashioning new rituals isn't perfectly acceptable and perhaps even preferable. The new alternatives they may in time become traditions in their own right. There are no hard and fast rules about tossing the bouquet and the garter. With this custom, like many of the other aspects of a wedding celebration, should reflect the wishes, sensibilities and sensitivities of the couple and their guests.

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