Traditions: Fingering the Garter, Symbols of Virginity, and Public Mortification

Picture a lovely wedding in a floral bedecked reception hall, guests more than a few free drinks into the evening milling about post-cake looking for a bit of wedding revelry.

“Ah, look, it’s time for the garter and bouquet toss!”

“I know! Such an exciting tradition! I never catch it though…One time my aunt Suzy literally knocked over four bridesmaids to catch the bouquet though.”

“Yeah. Besides, it’s so awkward when the groom dives under the bride’s skirt for the garter, especially when they do things like put on goggles and gloves, or drunkenly reenact Magic Mike in front of Oma. No one wants to see that…”

This isn’t awkward at all.

Enter nosey third guest, likely clutching an Old Fashioned and wearing sensible shoes (a sure sign this is not her first wedding adventure).

“Well, did you know that the garter toss originates from an early 14th century French tradition called ‘Fingering the Garter’ and has evolved as a way to protect the bride from literally being felt up on her undercarriage by drunken wedding guests trying to confirm she was no longer a virgin post-nuptial shindig?” (Hiccup.)

“Way to ruin a fun party, Cucumber.”

This video is only 2 minutes long and so excruciating to watch I had to stop it several times. It’s also been viewed over 125,000 times. Ugh, why is this a thing?! Should you want to spend a dreadful afternoon watching terrible male strip-dancing in front of huge families, elaborate prop usage, and a mortified women wearing expensive gowns trying to look amused, Youtube is a wealth of awful garter videos.

So, the garter toss. When starting the whole wedding planning shenanigans a few months ago, we made a general list of traditions worth doing and others that we both found questionable. And, then when looking at the history of the garter toss, the tradition I have always hated the most or at least unhappily cringed through at every wedding, I felt oh so vindicated as the origins of the tradition are, well, really appalling. If you are a garter toss enthusiast/wedding sadist, you might want to skip the rest of this all.

Weddings in most cultures have been considered a special moment to transfer luck or fortune, be it money, land, inheritance, good fortune, the possibility of future weddings, etc. In ye olden European wedding traditions, obtaining a trinket from the bride was always thought to be a harbinger of luck or at least future nuptials. After the couple exchanged vows, the attendees would sometimes rush up to the bride, ripping sections of her wedding finery off of her in order to obtain some of her wedding providence. The bride, in order to protect herself and her fashion choices, would then sometimes throw favors to the crowd, scarves, tokens, ribbons, garters, in order to make it to her own reception. If not quick enough though, her clothing and her garter would be forcibly removed, attendees flipping over the bride to remove her garters with her skirts over her head.

Nothing like a few vows followed by a public ripping of your hand-sewn skirt to start out a life together! Ah, the romance of marriage!

Meanwhile, the whole virginity and consummation of the marriage was pretty important, too (understatement of the 9th through 20th century). Post-wedding ceremony, couples would retire to the wedding chamber to consummate their marriage in order to make it all legally binding and ascertain the bride was an untouched virgin (and thus all offspring where genetically linked to the groom and his inheritance). Guests were then invited up to the room to see the groom’s deflowering handiwork, usually in the form of showing off the bed linens with their telltale post-virgin blood stain OR claiming the bride’s garter as a symbol of said consummation (likely a leftover from the tradition of the wedding girdle removal). In French the term for this was “fingering the garter,” guests checking to see if the bride was no longer a virgin by feeling near her garter.

Let’s just pause here for a moment and try to envision that happening. Ah, the romance!

As pieces of the bride’s clothing were considered good fortune, likely inebriated guests (as humans are at least generally consistent in their revelry) would then sometimes snatch at the (most likely terrified as I cannot imagine this being pleasant) bride’s remaining clothing in order to grab hold of said good luck plus some souvenir lingerie. In English traditions, guests would sneak into the marriage chamber to then attempt to throw discarded lingerie and stockings on the couple, whoever hit the noses of the couple with a stocking being the next to marry. (Do NOT get any ideas, dear friends.)

In order to protect the bride from this groping crowd, grooms began throwing the garter to the mobs in order to keep them at a distance from their new bride. Lo, the garter toss was born.

The garter toss has also evolved over time, some grooms throwing to a sedately assembled crowd, some to a competing forces, and some taking the garter on a whirlwind ride by horseback or foot race. (Thinking about this aspect and the percentage of friends I have who run marathons, this could be a long and tiring race for a scrap of lace.)

In modern times, the garter toss has been paired with the bridal bouquet toss as a parting symbol of departing marital luck. The modern garter toss also seem have made its way to a new intersection of awkward and kitsch, grooms grinding on their new wives to the amusement/horror of their watching families and incorporating props such as magnifying glasses, car jacks, flashlights, goggles, and forceps. (So classy! Ah, romance!)

Another thing that has become recently popular (Thanks, the Wedding Industry Machine) is the FOOTBALL GARTER TOSS. The menfolk can now forcefully toss a football into their male cohort with the attached garter, symbolizing their innate manliness whilst handling the lady’s lacy elastic band with a bit of manly oomph. Okay, so I get it’s a chance to toss a football (which is fun!), but the very genderedness of this whole thing just drives me slightly crazy. Also, way more likely to result in black eyes.

Ugh.

Personally, I cannot imagine inviting Pastry to rustle around under my skirt in view of our combined communities in order to divest me of a symbol of my (spoiler alert – long past) virginity. Departing good will, luck, and hope of love to our guests is fairly important, but I’m pretty sure we can figure out a way to do so without a bit of my lingerie attempting to learn how to fly.

On the gender flipside, why not rip Pastry’s decorative, superhero-themed jock strap off him and slingshot it into the crowd of waiting ladies instead? I could dance around him to Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle,” doing my best Demi Moore Striptease impression, to them pull out a tiny pair of bandage scissors to pantomime cutting his underwear/jock strap off of him, eventually reaching for a giant prop chainsaw to mime the difficultly of the task. The DJ would then switch to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” as I slingshot Pastry’s underoos into the crowd of elated single women, yelling, “Enjoy that ever so slightly sweaty intimate apparel, ladies, you might get married next!”

(This has great potential, really.)

For the actual wedding, if Pastry doesn’t go for my glorious plan featured above, I think we should get a stuffed toy dinosaur, attach a few scratcher tickets to it, and lob it into the crowd as we depart. How’s that for some transfer of wedding good will without the bad dancing, public lingerie sightings, icky symbolism, and family mortification?

Ready for future love? Catch a T-Rex and Win a Million Dollars!

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This is a Sad Post About Friendship, Love, and Death

Dearest blog,

I have not forgotten you. I have just been terribly busy with wonderful things, very sad things, and all other sorts of things in between.

In the past six days, I have finished my first semester of my doctorate, gone on a staycation with my Pastry love courtesy of a door prize win at a venue we did not book, interviewed a DJ for our karaoke reception, marveled at said DJ’s amazing Indian Jones’ themed backyard and pool, started the ring design process for the every so lovely custom engagement ring, finalized the wedding gown I want to buy, harassed my best friend into coming to visit me this coming weekend, booked a pie tasting adventure, interviewed a wedding coordinator, read four books on building communities of practice, worried when said best friend suddenly was in the hospital, signed up for a gym membership to tone these arms, and lost another good friend of 27 years as she decided to end her life after struggling with her bipolar disorder for so long.

That last bit is definitely an immensely sad addition to a generally frivolous wedding blog, but it’s true and powerful and painful. 

The last time I talked to her was about how excited she was to come to the wedding next May and how her husband was recovering well from a recent surgery. She was a gloriously eclectic, whip-smart, charismatic, and vibrant friend since the time my family moved in next to hers when I was around 4. She was almost 7 at the time, and she told my mom she was disappointed it was us as she had been told a nice Chinese family was moving in instead. We had all sorts of growing-up adventures, playing street hockey, raising kittens and trapping scorpions on the hillside, racing down the street on skateboards (me, very badly), going to the beach to body-board or just to be seen, stealing squashes out of a neighbor’s yard, learning the finer points of adolescent flirting, going to college parties while I was still in high school, visiting each other in our respective cities as we both moved around during college and post-college. We shut down karaoke bars in Hollywood, and ate cheap Mexican food in the middle of the night in a variety of locales. After my dad passed away several years ago, she was one of the only people to visit my mom and I after his memorial service, bringing a bag of carefully selected snacks and an orchid (that we inevitably killed due to lack of water shortly near after). I took for granted that she would always be there, loud, talkative, slyly challenging people with her wit. She was not perfect in my memory or in hers, and she seemed to constantly worry that she was living her life in an inherently flawed way, struggling with a history of severe mental health issues and the sudden loss of both of her parents in the last couple of years. And, so she ended her own life.

I am so sad that she is gone. And, I feel so privileged to have known her.

It would now be easy to frame this in terms of a wedding for the sake of blog coherency, new beginnings and endings all becoming very transparent in the process of creating a new, little family. But, I don’t want to diminish my friend, her experiences, or the loss. So, simply, I am a bit sad, but I will be okay. And, though she is gone, I know that she will be okay in the end. And, the rest will continue to move-on, arrangements for weddings and memorial services, plans, lives, families, losses, loves, and deaths. Friendship moves and changes people in such unexpected ways. And, she changed me to be me, flaws and all. I will miss her dearly.

Traditions: Maids Offering the Finest in Bridal Security

Ask a woman about her experiences as a bridesmaid. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You likely heard a mixed bag of responses, coos of how wonderful the experience was, barely contained eye rolls, tales of wardrobe malfunctions, tactful dodging when pressed on how many times they really wore that navy blue taffeta dress again, enthusiastic reviews of the open bar and lack of bachelorette parties. I’ve been a bridesmaid numerous times at this point in my life (almost always wearing purple) and my experiences have all been positive (‘cause my friends are awesome). But, the whole thing is filled with tons of expectations, rules, regulations, and rampant emotions.

So, from whence did this whole tradition spring? Why do we surround ourselves with ladies wearing matching pearl sets and silk? Why the sudden urge to decorate (in a very heteronormative way) everything bridal with everything phallic as if most modern brides are not acquainted with their intended’s favorite appendage?

126 bridesmaids at a wedding in Sri Lanka. And, you thought you had a hard time deciding on a budget-friendly gift for your attendants…

It all comes back to making sure those pesky evil spirits do not ruin your special day. The penis decor thing, well, it’s a pretty much a pagan holdover in celebrating fertility. Which makes me want to yell Oprah-style, “You get a penis hat! And, you get a penis hat! We all get penis hats in a not very subtle tradition of celebrating marriage as a direct connection to your fertile years!”

Ancient Romans considered marriage a monogamous institution and marriages by law could only include two people, a departure from fairly common polygyny of most ancient cultures. The word “matrimony” actually comes from the Latin word “matrimonium,” of the mother, as Romans considered marriage a way to legitimize children born of that specific union which generally is tied to the priority of inheritance. But, back to identically dressed attendants…Roman law required at least ten witnesses to legalize marriages, participants usually dressed exactly like the bride and groom, in order to outsmart before mentioned evil spirits as they would not know who was actually tying the toga that day.

In looking at pre-monogamy focused civilizations, the Bible also mentions handmaidens of attendance at the wedding of Jacob to his two wives, Leah and Rachel, each bringing a servant lady along with them for emotional support/holding the primitive purse. Please note that Leah and Rachel brought handmaidens, usually servants or slaves, not friends, relatives, or social peers. Maids in attendance at weddings seem to have been destined from the beginning to tote that bouquet and lift that cocktail table all in an act of servitude to the bride.

Veils on staircases are a recipe for disaster and neck injury when your attendant, henceforth named Clumsy Clementine, trods on your veil and you get whiplash.

Similarly bedecked ladies in attendance to the bride has continued, well, since then with the idea of evil spirits or curses at weddings carrying on to the late 19th century. During this time, couples of means also took their attendant parties along with them on the after wedding vacation in a whirlwind bridal tour. The friends who witness your deflowering together stay together?

Veils have been a part of weddings from Roman times for this very reason, apparently providing comfort that if the evil spirits could not see you clearly then you were safe. (Toddlers and ostriches would approve of this concept.) I’m also going to bet that some crafty bride realized this idea, put her own veils down for anti-enchantment defense, and left Clumsy Clementine barefaced for the malicious spirits’ snack time. Prior to the last century, if you were the barefaced maid, you were the superfluous, disposable maid.

During the 20th century, maids’ veils began to shorten while the bridal veil remained long as the ideas of trickery and evil spirits also began to wane. The concept of “Maid of Honor” began to gain prominence in selecting an extra special cathedral train-plumper, stemming from the British tradition of queens’ attendants called maids of honor. Junior bridesmaids, girls not of marriageable age, began to pop up in wedding parties. And, in a nod to the changing social times, multigendered parties have also become more common in the 21st century.

It could be so much worse than that short David’s Bridal blue thing you bought on sale and quickly donated to Goodwill.

The expectation of a bridesmaid varies greatly in modern western culture. Traditionally, the bridesmaids have planned the wedding shower, bachelorette party, aided with planning, purchased overpriced non-transferable to other occasion dresses, and assisted the day of the wedding on various tasks as assigned by likely at that point deranged bride. But, traditions have also started to evolve over time. In modern etiquette, Judith Martin writes, “Contrary to rumor, bridesmaids are not obliged to entertain in honor of the bride, nor to wear dresses they cannot afford.” I also especially appreciate The Bridal Brigade posting on A Practical Wedding, talking about asking for assistance from multiple people as they will all likely want to help and comprising your wedding party out of your good relations no matter their standing, identity, or affiliation.

I know there is a key group of people who I would like to be around me when Pastry and I declare our intentions to share taxes, insurance, property, and romance. But, I haven’t quite worked out how to make their involvement meaningful yet not overwhelming as of yet. All I do know if that this whole below trend has yet to include a giant, prehistoric sloth yet. And, said party of attendants will get to come as they want (well, okay, within a predetermined color scheme) because I’m pretty sure I can withstand the evil spirits of trickery on my own. If not, I’ll just refuse to take my veil off…ever. Or, invite someone named Clementine.

Run! Tara Reid of Sharknado fame is arriving next!