Wedding Bouquet Toss and Garter Toss – Dying Traditions?

by Jennifer Reitmeyer on August 3, 2009

Wedding Bouquet Toss by Andrea Jacobson

The Wedding Bouquet Toss – Should You Do It?

Many wedding traditions have been with us for hundreds of years, but occasionally they do change or even disappear.  After a decade in the wedding industry, it’s been very interesting to see how things have evolved over time.  Today, most couples seem less focused on strictly adhering to tradition, expressing their individuality and creativity through different elements of their wedding. 

Take the “second dance” or “bridal party dance” as an example:  In the late 90’s, better than half of my weddings included a separate song for the bridal party immediately after the first dance.  By 2003, this formality had all but disappeared – today, we don’t even include the question on our wedding planner form.  I think this tradition ended simply because it was awkward – mismatched bridesmaids and groomsmen dancing with a partner they don’t know, often with their spouse sitting in the audience.

Other traditions have died because of changing social norms, like tying the bride’s shoes to the bumper of the newlyweds’ car.  The bride’s shoes were seen as a symbol of possession or ownership, and her father would take her shoes before the wedding and give them to the groom – basically transferring ownership of the bride to the groom.  This obviously wouldn’t go over very well today, and it effectively ended in the 1960’s and 1970’s when gender equality rightfully became a big issue. 

 Bouquet Toss by Allison Britton Photography

I started to notice the decline of the garter toss about five years ago, and every year we work with fewer and fewer clients who include this tradition in their plans.  What has surprised me, though, is how quickly the tradition of the bouquet toss has followed suit.  Ten years ago, I would say 19 out of 20 weddings I did would toss the bouquet – now, that number is closer to 3 out of 10. 

My theory on this is fairly simple.  People are now waiting longer to get married (see this table on marriage age from the US Census Bureau), and, consequently, their friends tend to be older at the time of the wedding.  Couples today, trying to be more sensitive to their single friends, are more reluctant to put them “on display” in front of their wedding guests.

I can’t say this is the primary reason for sure, but anecdotally it seems to be the case.  I’ve had many conversations with my clients about this decision, and they generally seem unenthusiastic about singling out a group of wedding guests (especially the bride’s friends) and “picking on them” simply because they aren’t married. 

Wedding Garter Toss Switch by Allison Britton Photography

As for the garter, the decline seems to be more of an issue of decorum than of political correctness.  A groom once said, “There’s no ‘classy’ way to stick my hands up her (the bride’s) dress in front of her grandma.”  I think that was pretty well put. 

Wedding Garter Removal by Maria Vicencio Photography

Personally, I’m pretty neutral in my stance on whether the bouquet toss and garter toss are a wedding “do” or a wedding “don’t.”  With the right group of guests, especially a younger-leaning (and mostly single) crowd, they can be a lot of fun.  With the wrong mix of guests, they can be a little… awkward.  Each couple needs to decide what they feel is best for them and best for their guests, and that’s really all that matters.

Wedding Garter Switch by Allison Britton Photography

For couples looking for alternatives to the bouquet toss and garter toss, I’ve seen quite a few.  Here are the best ones I can remember:

Anniversary Dance – This is probably the most popular bouquet toss alternative, and involves some emcee work from your wedding DJ.  Bringing all of the married couples in attendance to the dancefloor, the DJ eliminates them based on the number of years they’ve been married.  At the end of the dance, the longest-married couple receives the bride’s bouquet (and garter, if you’d like).  I’ve also seen this done with a different “gift” at the end, either a bottle of wine or another sentimental gesture. 

Throw the Bouquet to All Women – Most of the bouquet tosses that I see now include both unmarried and married women, without the garter toss.  Tossing it to all of the women eliminates the “stigma” issue, and still allows you to include the tradition at your wedding. 

Breakaway Bouquet – I’ve only seen this a few times, but it’s always been at a wedding where the bride throws the bouquet to all of the women – not just the single ones.  You’ll have to work with a florist that can make one, but it’s possible to create a bouquet that can be separated into several smaller bouquets, which are a surprise when the bride throws it.

Bouquet Presentation – Instead of throwing the bouquet, some brides opt to present their flowers to their mother or another special person as a token of their appreciation.  This can be a really sweet moment, and a very nice touch. 

Skip the Garter Removal – Most couples that object to the garter toss do so because they don’t think it’s particularly tasteful.  By removing the garter in private, as opposed to doing it in front of your guests (see below), you can eliminate the objectionable part and still toss it. 

Skip the Garter Toss – This is the case for the majority of the weddings that we do – the garter toss is definitely almost dead.  That’s not to say that the bride no longer wears a garter, quite the contrary – new, personalized garters are available from special artists like “Garter Girl” Julianne Smith.  In most cases that I’ve seen, however, this special garter is saved as a keepsake for the groom and not tossed. 

So, there you have it!  The decision to do a bouquet toss or garter toss is defintintely a matter of personal preference, and each couple should weigh their options before deciding.  Many thanks to the photographers who provided pictures for this post: Andrea Jacobson, Maria Vicencio, and Allison Britton.  I really appreciate it!

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