Something Blue

My garter with its blue ribbon fulfilled the last stanza of the English rhyme, which suggests tokens a bride could choose to ensure a long and happy married life, including a good-luck charm from the rarely quoted final line “and a sixpence in her shoe.”

The wedding verse came into fashion in the Victorian era, along with white dresses and honeymoons. In researching colonial wedding customs for this issue, I discovered that other traditions have older roots.

The garter, for instance, evolved from a ritual variably called “throwing the sock” or “flinging the stocking.” Once the bride and groom were put to bed, the wedding party gathered at their feet. The bridesmaids removed the groom’s socks and the groomsmen removed the bride’s stockings. Each attendant took a turn flinging the garment backwards over his or her head to try to hit the owner on the nose. The ones who succeeded were slated to marry within a year. (I prefer the newer custom over getting bopped on the nose with a stinky sock!)

Like the lace-trimmed white satin gown and the laceappliquéd veil flowing from a ring of burgundy and pink rosebuds, I made the garter for my October wedding. Because my husband and I financed most of the wedding ourselves, we decided to spend our money on refreshments and entertainment for the reception and a week in the Poconos rather than on a dress I’d wear for only a few hours.

Although I had sewn many complicated garments, I goofed when I made the garter, and I knew it right away. (I put the elastic in first and then stitched the seam, negating any give to the elastic.) Usually my penchant for perfection would have caused me to rip it apart and start over, but I had bridesmaids’ dresses to make, so I didn’t bother.

I remember commenting that July when I finished my bridal ensemble that all would be fine if my garter didn’t fall off. I didn’t expect to be prescient.

Our wedding Saturday dawned cool and sunny with the hills at their peak of fall color—my vision of a perfect day. A hair appointment cost me some time in make-up, but when we arrived at the church and my soon-to-be brother-in-law told me the priest was concerned because he didn’t have the marriage license, I didn’t panic. I knew right where it sat on the desk in our new apartment.

Being a wedding Mass, the ceremony lasted longer than the few minutes typical of colonial nuptials, but all went well until we came down off the altar to share a sign of peace with our families and friends. When I bent to lift my skirt before stepping back up to the altar, my garter fell around my ankle.

Fearing that I would fall flat on my face if I tried to retrieve it, I simply walked out of it. Mark, a step behind me, did a double-take, scooped it up, and handed it to me. I looped it over the stem of my bouquet and resumed my place at the altar.

Those in our huge Gothic church who saw the incident started giggling. The priest clapped both hands over his face and looked to the ceiling to keep from laughing. Mark’s sister hastily started handing prayer books to anyone she could reach to quell the laughter. I told my mother later that I dropped the garter on purpose to stop her from crying.

So, maybe the old tale about a jinx if you make your own wedding outfit has some merit, but I’m not much for superstition. After all, we just celebrated our twentyseventh anniversary.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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