Garter (stockings)

A woman in corset sets garters in her stocking, in 1904

Garters are articles of clothing: narrow bands of fabric fastened about the leg, used to keep up stockings, and sometimes socks. Normally just a few inches in width, they are usually made of leather or heavy cloth, and adorned with small bells and/or ribbons. In the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, they were tied just below the knee, where the leg was slenderest, to keep the stocking from slipping. The advent of elastic has made them less necessary from this functional standpoint, although they are still often worn for fashion. Garters are worn by men and women.


Garters in fashion

Bride putting on a garter
Hip flask tucked into a garter during Prohibition

There is a European wedding tradition for a bride to wear a garter to her wedding. As part of this tradition, towards the end of the reception, the groom will remove his new wife's garter, which he tosses to the unmarried male guests. The symbolism to deflowering is unambiguous. Historically, this tradition relates to the belief that taking an article of the bride's clothing would bring good luck.[1] In the middle ages, the groom's men would rush at the new bride to take her garters off her as a prize.[2] As this often resulted in the destruction of the bride's dress, the tradition arose for the bride to surrender articles of her clothing, which were tossed to the guests, including the garter.[1] Nowadays, the privilege of removing the bride's garter is reserved to the groom, while the bride will toss her bouquet.

Another superstition that has circulated is the male equivalent of the bride throwing her bouquet to the unmarried ladies. According to this superstition, the unmarried male wedding guest who successfully catches the garter will be the next man to be headed to the altar from the group of single men at that wedding. Traditionally, the man who caught the garter and the lady who caught the bouquet would share the next dance.[1]

Garters were popular in the 1930s and 40s, and were a convenient way for ladies to carry small valuables, in place of a small purse.

In Elizabethan fashions, men wore garters with their hose, and colorful garters were an object of display. In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, "cross braced" garters are an object of some derision.

In male fashion, a type of garter for holding up socks has continued as a part of male dress up to the present, although its use may be considered somewhat stodgy.

Order of the Garter

The garter of the Order of the Garter of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria

A famous "garter" in English is the Order of the Garter, which traces its history to the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the poem, Gawain accepts a girdle (very similar in function and connotation to a garter) from the wife of his host (while resisting her carnal temptations) to save his life and then wears it as a mark of shame for his moral failure and cowardice. King Arthur and his men proclaim it no shame and begin, themselves, to wear the girdle to indicate their shared fate. At that point, however, the garter was a larger garment that was used as a foundation.

The Order, which is the oldest and highest British Order of Chivalry, was founded in 1348 by Edward III. The Order consists of Her Majesty The Queen who is Sovereign of the Order, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and 24 Knights Companions.

The origin of the symbol of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, a blue 'garter' with the motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense will probably never be known for certain as the earliest records of the order were destroyed by fire, however the story goes that at a ball possibly held at Calais, Joan Countess of Salisbury dropped her garter and King Edward, seeing her embarrassment, picked it up and bound it about his own leg saying in French, "Evil, [or shamed] be he that thinks evil of it." This story is almost certainly a later fiction. This fable appears to have originated in France and was, perhaps, invented to discredit the Order. There is a natural unwillingness to believe that the world's foremost Order of Chivalry had so frivolous a beginning.

It is thought more likely that as the garter was a small strap used as a device to attach pieces of armour, it might have been thought appropriate to use the garter as a symbol of binding together in common brotherhood. Whilst the motto probably refers to the leading political topic of the 1340s, Edward's claim to the throne of France. The patron saint of the Order of the Garter is St. George and as he is the patron saint of soldiers and also of England, the spiritual home of the order has therefore always been St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.[3]

Garter belts

A woman with her suspenders showing
A garter belt with guipure lace

A garter belt or suspender belt is a woman's undergarment consisting of a reinforced material strip usually at least 2-3 inches wide which is worn around the waist, to which 2 or 3 elastic suspenders are attached on each side. The suspenders are typically clipped to the stockings by metal hourglass clips with rubber circles, allowing for adjustment and a locking mechanism.

Nowadays, pantyhose or tights, are more favored than stockings, and hold-ups are an alternative way for holding up stockings. Nevertheless, garter belts continue to be worn. They are considered a reflection of their enduring role in erotic fantasy.


19th century

During the world's first long distance journey by automobile in 1888 Bertha Benz, the wife of the inventor of the automobile Dr Carl Benz, used a garter to insulate a broken wire of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen Nr. 3. In remembrance of this historic road trip today's official German scenic byway Bertha Benz Memorial Route follows the tracks of Bertha Benz from Mannheim via Heidelberg to Pforzheim (Black Forest) and back.

20th century

In the 1940s to 60s, garter belts became a common, popular alternative to the girdle, especially among teens and young women. The garter belt was simpler and more practical than the girdle when used only to hold up stockings. It was considered more comfortable than the larger girdle. Some men's magazines, such as the Spick and Span magazine, featured models in garter belts and stockings, sometimes with slips or petticoats.

For everyday wear, many women wore stockings without a garter belt by simply rolling the top of the stocking, because it was more practical, and creating thus a kind of ancestor of the modern hold ups.

Present-day use

Carmen Electra wearing fetish style clothing at the 2007 Spike TV Awards

Garter belts continue to be worn for their original purpose of holding up stockings. Garter belts today are available in a variety of styles, with red or black satin made from a mixture of nylon and spandex being the most popular.[citation needed]

Since the early 1960s, when men's magazines featured images of women in underwear, they have acquired an erotic element and are often presented as fetish clothing and in pornography. Variations of the garter belt include panties with suspender attachments reminiscent of images of the 1960s.

Traditionally, panties were worn underneath suspenders, and lingerie is still advertised and photographed in this way in catalogues and on websites. However, some people wear panties over the suspenders. If the panties are reasonably tight, this pins the suspenders to the body. Wearing panties over the garter belt makes it easier to remove them.

In ice hockey

Ice hockey players use a garter belt for holding up hockey socks. As these socks are essentially woollen tubes, they need to be kept from rolling onto the ankles. The socks can be held up by either hockey tape or a hockey garter belt, which function like stocking suspenders.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "The Tale of the Tossing of the Garter and other customs". Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  2. ^ Friedman, Albert B., and Richard H. Osberg. "Gawain's Girdle as Traditional Symbol." The Journal of American Folklore 90.357 (1977): 301-15.
  3. ^ Order of the Garter information

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Garter — can refer to: *Garter (stockings), an item of clothing used to hold up stockings *Order of the Garter, a senior British order of chivalry:*Ladies of the Garter (1358 1488), female members of the mediaeval Order of the Garter:*List of Knights and… …   Wikipedia

  • garter belt — garter belts N COUNT A garter belt is a piece of underwear for women that is used for holding up stockings. [AM] (in BRIT, use suspender belt) …   English dictionary

  • garter belt — garter .belt n AmE a piece of women s underwear with garters hanging down from it which fasten onto ↑stockings and hold them up British Equivalent: suspender belt …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • garter belt — garter ,belt noun count AMERICAN a piece of women s underwear worn around the waist, with garters hanging down that are fastened to STOCKINGS to prevent them from falling down. British suspender belt …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • garter belt — noun a wide belt of elastic with straps hanging from it; worn by women to hold up stockings • Syn: ↑suspender belt • Hypernyms: ↑undergarment, ↑unmentionable * * * noun, pl ⋯ belts [count] US : a piece of underwear that is worn around a woman s… …   Useful english dictionary

  • garter — gar·ter || gÉ‘rtÉ™r / gɑːtÉ™ n. elastic strap which holds up stockings or socks v. fasten with a garter, hold in place with a garter …   English contemporary dictionary

  • garter — /ˈgatə / (say gahtuh) noun 1. a fastening, often in the form of a band passing round the leg, to keep up stockings or long socks. –verb (t) 2. to fasten with a garter. {Middle English, from Old North French gartier, from garet the bend of the… …   Australian English dictionary

  • garter belt — an undergarment of cloth or elastic, with attached garters, worn by women to hold up stockings. * * * …   Universalium

  • garter belt — noun An item of womens underwear consisting of a belt to which are attached garters for holding up stockings; suspender belt …   Wiktionary

  • garter — gar|ter [ˈga:tə US ˈga:rtər] n [Date: 1300 1400; : Old North French; Origin: gartier, from garet bend of the knee ] 1.) a band of ↑elastic (=material that stretches) worn around your leg to keep a sock or ↑stocking up 2.) AmE one of four pieces… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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