A garter strap is a term that is now generally used to refer to several different items of women’s clothing. The term garter strap may mean a small piece of fabric that is typically attached to an article of clothing such as a garter belt, girdle, merry widow, corset or bustier. These types of garter straps are designed to fasten onto the top band of women’s stockings to prevent the stockings from falling or slipping down the leg while being worn.
Before the invention of materials such as elastic or rubber, stockings were not able to stay up on their own. Garter bands at the top of the stockings and the garter straps attached to the bands provided the needed support to keep stockings in place. With the invention of stockings that could stay up without additional support and the increased popularity of pantyhose, the garter and garter strap fell out of favor among many women for everyday use. Today clothing with garter straps is more often worn as a fashion statement or for romantic or intimate occasions.
The term garter strap is also used by many to refer to a leg garter, which is essentially a small piece of fabric or elastic that functions similarly to a belt and fits over the top of an individual stocking to hold the stocking in place. While leg garters once served a functional purpose, they are now generally worn only as novelty or cosmetic items. Many believe that the most common type of leg garters worn today are those worn by brides on their wedding day.
In many cultures, it is considered traditional for the bride to wear a leg garter. When the wedding ceremony is over, the groom removes the leg garter from the leg of his new bride and tosses the garter to the single men who are present. In much the same way that tradition states that the woman who catches the bride's bouquet will be the next woman to be married, tradition also states that the single man who catches the bride's garter will be the next man to be married.
The term garter strap may also be used to mean an item of clothing that was worn by men to help keep socks or shirt sleeves from falling down during use. The sock garter strap was used before the widespread use of elastic in men’s socks. Unlike garter straps for women, most men’s sock garter straps were not attached to any clothing other than the sock itself. Most men’s sock garter straps were attached to small belts that were worn around the calf, just above the top of the sock.
Men’s shirt sleeve garters were used through much of the mid to late 19th century. During that era, ready to wear men’s shirts were commonly manufactured in only one sleeve length. Shirt garters were generally worn in between the elbow and the shoulder and enabled the ability to customize the sleeve length of a shirt.