Throughout Europe and North America, it is traditional for the bride to throw her bouquet at the reception and for all single women present to compete in catching it. The woman who catches the bouquet is said to be the next who will marry. But how did this custom originate?
In medieval Europe, a bride typically did not expect to wear her wedding dress again, and the dress was considered good luck for other women, a type of fertility charm. After the wedding, single women chased the bride and ripped pieces off her dress, leaving her in tatters. Over the years, wedding dresses became more expensive and it became traditional for women to keep them, either as a memento or to pass on to a daughter for her wedding day.
To prevent guests from ripping the wedding dress, brides began throwing other objects as a distraction, one of which was the garter. Later, the bouquet became the most traditionally thrown object. The wedding bouquet is particularly suited to this use, as flowers symbolize fertility, and as perishable items, they are not something the bride would wish to keep. The bouquet is also a safer item to toss than the garter, as unruly and impatient wedding guests were sometimes known to try to take the garter from the bride while she was still wearing it.
Some modern brides and grooms do not like the tradition of throwing the bouquet and either modify it or do away with it altogether. Tossing the bouquet can be uncomfortable for unmarried female guests who do not wish to marry or who feel put on the spot by the custom. Also, competition to catch the bouquet can become a violent stampede. Some brides stage the event so that their maid of honor or a friend who is engaged catches the bouquet. Others choose to give a small bouquet to each of their bridesmaids, or to give each woman at the reception a flower from the bridal bouquet.