Wedding Veils Have a Long and Intricate History—and They Weren't Always White

·6 min read
wedding veils history
wedding veils history

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Name a more iconic bridal accessory than the wedding veil. While some traditions are deemed archaic, the veil continues to thrive and is embraced more today by those choosing to marry.

"Veils are still very much popular; I believe they will continue to be a staple in wedding fashion," says Lucia Travaglino, director of accessories at Kleinfield Bridal. "Whether the bride likes drama and wants a tiered lace and beaded cathedral length veil, or a simple tulle single-tiered elbow-length style, we are still very much seeing brides walking down the aisle with a veil."

This classic hairpiece can often be that "it" factor to elevate an entire look—it's no wonder that even centuries later, people are still choosing to go all out for it. "Now more than ever, people have fallen back in love with the veil again," agrees Tara Fay, owner of Tara Fay Events. "Especially at the moment, when everyone needs a little bit of frivolity."

Fay, who helps plan weddings and other luxury events, encourages her clients to go all out—should they choose—when it comes to dressing for their special day. "I find that anything goes now with veils," she says. "Short, long, mid-length, a combination—the more, the merrier."

However extravagant this piece of headwear may seem, the wedding veil actually has a deep history in many cultures. Check out its evolution below.

The origins of the wedding veil:

wedding veils history
wedding veils history

Getty Images Wedding in ancient Greece, engraving by Ernesto Mancastropa and Francesco Cantagalli from a painting by Giuseppe Sciuti, from L'Illustrazione Italiana, No 10, March 9, 1890.

Wedding veils can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Romans where it was believed that it would help ward off evil spirits. Wedding historian and expert Susan Waggoner tells Brides that the veil hid brides away from anything that would deter their happiness and it also represented "the delivery of a modest and untouched maiden."

The veil also played a vital role in preventing the superstition that seeing the groom before the wedding is bad luck. According to Richmond Times-Dispatch, the veil hid the bride's face to ensure that the groom couldn't see their face until the ceremony.

Veils also didn't start off as white. Brides used to wear brightly colored fabric and matching veils to frighten off those evil spirits. It wasn't until the 19th century that the veil became the classic hair accessory that we've come to know and love today. Waggoner further explains to Brides that Queen Victoria was the first modern monarch to wed in a white dress and matching white veil, defining the all-white attire tradition for the bride moving forward and bringing the veil back into fashion.

Wedding veils have religious significance:

wedding veils history
wedding veils history

Getty Images

Veils being worn to ward off evil spirits may be a less popular reason for brides to wear them today, but they do still hold a lot of meaning if the bride is religious. According to Travalingo, veils offer a way for brides to pay homage to their cultural beliefs. Wedding veils, she says, stand as a visual reminder of traditions that are upheld through each generation.

One tradition is modesty for some religions. The hijab is a religious veil that Muslim women wear in presence of men outside of their immediate family. It covers the hair, head, and chest and is worn daily. The burqa is a veil worn by women in some Islamic traditions that cover the entire face except for the eye area to also signify modesty.

In weddings, the veil's significance can be traced back to religious scripture. According to Wedding Wire, the act of the groom covering the bride's face with a veil in Jewish religion is in reference to the Biblical story of Jacob being tricked to marry his intended Rachel's sister Leah, who hid her face with a veil. The covering of the bride, which is called the Bedeken, is so the groom can make sure he is marrying the right person. (Tricia Christensen writes in an article for InfoBloom that this ceremonial veiling also symbolizes "the groom's respect for the bride without regard to her beauty.")

In Christianity, the veil represents the bride's modesty, purity, reverence for good, and a reminder of when Jesus Christ died on the cross. "Removing the veil took away the separation between God and man, giving believers access into the very presence of God," Mary Fairchild writes in Learn Religions. "Since Christian marriage is a picture of union between Christ and the church, we see another reflection of this relationship in the removal of the bridal veil. Through marriage, the couple now has full access to one another."

How to wear wedding veils today:

wedding veils history
wedding veils history

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There are several ways to incorporate veils into an outfit. Kate Beavis, who runs the Magpie Wedding blog, credits celebs for bringing retro styles back to the forefront of veil trends. "Kate Moss wore a 1930s style cathedral length veil in 2011 which led to a surge in its popularity," Beavis says. "Recently Ariana Grande wore a veil with a 1960s feel and large bow, as did Gwen Stefani a few weeks later; I can now see that becoming popular."

Fay says she's seeing people update the classic piece by pairing it with a modern outfit or shortening its length for civil ceremonies and opting to go longer with bigger celebrations. "It is often the one time that a bride can create their own look and more often they are deciding to have a short veil for later in the evening with a longer veil for the ceremony," she says. "It often is added just to take the guesswork out of what to do with the hair and also gives two looks: one with and one without the veil."

Travaglino adds that many people are opting for more extravagance with their veils. "I love seeing modern and clean gowns paired with long lace veils as it gives a really romantic vibe," she says. She adds that designers are incorporating elaborate beading as well as 3D laces and flowers into veils for intricate designs. Some popular brands she recommends that showcase this trend include Rivini, Sareh Nouri, and Pnina Tornai.

Veils also aren't just gender-specific. Both Fay and Travaglino see this hair accessory as something that has grown to be used by everyone. "I've definitely seen veils become a more inclusive accessory for all those getting married," says Travaglino. "I love that the designers we work with at Kleinfeld are all looking to create modern styles to accommodate wedding couples. Thankfully, our long-standing relationships with our designers allow us to also work with our brides to create the perfect accessories for them and their partners."

There is no wrong way to wear a veil. It's all about what makes you happy. "I love to see styles mixed up and couples putting their own slant on an outfit," says Fay. "Who is to say that a bride can only wear a veil? Who is to say a veil has to be in white or cream color? Mix it up and have a shocking pink one. My motto is this is your wedding, do it your way."