Lifting Up the Veil of Time: Bridal Veils Through History
by Michael Kabel
One of the oldest bridal traditions to stay more or less true to its origins, the bridal veil has a history that's as romantic and fanciful as the legends of its earliest times. Yet for all its antiquity, the bridal veil remains esteemed by brides the world over. In fact, the veil is so much associated with the wedding dress that many style-conscious brides say they can't imagine a proper bridal gown without one.
The Early Times
Historians trace the wedding veil to the splendor of the Roman Empire at its height. Though the marriage then was much less a romantic event than our current tradition - the chauvinism of the Roman male was legendary - brides wore special flowing cloths around their face. These flammeum were painted with fire and flame designs, meant to frighten away evil spirits who might kidnap the bride before she could be delivered to her new husband.
At least one legend goes back even further, to our earliest literature. In the Book of Genesis within the Hebrew Bible, the story goes that Jacob was tricked into marrying the homely Leah instead of his beloved Rachel, because the older woman had worn Rachel's thick, concealing veil in her place. Jacob eventually wound up married to both women.
Over time, the veil became a symbolic means of assuring the husband and his family of the bride's virtue. The lifting of the veil during the ceremony signified that the groom was "taking possession" of his wife by seeing her face. In some traditions, it served the dual purpose of symbolically "revealing" the bride to the groom's family.
Recent And Present Bridal Trends
By the mid-20th Century the veil had become very small, sometimes covering only the eyes, in keeping with the simpler economy of the era's dresses and gowns. Veils were often almost purely ornamental, attached to the bride's hat or even secured to their hair with a comb.
By the 1990s, weddings began to grow in elaboration and pageantry once again. A new generation of brides adapted ever-grander gown designs in keeping with the era's prosperity. The veil, representing a dramatic bit of wedding pageantry as well as evoking classical wedding elegance, was a natural for a resurgence.
Modern bridal veils are diaphanous, and practically always a shade of white or ivory. Vintage veils from the early 20th Century are prized for their silk tulle construction, while modern veils are made from comparatively sturdier Nylon or cotton netting. They will also sometimes feature pearl or other decorative appliqués.
The Length of the Veil
Veil size designates the formality of the ceremony. The longest, known as a Cathedral veil, is used in the most formal weddings. Other veil sizes include the fingertip, waltz, and chapel lengths.
The longest veil ever was worn by media personality Star Jones at her 2004 wedding. Her Cathedral veil measured twenty-seven feet long - a full two feet longer than the veil worn by Princess Diana at her wedding to Prince Charles.