Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Veil

Cathedral Veil - David's Bridal
         The veil has become a bridal symbol, just as the white wedding dress. Although the modern veil is worn primarily as an accessory, demonstrating a woman’s status as a bride rather than just a lady in a white dress, it was originally a symbol of nobility, modesty, and virginity. The veil has served as a part of brides’ ensembles for centuries, with ties to multiple religions and dating back earlier than the Bible, and is an accessory that every bride considers.

         The first recorded instance of a woman being veiled is from Assyrian legal texts. The Assyrian laws demanded that noble women be veiled when in public, but forbade others, stating:

I.40. If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen poured on their heads.[1]

Yeah, bitumen is tar. Don’t mess with Assyrians.

         At the time of the Assyrian Empire, wives were considered to be the property of their husbands, as were his daughters. The veils were used to cover their beauty from suitors or wandering eyes, much like the burkah in Muslim culture.

         Up until recent decades, the veil was used more often as a symbol of respect when entering a place of worship, like a yarmulke (or yamakuh, to those of us who don’t recognize the word and tried to sound it out but it ended up sounding like “your milk”). In the past 50 years, the veil has been tied to weddings more than any other event in western culture, creating an archetype for which a veil goes hand-in-hand with a bride on her white wedding day.

         If you paid attention in Sunday School, you’ll remember the story of Jacob and Rachel from Genesis. The story goes like this: Jacob had a thing for Rachel, so he vowed to serve her father, Laban, for seven years so that he could marry her. However, Laban wanted to marry off his oldest daughter, Leah, first. So on the wedding day, Laban dressed Leah in an opaque veil and sent her down the aisle instead of her sister. After they were married, Jacob lifted the veil and discovered that he had been duped, and vowed to serve another seven years in order to marry Rachel, as well. So, after 14 years, he got the girl. And her sister. Yeah, it’s gross. But you know what’s worse? Leah and Rachel were his nieces. Enjoy that fun fact.

         Like the superstition that the groom isn’t meant to see the bride before the wedding, an opaque veil would shield the bride’s face so that the groom wouldn’t see her and run away (like Jacob would have, if he had known he was marrying the wrong sister). Today, it’s much more common for a bride to wear a sheer veil. Clearly, the veil no longer serves the purpose of hiding her beauty, so why still wear a veil in a modern wedding?

         The first reason is very traditional: a veil is meant to symbolize virginity, and so accessorizing with a veil shows that the bride waited until marriage to do… stuff.

         If a groom has seen his bride before their wedding day (as we hope many have), then the veil can be used to shield the bride’s beauty as a way of symbolizing that he is marrying her for her inner beauty (because without botox, her looks will fade).

         Another reason for wearing a veil is to symbolize the introduction of husband and wife; although the couple knew each other as boyfriend and girlfriend, they are meeting for the first time as married folk.

         The bride could also choose to wear a veil as her bridal right. As the veil is symbolic for showing that it is one’s wedding day, if a bride wants to wear a veil then she should, even if for no other reason than she wants everyone who sees her to know that she’s getting married.

Veil - Nordstrom
         Of course there are tons of other personal reasons for wanting to wear, or wanting to forgo, a veil. If a bride is unsure about wearing the traditional long veil that covers her face, then there are other options that may suit her, and her dress, better. Along with the classic veil that covers the face, brides can wear veils that attach in the back and do not cover the face at any point during the ceremony.

Birdcage Veil - David's Bridal
         Another very fashionable choice if the bride does not want a long veil, but just a short one as an accessory, is the birdcage veil. Worn like a headband, the birdcage has a small amount of material that covers a portion of the face, often accompanied by a cute adornment on the headband.

Headpiece - Nordstrom

         I chose to go without a veil on my wedding day, and instead wore a gorgeous headband with pearls and gemstones that matched my dress. I loved it because it showed off my funky style, while still playing along with traditional bridal fashion. Wearing a tiara or a stylish headband is a great alternative for the bride who doesn’t want to wear a veil, but still wants to have a little bit of glamour on her wedding day.

Bottom Line: Although originally used to hide beauty, the modern bride wears a veil to accent her gorgeous ensemble, and show off that she’s the bride! Veils are a classic accessory, and have a variety of options to match the dress and the bride’s individual style. Of course a bride will still be recognizable without the headpiece, but a veil does not have to hold special significance, like it would have in centuries past. Veils, while filled with history and tradition, are a gorgeous finishing touch to a bridal ensemble.


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