In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.
Here’s a hot tip. If you’re thinking of working as a bridal consultant, and you really want to make a sale, just do your best to judge which dress your client seems to like the best, and then—quick!—attach a veil to her head! Cue waterworks from bride, mother, and entourage, and get that money! I’m telling you: That veil is like fairy dust. It can turn even the baddest chick out there into a vision of all that is good and holy.
So what is it about the veil that makes it the equivalent of a flashing neon sign announcing BRIDE? Apparently, the veil is “the oldest part of the bridal ensemble,” according to wedding historian Susan Waggoner. It dates back to the ancients, who “wrapped brides from head to toe to represent the delivery of a modest and untouched maiden.” And isn’t that what all brides are going for—the look of never having been touched by another human body? And! Added benefits: The veil also “hid her away from evil spirits who might want to thwart her happiness.” Two birds, am I right?
Meet the Expert
Susan Waggoner is a wedding historian and author.
Some of you are all, “I can’t get with that evil spirit business.” It’s cool; you’re just more sensible. But fear not, the veil offers something for everyone: “A more practical reason for the veil, said to stem from the days of arranged marriages, was the desire to hide the bride’s face from the groom.”
If you’re a little antsy about your groom sprinting from the altar upon laying eyes on your face, you can just cover your countenance with a nice, big veil.
Luckily women in the 18th century moved beyond the veil and all of its bizarre connotations, instead adopting accessories such as, “caps, bonnets, wreaths, garlands, tiaras, jewels, lace, ribbons, and other adornments.”
But then (you guessed it!), Queen Victoria married in her famous ensemble, a white dress and a veil cascading down her back, “making her the first modern monarch to be married in a veil.” And at that moment, the image of a bride was defined for centuries to come.
So like many wedding traditions with effed up histories, today’s brides are like “Yeah yeah, but it’s so pretty!” To which I respond, “Valid.” Let’s hear from a few of those brides.
Val of New York shares an experience that I believe is universal: “I didn't feel the need for a veil, and then I heard Joan Rivers say something like, ‘You can't wear a veil to next year's big party. This is your only chance. Wear the damn veil,’ and I said, “OK, Joan Rivers, you have a point.’”
Ellie of Ohio seems to be on the same page with Val and Joan. “I didn't want one until like a week before my wedding. I decided I wanted one for the ceremony, picked up some tulle and a hair clip from JoAnn's, and DIY-ed it real quick.” And the result? “It ended up being a funny addition to our extremely windy outdoor ceremony; it was like I was flying down the aisle, with the veil blowing parallel to the ground behind me.” Transforming the veil into a superhero cape is probably my favorite interpretation so far.
For some, the veil can be a sentimental symbol of continuity. For instance, Mandy from Florida wore her mom’s veil, explaining, “I wanted to honor my parents' marriage in some way, since my father is deceased. I could never have fit into my mom's dress, so I wore her veil instead.”
But the virgin curtain isn’t for everyone. When Caitlin of Illinois was shopping for a dress, the salesperson urged her tack a veil onto her bill. I kid you not, this woman’s sales pitch was that it is tradition “to give one layer to your father and hang the other one over your first baby’s crib.” Unsurprisingly, the pitch fell flat, and Caitlin left the store bald-faced and happy. Hayley of Australia explains her perfectly normal reason for opting against a veil: “I rode my moped, with my husband on the back, to the courthouse where we got married. There wasn't a safe spot for it, so we skipped it.” I salute you, Hayley of Australia.
And don’t forget about all of the fun alternatives to the veil. Regina of Ohio wore a flower crown instead, saying, “veils had—I don't know if this is even accurate—too much of a virginity glorification attitude to them. Also wow, they are expensive.” Regina, that is accurate AF on both counts.
So is the virtue shroud your style, or are you more of a moped helmet kind of bride? You know what they say: Why get married at all if you can’t wear something fun on your head?