The History of the Wedding Veil

The wedding veil, the fun frivolous and ultimate bridal accessory is weighted with some serious symbolic origins which can be traced back centuries and which don’t all sit comfortably with modern independent women, leading sometimes, quite understandably to some initial reluctance to try one.

Pop a pretty soft silk lace edged veil onto a bride to be though, and more often than not it will leave her mother and maids with tears rolling down their cheeks. It is the moment that turns the girl in a beautiful dress into a bride, the realisation of the momentous occasion to come, which in modern times thankfully, she is in control of.

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Image: Jeff Cottenden. Plain edged silk veil by Sally Lacock

 

 A long and varied history

In ancient Rome the bride was believed to be vulnerable to enchantment so the wedding veil was a way of shielding her from evil spirits and would have been flame red and draped to the floor.  In Medieval times it was considered a symbol of purity, chastity and modesty. In many religions, the veil is a sign of humility and respect before God during a religious ceremony and in cases of arranged marriages it served as a method of shielding the bride’s face from her future husband.

With such a long and varied history and so many cultural differences there is no definitive reason for wearing a wedding veil and perhaps why in more recent times it has gradually become more style statement than symbolic or religious requirement.

Wedding veil trends of the twentieth century

Through the twentieth century veil styles have reflected fashions in dress and been influenced by fashions in hair too. Here we take a look at the most popular styles from each decade of the twentieth century.

Turn of the century, the Edwardian Bride

The Edwardian Era, maybe the beginnings of the wedding veil as style statement, saw a trend for mainly long lace or silk tulle veils which sat on top of the voluminous up do’s of the age and were often adorned with orange blossom or wax flower wreaths .

Edwardian wedding veil copy
edwardian wedding veil2

 

The 1920s Bride

As fashions in dress and hair moved forward  in the 1920s the trend for Juliet cap veils emerged which were perfect for wearing over short bobbed haircuts. Often worn very long, even with the shorter flapper dresses, and featuring embellishment lace or beading .

1920s wedding veil
Wedding of Cornelia Vanderbilt 1924

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The 1930s Bride

The 1930s saw a more refined and simpler style of wedding veil to compliment the sleek clean lines of the form fitting bias cut gowns. The Juliet cap was still in evidence albeit with less embellishment.

1930s wedding veil2

 

1930s wedding veil 2
image credit Boris Bennett

 

The 1940s Bride

The austerity of wartime in the 1940s and the scarcity of materials dictated the style for shorter shoulder length veils. Many brides were married quickly wearing a best dress and hat maybe with a birdcage veil. These were more often worn with a day dress and rarely seen with a wedding dress.

1940s wedding

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1950s Bride

Tiny waists and full skirts dominated the look of the 1950s. After the war, long wedding veils often with a train were popular for those who could afford them but waist length veils which accentuated a tiny waist became more of a style statement. The shorter styles were often layered and worn high on the head to give volume like the one we chose to accessorise our Sylvie dress

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Elizabeth Taylor’s first marriage 1950 Photo: Rex

1950s wedding veil

 

1960s bride

The voluminous veil remained in the 1960s with ever more quirky and individual styling. The veil was almost exclusively worn high on the head perched atop beehive hairstyles and pillbox hats. Synthetic fabrics were popular which ensured maximum volume. A slightly tamer multi layered silk version would pair beautifully with the Dixie.

1960s wedding veil4

1960s wedding veil3

 

The 1970s Bride

Many brides did away with the wedding veil altogether in the 1970’s choosing instead to wear a quirky headpiece or wide brimmed hat. For those who did wear a veil there was a re-emergence of the trend for the Juliet cap or a long flowing lace edged boho style worn to the back and low on volume. A perfect style to wear with our Georgie dress

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Mick and Bianca 1971

 

1970's veil
The Juliet cap makes a comeback 1975

 

The 1980s Bride

The decade of excess when more was more saw a return to max volume and big statements in veils and head dresses

1980s wedding veil
Sarah Ferguson crowned with huge roses and embellished frothy tulle 1986
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Madonna wore her tulle veil ruched onto a black bowler hat 1985

 

The 1990s and beyond

The mid 1990’s saw a return to plainer, leaner style veils which have remained a fashionable choice since. Today with the ongoing trend for vintage wedding dresses, brides can refer to a fabulous back history to find a style of their own. Anything goes and the wedding veil can be a true reflection of a girl and her personal style. Scallop lace edged veil shown below can be made to order in any length

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Image: Kate Hopewell Smith. Scallop lace edged veil by Sally Lacock