Romantic, classic and… ancient? Although it may seem hard to believe, historians believe that the veil is one of the earliest elements of traditional wedding attire, as there are records of its existence dating back hundreds of years before our time. Knowing the history and significance of the bridal veil can help you decide whether to wear it on your wedding day. Make sense of your bridal look and become an expert in bridal fashion history.
A Question of Status? Mesopotamia and Persia
Some historians have pointed out that the veil was an element in the bridal looks of Mesopotamia and ancient Persian culture, although there seems to be some debate about its meaning. Many experts agree that the bride and groom placed the veil over the bride’s face as a symbol of their marital union.
It was also found that only “free” and upper class women were allowed to wear it. Although the meaning of the veil has changed in every era and culture, its symbolic value and feminine connotation has been reinforced over the centuries.
Protection: Ancient Rome and Greece
Brides in ancient Rome and Greece wore veils to protect themselves from evil spirits and bad omens, such as the “evil eye” caused by envy that other women might feel when they saw the bride-to-be walking toward the altar. At that time, veils not only covered the face, but also reached the feet and were made in bright colors, such as yellow and red, to represent the purifying fire.
Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that the veils, at this point, obstructed the bride’s vision, so someone had to escort her down the aisle. This is said to be the origin of the bride being “handed over” by her father at the beginning of the ceremony. It has also been noted that it was at this time and in these cultures that the bridal veil began to symbolize the bride’s “chastity”.
You can take advantage of this information to define what your entrance to the ceremony will be. You can wear a sheer or gathered veil if you wish to enter unaccompanied.
A Symbol of Luxury: The History of the Veil in Europe
In early medieval times, the wedding veil retained its protective instinct. It is with the new forms of government and the consolidation of the pyramid of social classes that brings the high and low Middle Ages that it becomes a symbol of opulence and power. To match the red dresses and gold embroidery, handmade veils were worn, whose importance lay in both the richness of the fabrics and the decorations.
Towards the Renaissance, color had no particular significance. However, pearls, diamonds and other precious stones increased the value of the garment, making it affordable and suitable only for the nobility. We can say that this is the origin of the bridal veil as a fashion symbol.
The meaning of the bridal veil seems to change cyclically. For example, the veil was considered a symbol of humility and simplicity after Queen Victoria wore it at her wedding to accompany a modest dress, but later, in the Victorian era, the materials, weight and length of the veil returned to determine the economic status of brides.
These changes show that the bridal veil has great visual importance. We now know that this image is not related to other brides and what the wedding guests think, but to the personal and individual preferences of each bride.
Stolen Brides: Among the Barbarian Peoples
Among the barbaric peoples of Northern Europe, the veil screamed “stolen bride” and only women who had been kidnapped used it. In some communities in Mexico, if the groom steals the bride, he must follow the “dance of contentment” step by step and return to the woman’s family to ask for forgiveness and agree on his engagement.
In other countries, this tradition is kept alive in a curious way. In Russian and Romanian weddings, it is the friends who play the role of kidnapping the bride and ask for a ransom, which can be a bottle of vodka or whiskey, or whatever the “kidnappers” find. Once the release is negotiated, the party continues.
There you go! You now know about the veil history. But there’s much more to learn on this bridal accessory and we recommend you come back to learn more in the second part of our article.