I was discussing the question of veils with a friend last week. She is deciding whether to have one or not and we agreed that, given that she wasn't sure, it would be best to wait until the dress was nearing completion. This lead me to thinking about the tradition of the veil and follows on nicely from my discussion last week of the history of giving the bride away since the "throwing back of the veil" traditionally followed the "giving away".
The history of the wedding veil certainly pre-dates the modern custom of the white dress and veil. The imagery of a veil is associated with women and sacred objects dating back to 13th century BC. So, the veil is an ancient form of dress that remains with us today. In Roman times women were expected to wear veils as a symbol of the husband's authority over his wife (yes, back to the "authority" custom again!). Later customs referenced more imagery relating to modesty. Only in Tudor times did the use of a hood replace a veil. By Elizabethan times the use of a veil largely disappeared from everyday life. Over the following centuries, customs changed depending on the country.
Elizabethan brides often selected Juliet caps trimmed with lace and embroidery. In the following centuries bonnets, caps, wreaths and then tiaras were popular options. Queen Victoria created the look that is still common in our culture with her choice of a white dress and veil. The ability of many brides to begin to wear a veil was also an outcome of affordability with new machinery enabling the production of tulle in volume and therefore at an accessible price to many more.
Today, the decision to wear a veil or not is now a personal decision for brides in most western cultures. Some brides are lucky enough to have a family heirloom veil, often with stunning lace or embroidery. They may even create their bridal look around the veil. Others select a veil style to complement their dress and the features that the bride wishes to display most predominantly on the dress. A hat, flowers or hair jewellery are other options that may be worn by themselves or in conjunction with a veil. Some chose to have a veil over their face whilst others don't. There is no right or wrong answer to this, just a matter of personal preference. If you do choose to have your veil cover your face, you will need to consider where in the ceremony you wish to have it thrown back. It may follow the "giving away" or after the vows.
There are a range of veil lengths and, for the uninitiated, the descriptions may be confusing! I've therefore described each below, starting with the shortest and moving to the longest:
Shoulder - literally sits at the shoulder or just below and usually around 50 cm's. Very easy to wear and can look gorgeous with a 1960's look
Elbow - around 64 cm's. Given that an elbow length veil finishes approximately around the waist, it is particularly flattering if your dress has a very full skirt.
Fingertip - usually around 110cm and very flattering for many looks. The Fingertip veil (as with all shorter veils) also has the benefit of being very easy to wear with no danger of tripping!
Waltz or ballet - so called because they can both be danced in without getting in the way at approx 1.5m! These are not as common as the fingertip or chapel length veils but are very flattering and practical if you wish to leave your veil on for the reception.
Chapel - at slightly over 2 metres long they drape slightly onto the floor. Very elegant with a dress with a train and can, of course, be combined with shorter layers to be drawn over the face or for a fuller look. Can be slightly longer but definitely shorter than a Cathedral length.
Cathedral - at well over 3 metres, usually seen in very formal church weddings and almost always with a long train on the dress. Stunning to look at but can be tricky to move in so many brides remove these after the ceremony.
I hope this is helpful for those of you deciding on whether to wear a veil and, if so, what length. Do send me photos of your favourite look!