One of the first things I knew for sure when my now husband and I started wedding planning, was that I was not going to wear a veil on our wedding day. I was resolute in my decision, but I still let the sweet woman at the bridal boutique talk me into trying one on during a dress fitting, because it would “complete the look”.
Why? I think I felt like I had to at least give it a try; it’s part of the outfit, the “allure,” the role we are meant to play.
According to various bridal websites the veil actually predates the wedding dress when it comes to bridal attire. Depending on who you ask, accounts on the history of wedding veils differ, but the general consensus of most experts is that wearing wedding veils can be traced back to the Roman Empire.
The Romans believed evil spirits would prey on brides as they walked down the aisle. In an attempt to repeal these evil spirits, brides would wear a veil over their face to hide their identity and be protected. Wedding veils later became symbols of a bride’s innocence, modesty, and chastity and are still worn for this reason in some cultures.
In many religions, it is a symbol of deep respect for women to cover their heads, in others, the wedding veil can represent the groom’s love for his future wife’s inner beauty, not just her looks. For instance, in a traditional Jewish wedding just before the ceremony, the Badeken, or ‘veiling’ takes place where the groom places the veil over the bride’s face. The veil is only lifted just before the end of the wedding ceremony once the couple are legally married.
Wedding veils signify many different things to different cultures and religions, but they have always been gendered. In traditional weddings celebrating the union between a man and a woman, it has always been women who cover up, who hide their identity, who have to remain pure.
It’d be odd to see the groom standing there in a veil awaiting his bride, but why? Why has it always been a “woman’s thing” ?
Well a straightforward answer would be that the tradition is rooted in conservative and patriarchal discourses. Why should the bride hide her face behind a white piece of mesh fabric and be “revealed” to her guests and her husband-to-be like a surprise or gift? Why can’t she happily stand there, in full view, in freedom, uncovered, comfortable, seen. Why are purity and elegance associated with veils, and the lack thereof with feelings of inferiority, shame, or a sense of “wrongness”?
After all, why did I let the lady talk me into it at the bridal boutique? Why did I feel too insecure to say “no thanks”? Why did I think I’d feel like a “true bride” only if I just tried on the damn veil?
Nowadays, wedding veils can represent more (or less, depending on the way you look at it.). They have become a fashion statement, a prop for whimsical couples’ portraits, an accessory that ties that “bridal look” together or adds the “drama” that many brides are looking for, and that’s a beautiful thing. But it just wasn’t and will never be “me” and that’s alright too. I stuck to my guns and didn’t wear a veil on my wedding day, instead I chose a soft braid filled with flowers and I’ve never felt more bridal or more like myself.
If a veil is your thing, go for it – if it’s flowers in your hair, a jumpsuit, a dress, a suit, a tie, a sundress, flats, heels, barefoot, whatever makes you feel the most you, do it. And let’s forget about gendered ‘obligatory’ accessories on your wedding day.