Even as weddings become more personalized and couples pick and choose the traditions they want to incorporate into their ceremonies, some never seem to go away. One of those ongoing traditions is the bride wearing a white wedding dress and a veil. Even at casual weddings or those that take place at city hall or elsewhere outside of a church, brides often wear veils as part of their wedding ensemble, making it one of the most enduring and popular American wedding traditions.
But why does a bride wear a veil over her face? Most wedding attendees expect to see the groom lift the veil from the bride’s face during the ceremony, but many don’t understand where the tradition came from or its purpose. The answer varies among different cultures and religions, and in modern times, it’s often more about fashion than a specific belief.
The Roots of the Wedding Veil
Although no one knows the exact answer to the question, “Why does a bride wear a veil over her face?” most wedding historians believe that the tradition has its roots in ancient Rome. There, the practice started as a way to ward off evil spirits that may wish to harm the bride. Covering the bride’s face with a veil would disguise her so none of the malevolent beings could block her from happiness or curse her marriage.
Over the following centuries, wearing a wedding veil became less about protecting the bride and more about showing the groom, the church, and the community that the bride is chaste, humble, and pure. White wedding dresses came into fashion to signify the bride’s purity and chastity, and subsequently, the practice of having a veil cover her face became fashionable as well.
Many religious traditions require that brides wear veils, as well. In some cases, women cover their heads as a sign of respect inside of a church. In the Catholic church, women must cover their shoulders during a church mass, and a long mantilla or veil was a way to do that without having to wear a dress with long sleeves.
Traditional Jewish brides may wear a veil as part of a wedding ceremony called Bedeken, which has its roots in the Old Testament. During this ceremony, the groom lifts the veil and looks at his bride before recovering her face with a veil, a process intended to confirm for the groom that he’s marrying the right woman. Jewish women also wear veils over their faces as a reminder to the groom to focus on the bride’s inner beauty and qualities, not just her physical appearance, to reinforce that marriage is both spiritual and physical.
Modern Wedding Veil Traditions
Although wedding veils fell out of fashion during the eighteenth century, the reign of Queen Victoria and the shift back toward modest fashion resulted in a comeback for the traditional wedding veil cover. Today, most brides choose whether or not to wear one based on their own style and preferences. In fact, in the 21st century, the only answer to, “Why does a bride wear a veil over her face?” is, “Because she wants to.”
Some women see wearing a wedding veil as a sign of innocence and purity, while others choose to wear one because it’s a stylish wedding accessory and something they probably won’t ever have the chance to wear again. With so many styles to choose from, every bride can find the perfect veil to match their wedding dress and vision for the day.
It’s common for modern brides to use their veil to incorporate sentimental and meaningful elements and objects into their weddings. For example, many brides wear veils that belonged to their mother or grandmother to carry on a beloved family tradition. Others wear custom veils made using lace or embellishments from a vintage dress or one that belonged to a family member, refashioning something old into something new.
Today, the only rules regarding wedding veils are that they make the bride feel beautiful. Most choose veils that complement the style and color of their dress, often incorporating elements like pearls, rhinestones, feathers, lace, and more to create a one-of-a-kind piece.
How to Choose the Perfect Veil
If you choose to wear a veil, you have endless options to consider. Try on different styles with your dress to determine what looks best and gives you the look you want. A long veil is dramatic, for example, and makes a big statement as you walk down the aisle, but you might prefer a shorter one that looks modern and fresh.
Remember that the answer to, “Why does a bride wear a veil over her face?” is that she chooses to and that you don’t have to wear the lace or tulle confection over your face if you don’t want to. Some brides opt for a blusher-style head covering with a shorter front piece that goes over the face while they walk down the aisle, so their groom can lift the veil during the ceremony. Others opt to only wear a veil for photos, forgoing it during the ceremony or reception.
Wherever you decide about wearing a veil, remember that anything you wear on your wedding day, including your dress, shoes, and headpiece, should reflect your style and make you feel like a million bucks.
Get Wedding Planning Help From City Hall Weddings
For answers to all your most pressing wedding questions and conundrums, from how to choose a civil wedding dress and find the perfect wedding suit to, “Why does a bride wear a veil over her face?” turn to City Hall Weddings for expert help. Our collection of in-depth resources can help you plan your perfect nuptials, whether you’re getting married in a city hall in a major metropolis or your best friend’s backyard. We can help you make every aspect of your big day exactly how you want it to be, from setting a budget to planning your honeymoon getaway.