Written by Agnes Los Last updated: September 4, 2012
Even in our modern times when “anything goes” in wedding fashion and trends change every year, most brides still choose to wear that most traditional piece of wedding attire – the veil. Veils are a staple of bridal wear, and inseparable from an image of a bride in a white gown.
Fashion experts and historians quote many different origins of the veil, and they only agree that it used to have a purposeful significance. Some of the origins of the veil include covering a bride’s face to protect her from evil spirits in ancient Rome, concealing her identity and looks until her wedding day when she would be seen by her husband for the very first time after an arranged marriage, or in Medieval times signifying purity and chastity. There is even a belief that Cathedral-length veils used to be worn only in cathedrals, and that only first-time brides should wear veils. Today the veil serves mainly as a fashion accessory and to enhance the bride’s beauty, and is often worn off the face.
As Queen Victoria is widely credited with popularising white and lacy wedding dresses, hers will be the first point in our veil history – her wedding took place in 1840. She chose Honiton lace for both her veil and dress, showing her support of the British lace industry. Her veil was long, worn upon a wreath of flowers, edged with the aforementioned lace. Orange blossom wreaths were a particular favourite.
Images courtesy of, left: The Dreamstress, right: Gothic Wedding Dress
Another example of a Victorian wedding dress and veil from 1865. Clearly, the fashion for lace and volume held strong even 25 years after Victoria’s own wedding.
Image courtesy of V&A Museum
As the new 20th century dawned, predictably the fashions changed. Noticeably, the fabric volume had shrunk, and fashionable veils were now affixed to the top of the bride’s head and kept long and flowing.
All photos courtesy of Fashion-Era, bottom left image courtesy of Grand Ladies
The 1920s and 1930s saw a major change in headwear which of course influenced the wedding veil fashions as well. The brides now wore lacy cloche hats with veils attached at the back or the sides. This style may seem old-fashioned now, but in fact has been adapted and worn by Grace Kelly in the 1950s and Kate Moss in 2011.
All photos courtesy of Fashion-Era
The 1940s was the time for war austerity which influenced all fashion. Many European brides couldn’t afford wedding gowns, nor was fabric easily available. Most brides got married on short notice, and they simply wore their best suits and often hats. After the war the simplicity trend continued due to shortages, but wedding photos from the late 40s show fewer brides in sombre suits, and more in wedding dresses and traditional veils. Britain’s own Princess Elizabeth got married in 1947 in a suitably regal dress.
Images courtesy of, top and bottom: Tuppence Ha’penny Vintage, centre left gown by Dior, centre right Princess Elizabeth dress from her 1947 wedding by About Jewellery
We all know the fashion of the 1950s was all about full skirts, tiny waists, elegant collars, and fabulous accessories. Wedding dresses and veils were no exception, with modesty and chic as key features. Birdcage veils and skull caps were wildly popular as well.
Images courtesy of, clockwise from top left: Vintage Gown, Corbis Images , Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in movie still from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by 20th Century Fox, Vintage Gown, Vogue Vintage Pattern from Vintage Bridal Patterns
The 1960s usually bring to mind the miniskirts, the shift dress, and go-go boots, but the wedding wear remained quite formal with traditional veils affixed to pillbox hats or to small wreaths of flowers atop the bride’s head.
Images courtesy of Modern Bride magazine June 1963 edition, Vogue vintage patterns
The 1970s were far more relaxed, with the obvious influence of “flower power” – brides wore floral wreaths and draped the veils over them.
Images courtesy of, left, Nibs Blog , right, Sighs & Whispers Blog
The 1980s are remembered as the decade of “more is better”, and it was also true of bridal fashion and veils. Our most famous bride, the late Princess Diana, wore a legendary opulent gown and veil designed by the Emmanuels.
Images clockwise from top left: White Wedding Bells Blog, Richard Designs, Royal RoundUp, Modern Bride covers by Vintage Gown, White Wedding Bells Blog
The 1990s to present time are possibly the best decades for bridal veils. Not only do we have the looks of previous decades to copy and inspire us, today’s brides are free to follow their fancy and forgo the veil altogether if they don’t want one, using only hair adornments if they wish. Modern designers often show their collections without veils, drawing the focus to the dress rather than the veil. Brides can incorporate their favourite colours into the veils as well – for a purple-themed wedding, a bride may wear purple shoes, carry a purple bouquet, and have her veil trimmed with purple ribbon. You just can’t go wrong – every bride can choose what she loves best.
All photos courtesy of JK Photography
You can see the influence of the decades in Oscar De La Renta’s 2013 collection shown below, with a particular emphasis on full romantic veils draped over the bride’s head, edged in gorgeous detailed embroidery.