While fashions have changed throughout the years, bridal gowns and accoutrements have often reflected traditions and customs of times past. Nowhere is this more apparent than the wedding veils and trains that brides wear for their special event. If you are in the process of getting married, learning about the origins of these important pieces of the bridal garment might make for interesting conversation with your guests.
Like most customs, there are many different stories regarding the origin of the wedding veil. Some historians say that the ancient Romans were the first to incorporate the veil into the wedding ceremony. Believing the bride may attract evil spirits on her important day, the Romans used a veil painted with fire designs to cover the bride’s face in order to confuse and frighten them.
Others believe that the wedding veil was introduced in medieval times. Again, the theory goes that this covering was used to ward off evil spirits, though another popular theory argues that the veil was a symbol of the bride’s modesty and purity.
Arranged marriages are often cited when discussing the origin of the wedding veil. In the past, men often asked a potential bride’s father for her hand in marriage rather than courting the bride herself. The veil was used to conceal the bride’s face until after the ceremony.
Through the years, the veil has come to signify the bride’s virtue. The lifting of the veil also symbolized that the groom was taking possession of the bride by revealing her face.
Veils became more of an ornament during the middle of the twentieth century due to lean times. Because dresses during this era were much simpler, some veils only covered the eyes and were attached to a comb or hat.
In the past few decades, as wedding gowns became more elaborate, veils followed suit. Today, veils are used to signify that the wedding is a special event and allow brides to feel like princesses for the day. Most modern wedding veils are made from cotton or nylon netting and feature decorations.
In the past, blushers (which cover the face) were a popular choice for brides. However, many brides today choose to show off their faces when they walk down the aisle rather than have it covered by material.
Veils come in many different lengths. While the cathedral veil, which often ranges from eight to 12 feet in length, is typically worn for very formal ceremonies, there are several other veil types such as the: Chapel veil, Ballet veil, Fingertip veil, Fly-away veil, and Birdcage veil.
When you think about elaborate wedding veils throughout history, Princess Diana probably comes to mind. While she did hold the record for longest known veil for a period of time, Star Jones wore a twenty-seven foot veil for her wedding day. That’s two feet longer than Princess Diana’s!
Unlike wedding veils, the origin of the bridal train is much easier to find. In the Middle Ages, marriages between a princess and a royal groom were often political in nature and served as a means of gaining an alliance between two countries. Because the wedding was so important, the wedding dress had to showcase the wealth of her nation in order to impress her groom’s family and country.
While wealth was often shown by the types of materials used for the dress (silk, satin, and fur were popular choices), the amount of fabric was also symbolic. For this reason, many princesses chose long trains to show that their families could afford these expensive materials. Because other brides wanted to emulate the royal style, bridal trains became popular for all classes.
Our modern wedding gown traditions are often traced to Queen Victoria. Choosing a white dress, Queen Victoria was the first royal bride to have her train carried down the aisle by bridesmaids, prompting a new wedding trend among the upper class.
Throughout much of the twentieth century, many brides chose to forego the bridal train, choosing gowns that reflected current fashion trends. Today, however, brides are free to wear whatever dress suits them on their special day.
Whether you are interested in a train or a veil, knowing the history of these bridal fashions may make your decision all the more special to you on your big day.