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What is the Symbolism of a Bride's Veil?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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While in modern times, a bride's veil is often merely an accessory to the traditional white or cream bridal costume, it has along history. It symbolizes different things in different times and cultures, but it is generally designed to hide the bride's face. Sometimes, the groom did not get to see the bride before they were wed, while in other cultures, it symbolizes that only the groom should see the bride's face. A veil could also be used to protect the bride from evil spirits, to symbolize the transition from maidenhood to married life, or to show respect and modesty before God.

A veil may be worn over the face during a portion of the marriage ceremony, and it is then lifted up discretely by the groom after the ceremony for the first kiss of the marriage. The veil does not always cover the face, however, in many modern weddings — it simply covers the head and a portion of the back of the head. Veils can be long and elaborate affairs, or quite short and simple.

Ancient Greece and Rome often used a veil to specifically conceal the bride’s appearance. Since most marriages were arranged, the groom might not see the bride until the wedding day and, as crass as it sounds, families didn’t want a potential spouse rejected if the groom did not find the looks of the bride appealing. As a result, the bride's veil was a concealing device, and was frequently not white. Red veils tended to be popular in Ancient Greece, while in Rome, yellow veils were often the color of choice.

Some also date the tradition of veiling the bride to the Norse and to other cultures where women were essentially kidnapped and married to their kidnappers. A blanket might be thrown over the head of the woman, in a rough precursor to the bride's veil. This often secured and subdued the captured woman.

Quite against the custom of many other groups, a Jewish wedding may include a ceremonial veiling of the bride by the groom. This can symbolize the groom’s respect for the bride without regard to her beauty. It can also be seen as a form of possession: the bride’s looks are for the groom alone, and therefore should be veiled.

In Middle Eastern cultures, women may be veiled in the company of men. A veil is necessary for modesty, as a result, and its removal is for the husband only. Only the bride’s family and husband are allowed to see the woman unveiled. Many modern Middle Eastern women do not don a veil, but in some, being seen without the veil is considered a crime, or at the least quite inappropriate.

The custom was one frequently adopted in the Middle Ages in most of Europe. Often, this custom was linked to superstition and the bride's veil protected her from evil curses or spirits. There is also a superstition that it is simply bad luck to for a groom to see a bride before the wedding. In some beliefs, even a bride should not see herself in full costume until the day of the wedding. The veil is not tried on with the dress, and it is put on at the last possible moment before the wedding.

The wedding veil has also come to represent the woman's transition from the pure and virginal state to the married state, and many modern and past cultures feel virginity prior to marriage is ideal. The white bridal costume, along with the veil, symbolizes this virginity. The veil can also be seen as a symbolic representation of the hymen, a membrane that is broken during a woman's first sexual intercourse experience. A groom lifting the bride's veil, therefore, takes on a rather bold reference to the sexual act that will consummate the marriage.

Until recently, it was inappropriate to not cover the head in many churches. As a result, brides either wore a hat or a veil in order to show modesty and respect to God. Some women in more conservative churches may wear the veil more for this symbol of respect than for any other significance.

Many feminists argue that the veil is a continued representation of women's subjugation to man. It implies the husband owns the wife and is, therefore, distasteful. To them, veiling may be seen as a man’s rule, forced upon women. A modern bride may reject the veil if she equates it with man's oppression of women.

On the other hand, the floating gauze, lace, silk, net, or taffeta, is often considered quite beautiful. Many women chose to wear a veil simply because it is pretty. Whatever symbolism it may have held in the past may be less important to some women than its attractive qualities.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon271393 — On May 26, 2012

As a Christian, I find great symbolism in a bride wearing a veil. Jesus, the bridegroom awaits the arrival of His bride, His church.

Since living in the land of mortals, Scripture states that man cannot see God nor the beatific vision (vision of Heaven). The only time man will have sight of the beatific vision is when man leaves the land of earth and lives in the land of immortality. In a sense, the "veil" is lifted and the beatific vision is seen.

Also, when Jesus returns for His bride (the church) at His Second Coming, then the veil of His people will be lifted and man will see Him face to face. No man will see God except through Jesus Christ. It is at the Second Coming that God's created creatures will live with Him at the wedding table of bounty.

Weddings are symbolic of this great event to come. So a veil has much meaning in weddings, and that is only my opinion. I have not read it anywhere.

By sunshine31 — On Apr 11, 2011

@Latte31 - I know that is a pet peeve of mine. I think that the first wedding that a women has should be elaborate because you are really hoping that that will be your only wedding, but if it is not I think that the attire should be a little more subdued and conservative. A small veil is fine.

By latte31 — On Apr 08, 2011

I have to say I'm kind of torn about brides wearing veils -- the whole thing seems to get more cachet than it deserves, especially since I think that many people don't understand the symbolism of it anyway.

It is just like wearing a white dress is supposed to symbolize purity but I have seen women that have had previous marriages get married in a white wedding dress so I don’t know how much significance that still has.

That color should really be worn by first time brides because that is a special time for them and this signifies the purity of the marriage. I think if a woman has been married previously and chooses a large second wedding she should choose a wedding dress that is modest and a more beige or off white color but distinctive enough that the guests understand that the bride is not trying to make it look like this is her first wedding.

By cupcake15 — On Apr 06, 2011

I am getting married next month, and I am so excited about choosing my veil and dress -- I kind of went back and forth about whether I should wear a veil, simply because it seems like it would get in the way, but in the end I decided to go for it because I think that there's something very romantic about a bride in a veil.

What do you all think about it? Does anybody have any good suggestions about what kind of veil I should get?

By Sunny27 — On Apr 04, 2011

I just didn’t know that the veil had so much meaning. I do think that it is beautiful and really brings the whole wedding dress together nicely. I don’t see wearing a veil in the case of a wedding as a women being owned by a man like the feminist believe.

I see it more as a beautiful article of clothing that compliments that wedding dress -- but I'm not so hot on women wearing veils in public while not at a wedding.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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