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150 Years of Wedding Veil Styles (1800s-1900s)

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Vintage fashion is my hobby because I am fashion-conscious and try to be unique. My personal signature? Wearing vintage-inspired apparel.


The Origins of Wedding Veils

Headpieces and veils were worn long before they officially became bridal wear. Its use has a long history in African, Asian, and European societies and prominent in different forms from Christianity to Judaism, Islam, and Paganism. The earliest proven reference to veil-wearing is found in an Assyrian law code dating from 1400 and 1100 BC.

Besides its enduring religious significance, veiling continued to play a role in some modern secular contexts, including wedding customs.

It is not quite certain when the wearing wedding veils became symbolic with a wedding ceremony, but it is said that the Romans had a special head-covering custom for brides, just as we do today. However, the veil, a bright orange cloth called a flammeum was more of a head and shoulder covering, than a face concealer.

The Greek wore opaque bridal veils to totally shield the bride's face from her groom because superstition has it that it is bad luck for the bride’s future husband to see the bride before the tying of the knot (nuptials). Other’s believe that it symbolises a ‘right of passage’ between when a bride’s face is covered, and when it is uncovered by the groom.

Antique wedding veil - Queen Victoria's lace veil and floral head ornament.

Antique wedding veil - Queen Victoria's lace veil and floral head ornament.

Antique Bridal Headpieces of the Early 1800s

By the early1800s, brides had moved away from wearing simple and understated head coverings to festively adorned head-pieces or hats. It wasn’t until Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in a white dress and veil that 'veiling' for the bride came into fashion permanently.

Cap veils (bonnet veils) with attachments were the popular wedding headdresses in the early 19th century. The Juliet cap veil, an open-work mesh lace and decorated with beads, jewels, and pearls, and fashioned after Shakespearean women’s headpieces was a popular choice for brides.

They came with a lace attachment and are one of the oldest styles of bridal veils. Usually structured like a semi-circular or oblong cap, they come small and only cover the face and a lace veil that falls only to the shoulders. Though some may flow down to the waist, the generality of these gorgeously adorned bridal headpieces was designed to be worn as a small head piece with a small veil at the back of the head.

Many antique bonnet veils are liberally adorned with sprays of flowers, floral sprigs, leaves, beads, and applique.

Turn of the century bride with her attendants - Edwardian era (1910)

Turn of the century bride with her attendants - Edwardian era (1910)

Wedding Veils - Mid-1800s to the Early 1900s

Elaborate wedding veils pre-1840s were short and skimpier bridal headpieces and were not much longer than 3ft or 100cm long. They came either as attachments to cap veils or as a drape over the bride’s head. Small veils were popularly made from lace and rest on the shoulders or slightly below. The elbow length veil is also considered as a small veil and is now considered the universal veil length.

By the mid-19th century, after Queen Victoria’s wedding (1840), women began to associate veiling with wedding ceremonies and at the turn of the 20th century, the Edwardian era, veiling consisted of a head wreath of orange-blossoms, and a veil of lace, satin, or tulle.

The larger and longer veils became the favourite choice of many brides. Thanks to Queen Victoria and her historic white wedding dress and elaborate veil, still majorly made from silk and lace, wedding veils of this time were primarily square-shaped, their minimum length was about 5ft to 8ft in size, and with large veils like the cathedral veils, they can come as long as 10ft.

This style continued into the late 1800s up until the turn of the century. Wedding veils became more elaborate and brides wore cap headdresses with longer and fuller attached veils.

Antique-inspired wedding veil with a bonnet upper and large long veil as the attachment.

Antique-inspired wedding veil with a bonnet upper and large long veil as the attachment.

Antique Bridal Headpieces - 1920s to 1930s

The 1920s 'now antique' wedding veils were all about lace cloche cap headdresses with veil attachments made of silk, tulle, or lace materials and Juliet caps. Cloche veils were amply decorated with flowers and foliage that matched the bridal bouquet. Juliet cap veils were also extremely popular, and their styles continued to trend into the early thirties.

Cloche veils were made from the finest Brussels lace, but most were produced from net backed lace which was decorated with satin, or sometimes, velvet ribbon. They usually came with wax blossoms at the ears and a veil that has rounded corners.

Juliet caps had fewer embellishments than cloche veils and were worn loosely over the bride’s head, and as fashion became simpler in the 1930s, so did wedding veil styles.

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"Florence (Cooee) Blume on her wedding day in Brisbane" in 1931 wearing a beautiful, now antique, wedding veil

"Florence (Cooee) Blume on her wedding day in Brisbane" in 1931 wearing a beautiful, now antique, wedding veil

Antique bridal headpiece - Cloche cap wedding veil of the 1920s

Antique bridal headpiece - Cloche cap wedding veil of the 1920s

Antique Wedding Veils of the 1940s to the 1950s

In the post-war years of the 1940s, the birdcage veils were popularly worn as a bridal headdress. Because these were austere times, brides had to get creative with materials around the home. Many used furnishing fabrics like lace curtains to make veils out of.

At this time, wedding veils became shorter and usually did not go past shoulder-length. Many brides also wore hats as their wedding headpiece because they had to get a hasty wedding before their partners went to war or when they were granted short leaves from the military.

The popular bridal headpieces of the 1950s were the tight-fitting skullcap veils. Most veils were waist-length veils that highlighted the feature of slim-waisted gowns but those who could afford it wore longer wedding veils with long trains. Birdcage veils were also incredibly popular. Wedding veil styles reflected the chic trends of the day.

A 1950s bridal veil

A 1950s bridal veil

Vintage Wedding Veils of the 1960s and 1970s

The 1960s saw wedding veils worn high on the head, either coming out of beehive hairstyles or affixed to pillbox hats. Veils attached to pillbox hats were very common in the fifties and always looked chic, elegant and appropriate for a wedding.

Fabrics used were generally synthetic materials. By the 1970s, the flower power movement toned down wedding veil styles. They were long styles with minimal embellishments. The Juliet cap veil reappeared, but with lace edging to emphasise the bohemian style.

Further reading:

Blend and Twist Traditions of the Past and the Present

As the US and Europe began to merge many different cultures into their societies, wedding veils have become more open for fashion interpretation. Incorporating traditional veil styles of the past with contemporary bridal wear is an opportunity to blend and twist the classic old styles with the new and modern bridal fashion concepts.

Integrating styles and customs of the antique and the modern can make your wedding ceremony become a unique and classic affair. However, you may need inspiration on how to ‘pull off’ the blend. To find some great ideas to inspire and help you create your own statement, here are a few tips:

  • Watch the old classic movies and note how the silver screen actors wore bridal wear.
  • If you can. go to libraries and look through old fashion books, magazines, and journals. Look out for those that about a century old.
  • Search through old magazines if you can find them (from fifty to seventy-year publications).
  • Search online for posters and photographs of vintage bridal fashion and antique wedding veils.
  • Visit thrift stores and rummage through tons of vintage stuff. You will find old books, photographs, journals, sketches, and the like, which you can buy at next-to-nothing prices.

When you research the styles of decades past, it will help you reach a decision on which style veil best suits the bridal look you desire.

A 1940 wedding veil

A 1940 wedding veil

Tips on How to Wear Antique Bridal Veils with Modern Wedding Dresses

  • Wearing head-to-toe antique or vintage style isn’t particularly great unless you are having a period-themed wedding. If your wedding is not era-themed, you will appear like someone dressed up for a fancy dress or costume party.
  • On the contrary, you can mime the beauty of styles of antique veils and mix them with contemporary or more modern bridal wear.
  • For example, you can wear a headpiece fashioned after Cloche hats with bridal dress styles such as the chemise style, or tea length tube dress style of the '20s that was worn with opaque stockings.
  • Wear a Cathedral or Chapel veil with a body-hugging wedding gown, with or without sleeves, but with either a considerably low neckline or very a high neck clasping gown.

It is almost impossible to find antique veils that are authentic. They are a rarity. But the good thing is that you can have your veil custom made, copying a design of the past. There are bespoke custom tailors who are specialists in producing made-to-measure bridal wear, including veils and headpieces using the finest fabrics and embellishments reminiscent of antique and vintage bridal apparel.

© 2009 viryabo

Comments Are Welcome

Nina on February 05, 2018:

These wedding gowns and veils are breathtaking. I wish I could have something like that on my wedding day... Congrats for your beautiful page.

Stephanie on April 25, 2012:

I love the veil but I love the dress even more and this is something I would like to have for my wedding do you perhaps have the full body picture of that dress?

Megan Johnson on January 26, 2012:

I must have the dress and head piece shown in the photo ! We are having an Earth Pagan wedding ceremony on June 6, 2012 and this is the dream dress for me!

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on January 23, 2011:

Hello 2uesday, so nice to see you here.

Thank you for the kind comments and for your visit.


2uesday on January 22, 2011:

Beautiful wedding ideas the right veil can real make the dress look even more special. A very elegant page full of nice ideas for brides to be.

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on February 21, 2010:

Hi silkveil, thanks for visiting and your nice comments.

Period weddings seems to hold a fascination for me too. Especially the black & white or sepia photos.


silkveil from UK on February 20, 2010:

Gorgeous photos. I love pictures of period weddings!

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on January 18, 2010:

hello Destination wedding photographer, thanks for your visit and your nice comments. Glad you like it.


Destination wedding photographer on January 18, 2010:

Vintage, antique, retro ... all that styles are so glamourous in terms of weddings. Very nice hub!

viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on November 05, 2009:

Hi Debora, thank you for your visit. Lovely veil it is. Got your mail. many of these vintage or antique pieces are rare to find and are usually stumbled upon at vintage shops, garage or estate sales.

However the good thing is that you can always have them custom made for you using a heavy off white or champagne lacework material that almost looks like crochet work, with tiny flower motifs or appliques and pearls settings.

It will be your own unique piece.

Hope this helps.


Debora Glenn on November 05, 2009:

how do I get a veil and see the dress on the ventage dress shown

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