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Oct 11, 2012

Things I Don't Get, Vol. 7: Veils



The veil.  I mean, what's up with that?

Here in the West, veils are often associated with the "exotic" East: harem girls and Persian princesses -- images often filtered through Hollywood movies like "Arabian Nights" or TV sitcoms like "I Dream of Jeannie."  I don't think it's passing judgment to say that veiled women -- even Western brides -- are symbols of women-as-property, even if we no longer make this association. 









If I remember my Cecil B. DeMille correctly, women were traditionally veiled to protect men from the lust women's bodies aroused in them.  And in theory, veils kept men from coveting other men's wives, though I'm not sure how well this ever worked.  Gay men just liked the floaty fabrics.



Since I'm starting to create my Halloween "Scheherazade in high fidelity" costume, I've been thinking a lot about veils, and -- I hope this doesn't sound like a contradiction -- how much I love them.  Veils are glamorous!



Veiled hats were popular through the dying days of the hat-as-wardrobe-necessity.  And what was the Twentieth Century hat veil if not a vestige of the modesty-protecting veils of yore?









Veils flatter by softening the eyes and the shape of the face.  Veils conceal (crows feet especially),  serving as a sort of soft-focus lens.  Veils add romantic shadows and textures.  And they keep out the mosquitoes.







Veils can even be whimsical.









Happily, veiled hats still turn up from time to time, mainly in the UK.  And at weddings.  The veiled cocktail party fascinator is a favorite among the vintage-loving crew.



Readers, what are your thoughts about veils?  Do you agree that the veiled hat is a vestige of the days when women's bodies were hidden from sight, and are cousin to the veils and other face-concealing garments many women in the world still wear?

Apart from the occasional wedding (or funeral), do you ever wear a veil?  What do you think makes them so appealing even today?

 Jump in!

39 comments:

  1. It's sad that veils are considered costume-y. If they weren't, I'd wear one every other day. Claudine

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  2. I have a vintage black velvet hat with a very small veil that I will occasionally wear as "every day" wear. I get surprisingly few strange looks, even on a random Tuesday wear.

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  3. The one time I wore a veil it was at a wedding in the UK, and I felt intensely glamorous in it. Oh and for my wedding as well.

    I would have thought that before the religious/modesty association, the origin would have had something to do with protecting the eyes, nose and mouth from sand storms and the sun.

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  4. Veils do have a down side... I wore one, of the netted variety, to the races one Melbourne Cup Day (a HUGE day in Australia) as it was attached to my fascinator. I felt very glamorous, and it gave me a bit of shade and kept the flies away BUT its impossible to drink anything elegantly with one on... I ended up having to lift the veil out of the way with my little finger every time I took a sip of champagne. Very annoying! I ended up wearing the fascinator backwards to get the bloody thing out of the way!

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  5. I detest veils, expect for costumes (theater, etc.). And so agree with you, Peter, on them having a possession aspect. Not for me. I did see in a book about fabric a section on a psychiatrist (maybe about 1930) who thought people fixated on fabrics to get comfort, if they had been through excessive stresses. Now, he thought this was "healthy". After he died it was discovered that he had his own fabric stash (to fondle, no doubt), and photos he had taken in Arabic countries, of veiled women, which were in the book. Lots of gorgeous, crinkly fabrics, in graceful billows from wind or movement. Cathie, in Quebec.

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    1. Suddenly the questioning of authority figures makes great sense.

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  6. This is bizarre - I actually had a DREAM last night about veils, and I remember wondering if the object was to blur the vision coming in, or going out. I also remember wearing a veiled hat. I wish I could say I had some fabulous dream story to relate, but sadly, that's all I have.

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  7. I tried on a headband with a little veil, covering only the eyes (which might help with the champagne-sipping, Beccie), and I too felt glamorous. Perhaps that glamor comes from it being quite unusual these days. And what's wrong with appropriating the veil and ascribing new meaning to it while wearing it with a cute fascinator? Its new meaning is, "Screw your idea that I'm property - I'm wearing this because I'm FABULOUS!"

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  8. The veil is handy in Australia - keeps the flies away from your mouth and lets you desist from doing what's know as the "great Australian salute".. shooing flies away from your face. (I don't like them however)

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  9. I have never understood brides who refuse to wear a veil, saying they "hate them." Really? Why? It feels heavenly to have delicate tulle net streaming behind you, framing your face, softening your features. OK, it can get a bit toasty at the alter, but otherwise, it's really and truly like being a fairytale princess for those few hours. Why the hate?

    I took my one day of "authorized veil wearing" to the absolute limits, swapping (via clever velcro attachment at the headpiece) my cathedral-length ceremony veil for a waist-length reception veil. I removed the veil for our dinner that night (it was a morning wedding), but kept on my dress and the embellished headpiece.

    Then, I kid you not, I could hardly keep myself from slapping the thing back on my head (in private) at various times during the honeymoon. My husband took a shot of me on the balcony of our hotel, where we sat watching dolphins. I was drinking a cup of coffee and wearing a nightie, slippers, and my 'spare veil.' It seemed unfair it was only "allowed" for one day. So I dragged it on as long as I could.

    As for the 50s veil hat, well, it's gorgeous for all the reasons you state. It adds an air of mystery and intrigue while softening the features and looking demure. It's both sexy and modest at the same time, which is what makes it interesting and compelling, IF you like the look.

    Some people hate it. That's OK. Some people loathe argyle. Others detest platform shoes. Not a problem.

    I'm personally not a big fan of those wacky British fascinators. Some look downright silly to me. But a basic veil hat, sure. So long as you're not decked out in vintage head to toe, like a character actor in search of a role, why not?

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  10. I swore I wouldn't wear a veil at my wedding, not sure why, probably just to buck tradition, but once I saw one on me while dress shopping...well, that was that. It looked wonderful. And I had a good laugh when my now husband accidental yanked it off my head during the ceremony as he bent down to sign the register. Good thing we have a great sense of humor. But what's the deal with the crow on that lady's head in the first pic? Yikes!

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  11. I love tulle and any other similar fabric.
    I love veils. I have been to a few wedding where the bride chose not to wear a veil but instead had beautifully adorned hair. The brides that chose veils did so because they felt beautiful and they looked gorgeous on them. I had several veiled hats from the 40's/50's. I collected vintage hats in the 80's. I gave them away.

    Now the hats worn at the royal wedding I will definitely give them a miss.

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  12. I remember my mother going to a funeral in a tight linen shift and a small hat with a veil, looking immeasurably glamorous. My dad had a striped gangster suit on and looked equally glam.
    Maybe you could hold a 'dress in what you always wanted to wear but never got the chance' MPB day!
    The only chance we really get to wear glamorous hats or veils here in Australia is at the races on Melbourne Cup day, as already mentioned. The whole country seems to stop work, get dressed up and celebrate. You'd love it..

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  13. There's something that magically happens to many many girls and women when trying on wedding dresses - the first time they (we) put on a veil with a wedding dress, it makes it all seem much more real ("yes! It's actually going to happen to me!") and makes us feel more like a princess for the day.

    I've noticed fewer and fewer "fascinators" (what's so fascinating about them anyway? a feather or two attached to a headband?) available for our upcoming Spring Racing Carnival (Melbourne Cup Day approacheth rather fasteth!) that have any net attached. You can buy net to decorate your own hats and fascinators if you like though.
    Historically (biblically?) the origin of the wedding veil is that when Jacob went to marry Rachel, her father tricked him and gave him Leah (Rachel's older sister) instead. The reason Jacob didn't notice till afterwards (they say) is that brides were heavily veiled. Some more observant Jewish weddings have the bride so heavily veiled that she has to be led to the Chuppah by her parents - she can't see where she's going otherwise! But my favourite moment of my wedding ceremony (lo! those many years ago) was when my husband to be was brought to see me and was required to lift my (tulle) veil to check that I was the person he expected to find there. His reaction when he first saw me ("Wow!") was wonderful!

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  14. The first and only time I have ever worn a veil was at my own wedding three years ago. I had a birdcage veil made to compliment my suit for the ceremony and it was totally lovely! Veils should make a comeback because I can think of no time I felt more glamorous!

    This was a second marriage for me (first was far less an event having eloped!) and I figured at my age (and weight), it made more sense to wear a tailored yet elegant ivory suit and it was beautifully topped with my lovely veil!

    The woman who made it has a Craftsy course available about making wedding veils, etc. We should do this more often because there is little effort, truly for a beautiful result.

    PS: my custom veil from Doreen was cheaper than my daughter's off the rack veil was!

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  15. those veiled hats in the fifties etc usually had a way of turning up the veil so that you could dine or drink without looking silly. Also it lent a little more intimacy when you were conversing with a friend. Veil down usually a more formal time, such as at the grave side or in church or at a meeting, especially if you were in mourning.

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  16. I'd like one at a funeral, especially a funeral for someone you were close to. You always wind up looking so bad at a funeral, all the grief, the crying and exhaustion and relatives and acquaintances and arrangements... omg, who would NOT want a little camoflauage/refuge during such a time?

    I can also totally see the insect-repellent quality. Something I'd never really thought about before! Yes, an outdoor dressup event would be a lot pleasanter if you weren't either waving away bugs all day or reapplying bug spray. (I wore bug spray instead of perfume to my outdoor wedding. Sooo romantic. lol) Wearing a veil to my wedding honestly never crossed my mind, since it was semi-dressy, not a full-on wedding-white affair.

    But there are clearly some veil styles that are more casual than say, a cathedral-length tulle/lace deal.

    what I would not like is to live in a place where they were mandatory, or where you would be seen as a bad person, or whatever, for going around barefaced if you chose. but I don't think in most of the West this is ever likely to happen.

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  17. The veil has played a role in many religions - Judaism, as Jen in Oz points out above - which don't have anything to do with "women as property" as much as they do with piety and modesty, and they don't necessarily cover the face.

    Nuns have traditionally worn a veil as a mark of piety, and though most nuns don't wear the habit and wimple today, they usually wear some sort of modified veil or head covering. Some orthodox Jewish women cover their hair with a wig or a scarf. I'm not sure of the exact intention, but I was under the impression that it had to do with modesty and piety. A while back, I was listening to an NPR program with a panel of Muslim women - one woman explained that the real reason for the veil in Islam was that the Koran stated that people (women?) should come to Allah in prayer with their heads covered/lowered and should behave modestly. To her, wearing a head covering was honoring a commandment of Allah. According to her, some people extend that to mean that they should be completely covered, but there is nowhere in the Koran where it says women must be veiled. A similar notion exists within Amish and Mennonite communities - the women wear thin white starched caps over their hair, called prayer caps. This is supposed to be a recognition of a Bible passage: 1 Corinthians 11:5-6. That passage says that women who pray with their heads uncovered dishonor themselves because it's as though they have their heads shaved and if a woman has her hair cut or shaved, it's disgraceful. So she should cover it up or else have her hair cut as a consequence. Not very logical, but religion isn't always.

    So I don't think that a veil is or has always been a mark of women as property, but I think that it became that over time as societies became more religious and allowed women's roles to be secondary to those of men.

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  18. Like Jen, I noticed the lack of fascinators in shops in Melbourne, which is now gearing up for the racing hat season. I’m sad. That little bit of veiling perkily perched over one eye could do a lot to raise ones’ spirits. In November 1983 I was struggling through the end of my marriage, dragging myself out of bed to work on a PhD and generally feeling that life was long sad business with only something worse to look forward to at the end. When a friend’s invite to a racing festival cocktail party arrived with the words ‘appropriate costume’ I nearly binned it, but the thought that I could make a fascinator suddenly offered the possibility of something like fun. And it was! With the little black hat plus veil done, I went shopping for an outfit and suddenly realised that while I had lost a partner I now had total control of my money. (Not that said lost husband had in any way dominated the finances, but when you share a bank account, you feel a need to keep something in it for the other’s sake. Now I could blow the lot and live on baked beans till the next payday.) I've loved fascinators and insisted on separate bank accounts ever since!

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    1. This is what I love about MPB, it's a space where people lift the social veil and reveal parts of themselves.

      This blog is more like a diner, where the voices echo, and you never know who is going to chime in, or what they're going to say.

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    2. Not to mention the bottomless cup of coffee! ;)

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  19. Peter you are priceless. Saying you don't get veils then leading with a photo of a woman with a freaking stuffed bird on her head!?!?! The veil is positively sane by comparison! ;-)

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  20. best hat ever in top photo

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  21. While I’m not a fan of the dead crow in the first picture, I think a lot of the veils of the Western world in the 20th century were so glamorous. I’d love to see them make a comeback.

    I loved my wedding veil, but on the big day – my only chance to wear a veil – things got so hectic that I forgot to put the veil over my face before walking down the aisle (I had it pulled up over my head so I could see the church steps and not fall). There’s a video of my mother when I got to the altar, exclaiming, “We forgot the veil!”

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  22. "I don't think it's passing judgment to say that veiled women -- even Western brides -- are symbols of women-as-property, even if we no longer make this association."

    Are you kidding? :-) A male handing over a female to another male? I still make that association.




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  23. Was asking myself that exact same question while watching the new Anna Karenina film which features some beautiful veil action (and fab costumes) and lends their wearer such an air of mystery and sophistication. I came out of it yearning for a return to veiled hats and elaborate veiled coiffures... and yet I wouldn't have got married in a veil in a million years (I passed on the white meringue and handed myself over too for that matter...). So why the fascination, I'm not sure, but when done well, they do look gorgeous.

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  24. OMG - veils conceal crow's feet? I'm in!

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  25. Veils, over the elbow gloves, spike heels: all frivolous, all glam, all make you feel wooonderful.

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  26. Someone above said, "It adds an air of mystery and intrigue while softening the features and looking demure. It's both sexy and modest at the same time, which is what makes it interesting and compelling, IF you like the look."

    Hear! Hear! And if it conceals crow's feet, well so much the better. :)

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  27. Terrific fun posts. I could have used a small glam hat, with a small veil at an awful funeral last Fri. So agree clothes are an amazing way to be brought up emotionally. And how about RED? Cathie, in Quebec.

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  29. I LOVE veils! I think it adds a mystery and sophistication to a suit/going out outfit. I do agree that it needs to be worn correctly. Nobody does this better than, Miss. Dita Von Teese.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT4IfMSbkZU

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  30. I like veils. I agree with the commenters above who think that they're not necessarily a symbol of women as property so much as a symbol of modesty/chastity/purity. (As a friend of mine once put it, "Look, the reason girls have to wear more clothing in most situations is that we're just more beautiful than guys are." Haha!)

    I often wonder if one of the things that makes veils so compelling is the fact that they (at least symbolically) hide you a little. In today's let-it-all-hang-out internet information overload, I think there's something deeply appealing about holding a piece of yourself back from general public consumption.

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  31. Those who think of veils as sending a signal to "look but don't approach" are correct. They used to be de rigeur for shopping downtown, where a woman would be around men she did not know, and who might have what were then known as Dishonorable Intentions.

    The eating/drinking problem was more easily handled than one might think. A properly crisp veil could easily be flipped up out of the way or back down with a practiced flip of one's perfectly manicured fingers. The trick was keeping the veil crisp, which was done by pressing it between two sheets of waxed paper.

    Some women tried to drink through veils, resulting in a soggy place in the veil and speculation that one worked street corners for a living or at best, was untrustworthy around other womens' husbands.

    My grandmother was absolutely the grand master of veil-flipping; she always wore the same hat downtown and was so good at getting it out of the way that I referred to it as her "convertible hat," because it reminded me of a car's folding top. It always went up inside good department stores, and always went down on the street, or in lesser establishments where the help tended to be a wee bit familiar.

    Those, mes amis, were the days.

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  32. I agree taht veils are lovely and I would wear one if they weren't considered freakish in the day-to-day.
    But I do think we westerners are very quick to label other practices as anti-feminist. It's true that covering the head to honour god exists in many religions/cultures. And taking that to an extreme of insisting women be covered is generally a male/cultural thing not a religious one. Western European women veiled in the middle ages too - and nuns still wore veils up to last century and some still do. Having travelled in the Mid East there are also practical reasons - its hot, and sandy and dusty. Veiling is a way for women to remain clean, modest and healthy in such a climate. Inside their own home they don't veil.
    But, oh, how awesome are those 1940s styles? Give me a veil anyday!

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  33. James B. at Vogue PatternsOctober 15, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    You have the photo of Bette Davis from Now Voyager, there is a scene at the airport where she and Paul Henreid are saying good bye he lights their cigarettes and she smokes through her veil and they even kiss through her veil. When I saw your photo and the topic
    it made me smile and think about that scene!!!

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  34. I never gave veils much thought, but for a wedding dress a well matched veil definitely adds and enhances the glamour. Other than that, I like reading the comments, it can become a time pit.

    Now about that crow on first picture, what birdbrain came up with that idea for a hat?

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  35. I have a pretty vintage veiled velvet hat/fascinator thing I got from a blogging friend; sadly, the veil is torn, otherwise I'd definitely invent ways to wear it.
    Full veils do have that ambiguous modesty effect (in short, modesty is good - virtue is active; making a woman just an item that has to be passively covered up is not that good). A small veiled number is glamorous. Veil/shawl attached in hair or so is fabulous; perhaps slightly costume-y, but then I love slight cosume-ity.
    And long (or longish) hair can be a bit of a veil, too.
    Just my own two cents.

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