Monday Muse: Women in Veils

by - January 04, 2016

The Greeks thought of language as a veil which protects us from the brightness of things. 
I think poetry is a tear in that veil.
Alice Oswald

Veil: a piece of fine material worn by women to protect or conceal the face.

I've had a soft spot for veils ever since I can remember. There's just something about having a fabric casually  ruining your view that's somehow appealing to me. So I went out on investigation to find out if I was the only weirdo around the block who likes sniffing fabric from time to time (spoiler: I'm not).

It's almost unnecessary to say that the veil most probably has its roots lying in ancient times. Yes, those bloody Greeks and Romans proudly proclaim FIRST on almost every garment you know off. However there's evidence of the veil already popping up in 13th century B.C. Assyria (so beat it, Greeks!).

Over the course of its 'excistence' the veil is probably most known for its religious 'purposes' (think of the hijab or a wimple), but the more popularized version (if you can call it popularized) is naturally the wedding veil (which funnily enough is also related to religion, but for many it's lost this annotation and has simply become part of the whole wedding shebang as a ritual on its own).

However on a whole other level there's the veil as a fashion item. Who doesn't look longingly at those pictures of perfectly dressed woman in their extravagant yet simplistic and chic outfits (you can see I'm a bit bias towards these WONDERFULLY dressed woman (or man. But mostly woman). How can one do anything but swoon facing these pictures?). These kind of veils are mostly made out of (black) netting and are descendants of the Victorian Age mourning fashions. That's right: mourning fashions. They didn't just mourn, they did it in style.

The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.
Queen Victoria

The Victorian Age officially started in 1837 when Queen Victoria (hence 'Victorian' in 'Victorian Age') became queen of the British empire. She was married to prince Albert who unfortunately died on the 14th of December 1861. Victoria (I may call her Victoria) famously stayed in mourning for his death until the day she herself died on the 22nd of January 1901. That's right! 40 years of mourning... dedication, they call that!

Naturally 40 years of mourning didn't slip under the radar and as a result there was such a thing as mourning fashion (because there's nothing as fashionable as grief and tears). You didn't just loose your husband as a woman (this 'trend' was naturally mostly aimed at women), you were the one appointed to reflect the feelings of the family to the outer world (aka sad). Not only did you needed to follow a certain clothing restriction (preferably anything black -which represents the absence of light and therefore life (fun fact: black as mourning colour is something the Romans introduced 'the mourners could prevent being haunted from the ghost of the deceased by cloaking themselves in black')- but it depends on which stage of mourning you were (yes, there were different stages of mourning. By half mourning (who knew you could mourn in half?) you're also allowed to wear grey, mauve, purple, lavender, lilac, white and red. And black, obviously)), one was also to be accounted with certain etiquettes. The first year you for instance weren't supposed to leave the house (accept to go to church), just like the queen had done so before you.

The fashion of mourning slowly died away (sorry not sorry) after the death of the queen. However the colour black was still stained with the world of mourning, funerals and all that fun (although, side note, it had been that way for a very very long time). However, guess what, another claim to fame fanatic besides the Greek & Romans, came here to save our lives. Obviously I'm talking about the one and only Coco Chanel, who 'revolutionized' black around the 1920s by wearing it NOT for mourning, but just because. She used the colour for the all famous, most notorious and raved about (clothing) item of all time: the little black dress. It's almost unnecessary to say that this little black dress has changed the way we dress today (hereby even disregarding all those other clothing items she either introduced or popularized within the world of (women) fashion). Black became chic, elegant and not just for remembering the dead.

As it goes, there are many versions of the veil. Not all are mourning related, mostly depending on the material used. In the 19th century crepe and silk were popular fabrics to use, anything thin and see through yet covering the face would tick the boxes, really. And again, it was Queen Vic who popularized needlework (and therewith perhaps the veil as fashionable item) in Great Britain and the United States by commisioning handmade honiton applique (a particular kind of lace) for her coronation, her wedding veil and the royal christening gown. Nowadays (I say nowadays, but like -making an educated guess- around the end of the 19th and begin 20th century -when one was able to fabricate lace or netting industrially) netting became a popular fabric to use for veils. Netting isn't obviously made to hide your face from the world, but adds that touch of elegance (and sometimes mystery) to an outfit. I mean, just look at the pictures above and dare to say those women don't look elegant and mysterious!


Needlework Through History: An Encyclopedia by Catherine A. leslie (via Google Books), p. 30, 116-117.

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  1. I love this post......

    love, Marjan

    1. It certainly isn't veil-ing (sorry not sorry) in providing some inspiration, if I may say so myself... ;)