In clothing veil is a piece of fabric draped as a head and upper or full body covering, that covers and conceals, yet reveals the identity of the wearer and that differentiates between those individuals that choose to cover and those that do not.
There are different words, such as veils, veiled, and veiling that usually emphasize different aspects. As a noun, a veil is a piece of fabric draped as a head and upper or full body covering that functions as an item of dress. Whether an item of clothing or adornment, veils are physically used to cover and conceal, yet simultaneously draw attention to some visual aspect of the wearer. [4.]
As a verb, "to veil" refers to the act of veiling or covering and concealing some visual or social aspect of the wearer, yet possibly, still inadvertently, revealing their identity. As an adjective, veiled, differentiates between the identity of the wearer who dons a veil or head covering or veils and covers and others who don't in the a variety of social contexts. [4.]
This time, let's take a look at the importance of veiling in Western culture and its historical role in the context of fashion and social customs!
Veiled and Masked Dancer from Alexandria
Bronze statuette of a veiled and masked dancer
Date: 3rd - 2nd century B.C.
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Image source: www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/255408
The interaction of dress and body is particularly emphasized by several layers of clothing. The light veil on the top of clothing layers repeats the movement of the body and the drop in spiral-shaped drapes. The fineness and transparency of the dressing surface seemingly adhere to the lines of the body, revealing it somewhere, but elsewhere it hides it again mysteriously. ... The face of the woman partly covers the most delicate veil, but the slightly raised up right leg is clad in a oriental shoe with an upright toe...
This dancer has been convincingly identified as one of the professional entertainers in the ancient world. Moreover, she is both a mimicker and a dancer at the same time. The presence of such dancers in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria has made this city famous in ancient times.
Veil in the Context of the Western Fashion
Silk, cotton or even fine woolen veils that have been worn by women for long time to cover their faces to hide themselves, to decorate themselves or to be used for veiling have been used since time immemorial. Originally, they were worn as part of an outfit, and occasionally, veils literally wrapped their identity from head to toe.
The veil originates from Oriental cultures, but its relocation to the Western fashion is due to the exchange of ancient cultural ideas, trade contacts, and later also with the beginning of the Crusades.
In the Western fashion context, the actuality of veil has been associated with the takeover of Ancient Egyptian culture in Ancient Greece. Thoroughly draped ancient Greek veils have long been considered an important part of the costume. In the times of the Roman Empire, veils have already become a favorite decoration of costume. Their actuality should also be seen in the further development of the Roman bride's veil, as the fiery orange flammeum became a prototype of the Western bridal veil. In addition, as early as the 4th century, the white veil was an integral part of the Christian bridal gown. Since then, the importance of the black veil has also been mentioned . It was used as a sign of mourning.
During the early Medieval times, especially in the territory of France, Great Britain and Germany, in the 10th and 11th centuries, women covered their heads with small veils that reached the shoulders. From these veils, there evolved a huge variations of coverchiefs.
The late Medieval period in the Western European fashion has already demonstrated a real passion for the veils that began to be tied to hats and other headgear. After the Crusades, contacts with the East have been activated again, and this was also the reason for the spread of veil fashion.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Duchy of Burgundy dictated the tone for veil wearing fashions. Women tied their veils at tower-shaped hennins, but men at their fashionable hats. The fact that the veils were saturated with fragrances was also a direct lure from the East.
In the 16th century both veils and coverchiefs disappeared. Meanwhile, the Spanish ladies continued to lay black lace veils on their heads and shoulders.
The fashion era of Baroque and Rococo has once again left behind wearing veils. In those times, they were considered a rarity. The fashions of Directoire style and Empire again reminded of use of fine veils.
In the beginning of the 19th century tulle veils appeared, which were often used as a supplement to the festive attire. Ladies' hats were again decorated with veils according to the Biedermeier fashion trend. At that time, an important part of the female equestrian costume was the top hat with an airy veil fastened to it. Such veil
balanced the appearance of a seemingly manly suit, giving it the desired dose of romanticism.
The renaissance of veiled fashions was once again experienced at the end of the 19th century, when uses of veil were unusually different. At the beginning of the 20th century appeared the veil of mystery. It was like a decorative element of female headgear. During golden days of the Hollywood glamour style, it was a time for nets and veils that could only partly cover the upper part of the face. In the 20th century, their use was already associated with whimsical period dramas, allowing to flourish
the attributes of Oriental luxury and the traditions of the 19th century... But this is a completely different story ...
References & Further Reading:
1.Parute E. Stila un modes enciklopēdija. - Rīga, Jumava, 2010.
2. Piponnier Fr. Dress in Middle Ages. – New Haven: London, 2000.
3. Yarwood D. The Encyclopedia of World Costume. – London: Batsford, 1978.
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.
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