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Getting the Heads Up on Bridal Veils

Putting on a headpiece and veil may complete the weird transformation, from your daily persona to (hear the cymbals?) your "altar" ego: THE BRIDE! Perhaps this feeling is due to your ancestral blood running through your veins. In ancient Rome, brides appeared enveloped in a saffron-colored haze that symbolized the flame of Vesta, the goddess of home and the provider of life.

For most brides today, the veil functions more as a fashion icon than a religious one. Rather than buying the veils that designers show with their gowns, many brides order customized veils. Length, number of layers, trim, fabric, and shade are all dictated by the style and mood of your dress and should be in proportion to your entire silhouette. Among the options:

  • Angel: Long, straight veil cut wide at the sides like angel wings.
  • Ballerina: Ends just above the floor. Also called waltz.
  • Birdcage: Falls to just below the chin, covering the face. Often worn attached to a small hat.
  • Blusher: A short veil that covers the bride's face as she enters the ceremony.
    Strict etiquette mavens consider veils, particularly blushers, inappropriate for second-time or pregnant brides. On the other hand, some people object to a veil's other connotation: the handing over of the woman to a man. Gender politics aside, a blusher can serve a practical purpose, protecting you from inquisitive stares as you walk, trembling, down the aisle.
  • Butterfly: Oval-shaped and folded in half. Ribbon edging follows a crescent shape rather than a straight line.
  • Cascade: Two or more layers of various lengths. Some layers can be removed. Can do double duty as a blusher. Bottom layer(s) can act as "petticoat(s)", fluffing out top veil. Too many layers can look opaque, effectively turning the bride into the invisible woman. This veil is old-fashioned looking compared to a blunt cut.
  • Cathedral: Falls 3-1/2 yards from the headpiece.
  • Chapel: A yard shorter than a cathedral veil. Often worn with a sweep train to give the illusion of a longer train.
  • Elbow: A blusher that goes to your elbows.
  • Fingertip: Extends to your knee — only kidding. The veil touches the tips of your fingers, a length that often works with ball gowns and is therefore one of the most popular.
  • Flyaway: Touches or just covers shoulders. Sometimes called a Madonna veil.
  • Mantilla: A long, Spanish-style, circular piece of lace that frames the face. Can be attached to a high metal armature and is usually secured with a comb. The fabric is either lace or lace-edged tulle. Sew clear plastic snaps on both your mantilla and the shoulders of your dress to keep the fabric draped gracefully.
  • Snood: Netting that holds hair at the nape of the neck.

If your dress is ornate, wear a plain veil. A simple dress, however, can take either a plain or ornate veil. Any ornamentation on the veil, such as flowers or crystals, should start below where your dress ornamentation ends. Decoration on a cathedral veil, for example, should cover only the bottom third. Crystals reflect light and usually photograph better than rhinestones, which can look like black dots. Ribbon trim may look better than unfinished tulle, but depending on the length of your veil, a ribbon could create a horizontal line across your middle, effectively stopping the eye and making you look shorter.

A poufy veil or headpiece does not necessarily make you look taller. In fact, if you're short, a super poufy veil can make you look like a mushroom. Many women are opting for narrow-cut veils, which create a vertical line. Remember, your head is not flat. Examine a veil from all angles, preferably while you're trying on your dress. One that suits you from the back may not flatter your face or vice versa.

If you're lucky enough to have lace from your mother and/or grandmother's wedding dress, you can use it to create a new veil. Avoid making the mistake of trying to dye an antique veil. Its appeal lies in its uniqueness and should not match the dress exactly. Likewise, on a new veil, the seed pearls, sequins, or other adornments don't need to match those on your dress. All the elements should merely complement each other.

Japanese brides wear a white cloth called a wataboushi to cover their faces and another white cloth called a tsunokakushi to cover the "jealous horns" on their heads. Both "veils" are removed during the traditional Shinto ceremony.

Chinese brides wear an ornate headdress of gilded silver inlaid with kingfisher feathers and pearls called a phoenix crown (golden phoenixes are the symbol of brides). Their faces are covered with layers upon layers of red silk during the ceremony to protect them as they are thought to be at their most vulnerable during this time when they are in transition between their parents' house and the groom's family home.

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