veil, a feature of female costume from antiquity, especially in the East, where it was worn primarily to conceal the features. In modern times it is worn to enhance the face. The Egyptian woman of rank, after Muslim influence, wore a transparent white gauze veil; the Greek woman wore a linen veil over the back of her head; the Roman woman favored the beautiful palliolum, a veil that was arranged over the hair and fell to the shoulders. The Middle Ages saw an abundance of veils decorating the extravagant headdresses (see hat) of the times. In England, during the reign of Elizabeth I, veils of a shawllike nature were fashionable, and it was at that time that the white bridal veil probably became popular in England. The black crepe veil has been worn for mourning since early times. The Spanish mantilla, usually a black or white triangular veil of blonde lace, is worn on the head and falling over the shoulders. The veils of nuns and nurses are patterned after the early forms of the veil. The 20th cent. brought forth a great variety of veils—from large veils worn during the early years of the automobile to delicate, decorative nose veils. The modern veil, of chiffon or net, is often embroidered or embossed. Veils have often had symbolic meanings—of modesty, of religious humility, of bondage. Only since c.1925 have Muslim women been allowed to remove their veils, long symbolic of their servile position. However, with the resurgence of Muslim fundamentalism in the 1980s, the veil was once again required in some Muslim nations.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.