The quote comes from Edith Wharton’s 1924 novella “New Year’s Day” and captures the stifling regulations widows were forced to adhere to during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Almost a century later and the veil still lives on, but seems to have lost the oppressive effect it used to have. Just look at Karlina Caune in this editorial shot by Giampaolo Sgura for Vogue Paris:
I smell no trace of subservience here. On the contrary! Karlina peers through her veil with poise. And, smoking a cigarette right through it, even goes so far as to defy it.
Whereas veils, as we now know them, carry loose connotations — they inspire fleeting images of funerals or weddings, but not much else — in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they figured prominently. Back then, the death of a husband wasn’t nearly as uncommon as it is now, and thus “mourning wear” prospered. So much so, in fact, that the Met’s Costume Institute was able to devote an entire exhibit to it (on display until February 1st, 2015). More than just a sartorial emblem of mourning, the veil was symbolic of the treatment of women at the time. Women were regarded as little more than appendages of their husbands. When their husbands died, they were expected to live the remainder of their lives in mourning — as incomplete and devoid of spirit, forever chaste and shrouded behind their dark veils.
Well it just so happens that about a hundred years later, veils are kind of back. And I like to think that we’re not so much succumbing to this formerly oppressive garment as we are seizing it and re-appropriating it in a we-run-the-world-Beyonce kind of way? Do I sound crazy? Maybe.
And yet, Rihanna doesn’t appear to be in mourning either.
But if not for the far-fetched feminist implications, wear a veil because it looks fun. They’re equally as needless in a mink muffs kind of way as they are essential in a mink muffs kind of way. And yet, there’s a certain appeal in the gratuitousness of it all.
Think about it.