Weddings are all about tradition, but some of those traditions can be confusing.

The wedding dress is especially perplexing. Why is it white? Why can’t the groom see the bride wearing it before the ceremony? And why is it, exactly, that brides wear veils?

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To find the answers, we looked into the history of the dress (and, consequently, the veil). Unfortunately, we discovered that there isn’t a single answer. After all, traditions are, by definition, passed down over generations, so different cultures have different explanations for their customs.

However, we were able to find a few plausible theories.

1. The veil might protect against the prying eyes of the groom.

Obviously, the primary purpose of a veil is to hide the face. Some brides wear veils to prevent their grooms from seeing them before the big moment.

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Why? Well, the lifting of the veil adds some gravity to the ceremony. Several websites also claim (without citing historical sources) that in ancient times, fathers used veils to hide their daughters’ faces from suitors, thereby preventing an arranged marriage from going sour at the last possible moment.

We doubt that there’s any truth to this since we couldn’t find any reputable accounts to back it up, but it’s still a funny mental image.

2. The veil might also provide another form of protection.

Numerous sources claim that the veil comes from weddings in Ancient Rome. In those ceremonies, the bride would wear a red sheet called a “flammeum,” which “covered her from head to toe.” Ideally, this would make the bride unappetizing to any passing demons and evil spirits.

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However, we found some info that doesn’t back that up. In Ancient Rome, many brides actually wore tunica recta, which are white tunics specially designed for the occasion. They’d have carefully arranged hair and veils (the flammeum), which could be orange or red. The veils didn’t cover them from head to toe, and it left the bride’s face uncovered.

While Romans may have been superstitious, it’s unlikely that the veil caught on due to its supernatural underpinnings.

3. Some claim that the veil is highly symbolic.

“Eventually the meaning behind the veil transformed as weddings evolved into religious ceremonies,” wrote a reporter for The Richmond Times-Dispatch. “The veil came to symbolize modesty and obedience. In many religions it is seen as a symbol of reverence for women to cover their heads. When white wedding dresses were worn to symbolize chastity, the white veil followed suit.”

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This theory seems likely, but it’s worth noting that white came to symbolize purity fairly recently—at least in the context of weddings.

Queen Victoria of England married Prince Albert in 1840, and she famously wore an all-white wedding dress. At the time, this was surprising, since royals typically wore elegant, colorful garments.

“Victoria’s attire was considered far too restrained by royal standards, with no jewels, crown, or velvet robes trimmed with ermine,” wrote The Washington Post.

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History Today

In a sense, Victoria’s dress was modest, and the idea of a “white wedding” quickly caught on in England. Soon, people from all social classes were throwing white weddings, and white came to symbolize purity and virginity. Veils were an obvious addition to a bride’s attire since they’d add to the white aesthetic.

So, should you wear a veil at your wedding?

If you accept any of the supernatural or misogynist explanations, you may want to forego the extra expense. According to wedding site The Knot, about 57 percent of brides buy veils, so it’s not unusual to leave the garment off your shopping list.

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Still, if you like the look of a veil, go for it. Weddings are, after all, about tradition—even if some of those traditions seem downright confusing.

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