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Veil
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Veil

This article is part of the
Hats and Headgear series:
Overview of headgear
Hats; Bonnets; Caps
Hoods; Helmets; Wigs
Masks; Veils; Scarves
Tiaras; Crowns
List of hats and headgear

A veil may refer to several different kinds of clothing for women, all of which cover some part of the head or face.

For many centuries (until around 1175) Anglo-Saxon and then Anglo-Norman women, with the exception of young unmarried girls, wore veils that entirely covered their hair, and often their necks up to their chins. It was not until the Tudor period (1485), when hoodss became increasingly popular, that veils of this type became less common.

A similar veil forms part of a nun's headdress: it covers the top of the head and flows down around and over the shoulders, but does not wrap around the neck or face. This is why a woman who becomes a nun can be said "to take the veil".

A variety of headdresses worn by Muslim women in accordance with hijab (the principle of dressing modestly) are sometimes referred to as veils. Many of these garments cover the hair, ears and throat, but do not cover the face (for example the dupatta, khimar and buknuk). The niqab and burqa are two kinds of veils that cover most of the face except for a slit or hole for the eyes. The Afghan burqa covers the entire body, obscuring the face completely, except for a grille or netting over the eyes to allow the wearer to see. The boushiya is a veil that may be worn over a headscarf, it covers the entire face and is made of a sheer fabric so the wearer is able to see through it. It has been suggested that the practice of wearing a veil - uncommon among the Arab tribes prior to the rise of Islam - originated in Byzantium, and then spread among the Arabs.

For centuries, non-Muslim women have also worn veils similar to the sheer boushiya mentioned above, but only under certain circumstances. Sometimes a veil of this type was draped over and pinned to the bonnet or hat of a woman in mourning, especially at the funeral and during the period of "high mourning". They would also have been used, as an alternative to a mask, as a simple method of hiding the identity of a woman who was travelling to meet a lover, or doing anything she didn't want other people to find out about. More pragmatically, veils were also sometimes worn to protect the complexion from sun and wind damage (when untanned skin was fashionable), or to keep dust out of a woman's face.

Veils pinned to hats have survived the changing fashions of the centuries and are still common today on occasions when women wear hats. However, these veils are generally made of netting or another material not actually designed to hide the face from view, even if the veil can be pulled down, which is not always the case.

An occasion on which a Western non-Muslim woman is likely to wear a veil is on her wedding day, if she follows the traditions of a white wedding. Brides used to wear their hair flowing down their back at their wedding to symbolise their virginity, now the white diaphanous veil is often said to represent this.

Conversely, veils are often part of the stereotypical image of the courtesan and harem woman. Here, rather than the virginity of the bride's veil, modesty of the Muslim scarf or the piety of the nun's headdress, the mysterious veil hints at sensuality and the unknown. An example of the veil's erotic potential is the dance of the seven veils.