Wedding Headpieces: Good for What Veils Them

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It’s time to uncover the latest trends in bridal headwear.

In the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, there comes a moment when the groom gently lifts the bride’s diaphanous veil, revealing the face of his beloved — a gesture that recalls the biblical matriarch Rebecca, who covered her face with a handkerchief when marrying Isaac. The veiling ceremony, known as bedeken, alludes to both the married woman’s physical modesty and the emphasis on spiritual, rather than physical, beauty in the eyes of her groom.

Modesty and spiritual connection will have to find their metaphors elsewhere for many of today’s brides, however. For modern-day Rebeccas, that handkerchief is more likely to be a garland of dahlias, a birdcage-style fascinator, or even a sparkly crystal headband, as bridal headwear has evolved from the de rigueur veil to a range of expressive accessories.


“That princess tiara, with big crystals and a poufy veil, is not feeling as modern,” observed Ivy Kaplin, owner of Lovely Bride Philadelphia.

Instead, as a survey of local bridal experts revealed, contemporary brides are overwhelmingly seeking a rustic look that’s right in step with today’s green ethos. Organic: it’s not just for arugula anymore.

In fact, “organic” was a word that came up again and again to describe the favored look for 2015 weddings — along with “ethereal,” “soft” and, of course, “natural.”

“Today’s brides are looking for a softer style, something more organic-looking,” said Kaplin, who opened the Philadelphia outpost of Lovely Bride a year and a half ago to cater to what she describes as “a little less traditional, creative, DIY bride.”

“We’re seeing lots of floral-looking hair vines that have some sparkle — something to give the brides a little glitz but also feels more natural, not so overpowering to wear,” Kaplin added.

At Philadelphia Bridal Company, a midprice salon, Ashley Erin Corbett is seeing brides who want “an ethereal, nymph-like effect,” she said. It’s a less studied, girlier look than in previous eras — “think of the Anthropologie customer.”

Like her colleagues, Corbett sells a lot of headbands and wreaths these days; many incorporate metal flowers or vines, Swarovski crystals or sheer organza ribbons, even feathers.

What’s driving the trend appears to be the growing popularity of weddings that take place outdoors or in rustic settings. Whereas ballrooms were once the standard for receptions, couples increasingly host their fêtes at farms and even in barns, a reflection of the current vogue for a sustainable, natural lifestyle.

“The most popular place we always hear about is the Horticulture Center” in Fairmount Park, said Kaplin. “In Philadelphia there are a lot of great arboretums and outdoor venues that give much more of this natural feel for a bride who wants something that isn’t as formal, but is still beautiful.”

At the upscale boutique Elizabeth Johns in Ardmore, bridal consultant Erika Perry sells ornate crystal headbands with trailing ribbons, soft headbands that go across the foreheads and “viney, organic” headbands that give a halo effect. “It’s the boho feel — hair down, parted in the middle with a loose wave,” Perry said. “I have a lot of brides getting married on farms, with long tables and Mason jars, and they like a messy, undone look.” Even in a barn, Perry noted, sparkly crystal accents in the hair keep the look bridal — not milkmaid.

“There’s a definite move away from the stiff, formal aesthetic,” said Jennie Love, owner of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers in Chestnut Hill. “Everyone’s embracing a more natural, earthy style.” Love’s business has evolved from selling flowers at farmers’ markets to doing flowers for weddings to creating floral headpieces for eco-chic brides — the ultimate in local, seasonal and sustainable fashion.

“The fresh hair flowers started maybe four years ago in a big way, and it has definitely gotten more and more popular,” said Love. And it’s not just the boho brides anymore, she added: “At first it was for laid-back, outdoor weddings, but now it can be any type of wedding.”

While some are happy with silk or metal floral accents, “most girls who want flowers do want real flowers,” Kaplin said. Fresh blossoms are also a way to add a note of color; brides who would never don a purple veil will usually match their hair flowers to their bouquets or bridesmaids’ dresses.

Wearable blooms are possibly the most striking trend in bridalwear — which might seem surprising, given how wedding pieces tend to be cherished as heirlooms to pass on. You can’t do that if your chignon is accented with ranunculus.

“There’s some beauty in the fact that it’s just for one day,” explained Love, who said the most-requested blossoms also include dahlias and lisianthus. “It makes the wedding day all the more special.”

Not every bride feels that way, of course. Many are embracing a vintage aesthetic, inspired by Downton Abbey and by a desire for things that feel meaningful and authentic. So-called birdcage, Russian, or fingertip veils — the flirty piece of netting that covers just the eyes or the top half of the bride’s face, attached to a fascinator or comb — have become ubiquitous on the wedding aisle.

So are headpieces that repurpose sentimental items like a grandmother’s jewelry or veil. “They might take an old brooch or something that had been in the family, and incorporate it into their hair,” said Janice Martin, owner of the eponymous Ardmore couture shop where she has designed custom bridalwear for 25 years.

Unlike the more ornate headpieces of yesteryear, many of today’s headbands, jeweled combs and discreetly sparkly hairclips can be worn again, said Pattie Lamantilla, who owns the Wedding Shoppe in Wayne, where affluent brides spend an average of $5,000 on the gown alone. “Some of these hair jewels can be converted to a brooch,” added Lamantilla, “so that you can have your own heirloom from your wedding.”

Headpieces — which typically cost in the low to mid-three figures — aren’t generally associated with well-known labels, the way gowns are. An exception, said Lamantilla, is a vintage-inspired line by Jenny Packham, the London designer who became a celebrity thanks to her most famous client, Kate Middleton. (Middleton herself, the glamorous duchess of Cambridge, is credited with popularizing a more conservative wedding look, bringing back sleeves and lace.) “The new headbands are really thin, so the wire is hidden, and it looks like the little brooch or the crystals are just floating in your hair,” Lamantilla explained.

With all the new options, whither the veil? The most essentially bridal of vestments, it is the single article of clothing that — at least in contemporary America — is worn exclusively by brides. And veils remain the choice of roughly half of them, according to salespeople.

“A lot of Jewish brides definitely will wear a veil, because it becomes a part of the service when the groom lifts the blusher,” noted Lamantilla, using the industry term for a sheer, chin-length face veil. But according to Reena Spicehandler, the visiting rabbi at Philadelphia’s Germantown Jewish Centre, the Jewish veiling ceremony is custom rather than law — so while tradition-minded Jewish brides often want veils, it’s not obligatory.

Rabbi Spicehandler herself went veil-free as a bride. “I wore flowers in my hair,” she recalled with a laugh. “It was 1973.”

Today’s veils are likely to be lace — and to drape gently from the nape of the neck, rather than poufing out from the crown of the head. “Veils are softer, straighter and less voluminous,” said Kaplin. “Brides want something that breathes in the wind.” And while long trains call for longer veils, there is no dominant length right now; brides are choosing everything from the Russian veil — which hits at the bridge of the nose — to the full-length sweep that gets pinned up so the bride can dance at the reception.

With so much focus on the headwear, modern brides are eschewing necklaces and earrings to keep the look refined. “They do hair jewelry instead of large earrings,” said Lamantilla, “and the other accessory might be a jeweled belt or a sash.” Hairstyles also tend to be simple — soft chignons, French twists — in keeping with the preference for a natural aesthetic.

And aside from those brightly hued flowers, brides still overwhelmingly opt for a classic, subdued palette: ivory, cream, blush, although Janice Martin recently dyed silk flowers in turquoise and hot pink for a headpiece to match a custom wedding gown, she recalled.

“I’m also developing a line of fiberoptic and LED headwear for the Japanese market,” said Martin. The gadget-mad Japanese, she explained, “do a lot more with technology in their everyday clothing,” so it was only a matter of time before high-tech made it into bridalwear.

But fiberoptic hairclips seem unlikely to make headway — pun intended — with the natural-and-organic crowd. “Honestly,” Martin said, “I don’t see it coming to this country anytime soon.”

This piece first appeared in the Spring Simchas, a special section of the Jewish Exponent. Hilary Danailova is a fan of accessorizing whenever possible.

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