QUAERITUR: Chapel veils revisited – What color?

From a priest:

A quick question: a woman approached me wondering if there was anything inappropriate in wearing a white veil as an older, married woman.  She was told by another parishioner that white is only proper for young women who are not married.  Is there any rule or tradition that can be pointed to as a guide?

Does it really make a difference?

Okay… that was the wrong question.  What was I thinking?  All questions having to do with what women wear in church are important questions.

Leaving aside the fact that even in the day when head coverings were obligatory for women they could fulfill their obligation by wearing a hat, my understanding… and believe me when I tell you that I have made a long and deep study of this, not… is that married women tended to wear black veils.  Certainly widows would.  Unmarried women and girls – without any question virgins every one – wore white veils, white being a sign of virginity, which is proven in each and every wedding.

Of course there are any number of proofs to the contrary of both these uses of black and white.

So… as a man, I say: What difference does it make?  Wear what it pleaseth thee to wear.

I think that this custom of women wearing head coverings in church should be revived.   As it revives, if the virginal desire to wear white to signal either their nuptial availability or, in the case of consecrated virgins, their nonavailability, great!  If the espoused want to show either that they are non-nubile by using black, great!  If they want as widows to signal their continuing attitude of prayer for their late spouses, great!

What would a gray veil mean?  I wonder.  Perhaps that the woman is hoping to be a widow?  That she is divorced?

I would avoid veils that imitate liturgical colors other than white and black.  The red veil however, was used in ancient Rome for brides.  I think in China brides had red, because it called down good fortune and prosperity.  Also, avoid the use of sports or product logos, though I suppose the weave of the lace could include religious symbols, such as the … I don’t know… pelican in her piety?

And so we’re off to the races again.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Rachel says:

    I like to wear a brown veil, as close as I can find to my own hair color. Makes me feel less shy about veiling.

    I’ve actually seen both a bright yellow and a neon green veil in action. Not kidding– someone had a veil of neon green lace. Made the red and purple and pink veils (which I’ve also seen) seem tame!

    But the great majority of veils I see are black or white, with a few in silver or gold.

  2. jarhead462 says:

    Father- You do like living dangerously!
    I love the fact that we are even having this discussion. I think it bodes well for the Church.
    I would think that a married woman could wear an off-white, maybe bone or ivory colored veil, should she not have or choose black.

    Semper Fi!

  3. RichR says:

    I think if some female is wearing a veil, and knows that she is going to draw attention to herself in this “non-veiled” day and age, then the LAST thing a tradition-minded person should do is go up and tell her what color she should be wearing. She will get plenty of stares (and possibly comments) from naysayers. Why should she get it from both sides? Show some support.

    I’m with Fr.Z. Whatever color you ladies want is GREAT!

  4. Annie says:

    I wear whatever I like. I have cream, brown, and black lace mantillas, and hats and scarves in other colours, and am married.

    Where I am I stick out like a sore thumb however conservative the headgear I’m wearing, it’s so not done to have anything on your head unless it’s freezing, so in for a penny in for a pound, I wear whatever I like.

    This Easter I was feeling a bit embarrased by being the only woman at the OF Triduum with anything on my head and was keeping a low profile behind a pillar, when this old gentleman (a complete stranger) came up out of the blue and said how much he liked and appreciated my ‘uniform’, and that it was so nice to see. I felt so much better after that kindness! You get so used to folks giving you odd and not approving looks.

  5. lucy says:

    I have a black with gold accents lace veil that I love for most of my veiling needs. Then I also have a cream veil for those times when I can’t find my black/gold one. My daughters both wear cream lace veils and love them.

    Myself and my daughters also had the experience of being the few veiled at OF services both Thursday evening and Friday noon. It’s uncomfortable, but most often we get some nice comments. I’m happy that those who frown keep their comments to themselves.

    Fr. – love that you threw in some Shakespearean comments!

  6. Ed the Roman says:

    This question is not terribly different from asking what color shoes a woman should wear in church.

  7. jmhj5 says:

    Easter Sunday I wore a beige veil, but ussually wear my cancer garb. I am greatful to wear any color. Two months cancer free and My Lord gave me eye lashes and some hair.
    Happy Easter!
    Father –I thought you would do what our Top Shepard is doing, and rest just a bit. Thank you Father for all you did for us…and do….for us…get some rest —please…..Father Harden please continue to pray for Fr. “Z”…and the rest of the Servants on my list. Mary thank you for all your prayers.

  8. As someone with a, uh, not tiny collection of chapel veils, caps, snoods in various colors and designs, I will share that I wear what looks best with my outfit and my coloring. I also may tweak the color tint for an evening versus a day Mass-darker for evening, lighter for day. I take my head gear color selection pretty seriously; as seriously as any woman does, or should do, with her church apparel overall (I know! lol)

    Father, it’s safer to blog about gin and tonic than women’s clothing! I think being in NYC as made you live too dangerously. Come back to the light!

  9. inara says:

    my understanding is that, while the black/white rule for married/unmarried women may be typical in some cultures, that the choice of color for a headcovering is up to the woman ~ provided it follows the general notion of Christian modesty (in this case meaning “not intending to draw undue attention”, so I’m thinking the neon green would be a poor choice. This is also one reason that hats pose a difficulty ~ since, especially in recent days, they tend to be worn as a fashion statement & one does not want to appear as though she is heading to the Kentucky Derby straightaway after Mass. Another problem with hats is that they go in & out of fashion, which tends to connect them more to the trends of the times than to their liturgical significance).

    My daughters & I have various scarves, kerchiefs, & mantillas in subdued colors & don whichever looks best with the dress we are wearing to Mass.

  10. amenamen says:

    @ “I would avoid veils that imitate liturgical colors other than white and black”

    This is very funny. I doubt that the wwmmnynsordinationconffryncse has ever thought of this possibility. Yet.

  11. fatherrob says:

    She was told by another parishioner that white is only proper for young women who are not married.

    Sheesh! Sometimes I don’t know who drives me further ’round the bend: liberal nitwits or the more-Catholic-than-thou types who seem to have nothing better to do than correct their neighbors over minutiae.

    That other parishioner is what, in technical theological jargon, is known as a busybody. If I recall correctly, St. Paul had some rather strong words concerning them.

    Busybodies should be politely ignored.

  12. AnnaTrad51 says:

    “I would avoid veils that imitate liturgical colors” thank you Father for my laugh for the day. Actually as I wear a chapel veil I have had women ask me what color they should wear and I tell them what (may have been tradition) but that they are free to wear what ever they please then I say a silent Deo gratias.

  13. Danny says:

    I have a friend who has a book on this subject, and she tells me that for married women there were two acceptable colors, black and gold.

  14. Agnes says:

    So my guess is that a Twins baseball cap, though a head covering, would be deemed inappropriate, even at my parish.


  15. Singing Mum says:

    So does a midbrown veil signify a married woman who is on the younger side, with lower chances of becoming a widow soon? These things can get funny, really.
    Want to know if a woman is married, or has otherwise promised herself? Look at her left hand, guys.
    Want to veil? Super! But why get fixated and tell other women what color to wear?

  16. fatherrob says:

    I have a friend who has a book on this subject…

    A book!?! A… Book?!? About chapel veils?

    God save us.

  17. Nora says:

    I match my veil to my outfit at least in tone, generally. I always have a black one with me, because I wear a lot of black and it is reasonably unobtrusive yet flattering. I avoid dead white, because it shows everything that touches it, including hair products and facial lotions. Because I generally dress for the in low key, modest clothes a neon green veil would not be needed. However, I have a wonderful black one shot through with a ton of stained glass and metallic threads, that coordinates well for those when I wear purple or red. YMMV.

  18. Henry Edwards says:

    Ed the Roman: This question is not terribly different from asking what color shoes a woman should wear in church.

    Are you suggesting that the color of a woman’s shoes tells whether she’s a virgin or not?

  19. Mariana says:

    “And so we’re off to the races again.”

    Yes, indeed : ) !
    I am married and wear a cream veil. And, as I wrote in Father’s latest “What is your good news” thingie, I’ve just started wearring a veil, and after the first time was approached by our PP after Mass and ethusiastically THANKED for wearing one.

  20. hollomr says:

    I had a bright pink dress on this Easter and a black mantilla… of course they didn’t go together, but it is the only veil I have. God wants me to wear it, so I do. I used to feel like the odd man [?] out, but I don’t anymore. [I suppose you, a woman, are using inclusive language.] The veil “veils” me from others and helps me focus on God. I guess that is why He guided me this way. I am single, but I chose the black veil since it is closest to my hair color. [Ah yes… I knew I had forgotten something important in my top entry. Hair color.]

    God bless us all this Easter season!

  21. tmjost says:

    One reason we cover our heads is to remind us that “anything veiled is holy”. It helps us to mortify ourselves in the presence of our Loving God. Any color seems appropriate when your motive is to please God…not the other people at Mass.
    I agree with Fr Rob…people need other things to occupy themselves than worry about veil color.

  22. GirlCanChant says:

    I have black and white veils, and wear whatever goes better with my outfit (or whichever one is in my handbag, if I forget to switch it out).

  23. Cazienza says:

    I have black mantillas and white mantillas and various scarves and whatnot in assorted colours. Which one I wear depends on things like the weather, whether I’ve got hairpins with me, what else I’m wearing and how much of a hurry I’m in to catch my train to get to Mass.

  24. Philangelus says:

    Every time I read about chapel veils, I just want to buy the biggest, most feathery yellow hat I can find and wear that to church.

    I mean, I won’t do it. But I really, really want to hit the vintage clothing stores and find something that will make people ask me not to cover my head in church. :-)

    I agree with the above comment about busybodies. I can’t imagine it brings a smile to Jesus’s face when someone accosts someone who’s doing her best about something as pointless as the color of her head covering.

  25. oakdiocesegirl says:

    I belong to a parish w/both NO & TLM Masses(and it’s a good, faithful NO). I attend one or the other, depending on time, convenience, & mood. Few NO women wear mantillas (in Calif, that’s what the rest of USA calls a “chapel veil”…A real chapel veil is round & no bigger than the footprint of a Catholic schoolgirl’s beanie). But too many more-Catholic-than thou Latin chix slavishly wear them to TLM, while squeezing into pantyhose & a skirt. I tried, but personally speaking, I look like CRAP in a mantilla! A newsboy cap for me.

  26. James Joseph says:

    The last time I had been left stupified by a young lady was a girl wearing a hijab going into a downtown big-city confessional…. I was left stupified because she was so very polite and floated.

  27. Ed the Roman says:

    Henry Edwards,

    I was suggesting that the customs of using apparel to signify virginity are no longer observed to such an extent that veil color cannot reasonably be treated as a big deal. It is a signal that will almost never be read as it would have been fifty years ago.

    It’s not as if there are catholic uniform regulations promulgated by the CDW specifying Virginal Dress White (Summer) or Service Widow Black.

  28. AvantiBev says:

    Since I attend a wonderful parish where we have both the Novus Ordo and the Extraordinary Form in Latin and reverently, even majestically celebrated, I used to veil at both forms in a little cream color mantilla. But I look great in hats and have a slew of them so I would weart them as well; practical too on those many wintry Chicago days.

    Then September 11, 2001 came along. I promised myself and the True God that I will not veil again until the misogynistic, anti-Semitic, Christian kiling cult of the false prophet is vanquished. I read and read on Islam and continue to do so. The veil had been seized by this little meglomaniac and his 1400 years of followers as a way to thoroughly cover women marking them both as temptresses and property.

    But it is just between God and me. It has never been commented on in my parish one way or another. We must be so busy loving the Mass that we keep our busybody impulses under control.

  29. capchoirgirl says:

    For the record: I’m an unmarried 29 year old. My veil (a mantilla, really) is black and gold lace.

  30. Martial Artist says:

    @ Ed the Roman,

    From the phrasing of the your comment about uniform regulations in your reply to Henry Edwards, I am guessing you and I may have served in the same branch of service (USN). But, even if that’s not the case, I couldn’t have stated it better myself.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  31. Singing Mum says:
    Want to know if a woman is married, or has otherwise promised herself? Look at her left hand, guys.

    Too funny!

    Father Z – Thanks for a great explanation – and some awesome commentary fromreaders. This is a post I’ll be pointing not a few more overly detail-oriented folks to.

  32. David Homoney says:

    Would a logo be wrong if it was for say something pious such as Mystic Monk Coffee/Tea? Hmmmmmmm. :)

  33. LouiseA says:

    Spanish women should wear fancy combs and lace mantillas. French women should wear elegantly draped scarfs. American women should wear hats, à la Kentucky Derby. :)

  34. APX says:

    @Henry Edwards
    Ed the Roman: This question is not terribly different from asking what color shoes a woman should wear in church.

    Are you suggesting that the color of a woman’s shoes tells whether she’s a virgin or not?

    It’s funny you guys bring up the color of shoes a woman wears to church. I was just stressing over this issue Saturday evening when I was picking out my outfit for Easter Sunday. I couldn’t decide if it was appropriate to wear red patent leather 2 inch stilettos to a TLM, or if I should stick to my black pumps. I was worried about looking too tarty in bright red shoes.

    Really, I think when it comes to veils a woman should have both a white and a black veil. White for spring and summer up until Labour Day, and then black for fall, winter, and funerals. I think the white is a sign of virginity concept has been tarnished by many brides who really shouldn’t have worn white on their wedding days. Until reading this it didn’t even dawn on me that white mantillas might be a sign that the wearer is a virgin. I figured it was simply a preference to wear white.

  35. MissOH says:

    I have heard the “general rules” and have seen the web sites of a couple of churches that require headcovering indicating the black -white thing. I have also seen pictures of young girls with black veils and at the masses I attended for the vigil and Easter I saw “older” women and mothers in white and light colored veils. The rule is- there is no rule which I what I would tell anyone who asks. Wear what you like, white, black or colors.

    I am like Nora. I match my veils to my outfit and I have blue, pink, brown, black, white and cream. I attend daily mass most days and I wear the darker colors in winter). In a lot of ways it links me to my grandmothers and the “church lady hats” they wore every Sunday (protestant churches). I was able to encouraged our little one to wear her veil by finding tie veils in colors pink, light blue, navy and white) that match mommy (since having the “same one” is huge right now).

  36. Ed the Roman says:

    Martial Artist,

    Worm and parcel with the lay, turn and serve the other way. Not to mention the eternal question, can dead men vote twice at elections.

  37. Jayna says:

    I wear a black veil because I prefer black (though I do own a white one) and it doesn’t clash with my red hair. Outside of the standard white and black, I’ve seen very light blue and pink veils and those aren’t bad.

  38. my kidz mom says:

    Fr. Z wrote “What would a gray veil mean? I wonder. Perhaps that the woman is hoping to be a widow?”


  39. benedetta says:

    The New Liturgical Movement blog has some lovely photos and video of Russian Orthodox Holy Week and one can observe faithful women in attendance and at prayer, of all generations, wearing every color and pattern and type of scarf or mantilla. The video is really so beautiful to see given especially the many sacrifices of the faithful and threats to the faith endured there.

  40. I recently made myself some pale blue, cream, and green scarves that I fold into a triangle and tie under my chin, but I usually wear a hat in summer. I also try to coordinate my scarf with my outfit. I don’t think anyone seeing me troop into Mass with 6 children in tow would wonder about my married state, no matter what color my headcovering is!

  41. Joan A. says:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    I respect what you say about not “matching liturgical colors”…but as you did not give any concrete reason why, until I’m otherwise corrected with certainty, I would like to continue to wear my pink veil on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays and my pale blue veil on Marian feast days.

    Note the pink is not “rose” and does not “match” the vestments, but just subtly picks up on the theme of the day, being in the same color range. The light blue does not “match” liturgical colors, obviously, but as it’s “Mary’s color” I feel it’s a nice way to show respect for the meaning of the day.

    I would not wear a purple veil in those seasons, but I think a black one with a bit of purple edging or piping would be understated enough.

    Is that OK with you?

  42. Girgadis says:

    When I don’t wear a hat to the EF, I veil in a brown mantilla that belonged to my mother. However, it just didn’t feel right to wear the more somber brown on Easter, so I borrowed one of my daughter’s white veils.

  43. Kat says:

    Actually, I believe the rule is that one ought not wear a white veil after Labor Day.

    As an aside, my veil is so clear as to be, essentially, invisible. I’ve never had a complaint.

  44. VivaLaMezzo says:

    Most of the women in my parish follow the black for married/widow and white for unmarried custom (?). I have a nice black mantilla (although I have my eye on both a dark brown and a deep blue as it seems my clothing has trended more and more towards blues and earth-tones). I chose a black mantilla b/c it was all I could find at the time, I am married, and I look dreadful in anything close to white or even remotely hat-like. I also like the “blinder” effect of the veil. Besides, the veil keeps me from worrying about my head covering obstructing someone’s view. My daughter is 11 and she chose white. Personally, I think black would look odd on a wee one, but I couldn’t IMAGINE saying anything to anyone about it… There don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules, so my take is that the “what” isn’t nearly as important as the “why”.

  45. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    I wear black… because white does not look good on me….

  46. Mitchell NY says:

    3 years ago when my Grandmother passed whilst go through her things I found two veils. One was a light peach the other soft turquoise with some gold threading. Not worn in many years she had kept them. I have kept one of them, with the gold, and often wondered why so many women refuse to wear them or consider them. For us guys they look quite lovely. A women who veils always reminds me of the Blessed Mother. Such beautiful symbolism.

  47. joanofarcfan says:

    Warmer weather, white. Colder weather, black. Cream anytime.

  48. JGR says:

    In Japan, where I live, about 1/3 of the women wear veils to NO Masses. I’ve never had the privilege of attending an EF Mass here–not sure if they are offered. All the women I have seen here who veil wear white veils, so I do, too: a lovely veil that I found at the gift shop at Sendai’s cathedral several years before the current travails. In addition to love for my Jesus, it now reminds me to pray for the people of Sendai each time I put it on.

    It seems to me that color choice is more a matter of taste and culture than anything else. All veils indicate devotion to our Blessed Lord, no?

  49. EWTN Rocks says:

    One day in the near future, I would like to attend an EF Mass at a church that’s about 30 miles from where I live. When I go, I want to wear a veil. I have an eye on two: one dark brown and the other, a soft wine with silver flowers (I know this sounds gaudy but it actually looks really pretty in the picture). Any suggestions which way to go? Also, they have different sizes – should it be long enough to completely cover my hair?

  50. Andrew B says:

    My wife and girls share the veils and have white, black, orange, yellow, powder blue, and purplish-pink. They bicker over who gets what and generally try to match them to their outfits. They also have a multitude of scarves and a few floppy straw hats.

    Its hard to believe people worry about the “correct” color of a veil. Seems like a really trivial and pointless bit of “Laws of Man” that Christ warned about, and right up there with people who argue about things like the “correct” way of serving Mass from non-liturigcal “guide” books, as if they have any authority.

    I’m far more concerned about things like the outright heresy in the last verse of the new translation of “Ubi Caritas” in the trashy leaflet Missal in most Church pews.

  51. elaurier says:

    A hat…a fedora. The “hat attack” modern fedora from Garnet Hill. For winter I have one like Ilse’s in Casablanca. As a child I cannot remember a soul ever wearing a veil until Jackie Kennedy was photographed wearing one. They were considered quite exotic and just not done in central Wisconsin. I know they are inexpensive, light and packable, but they just aren’t me. The right hat frames the face so beautifully. All I am saying….is give hats a chance……

  52. Katherine says:

    I think there’s a market for tie-dye veils. Definitely.

  53. The only concrete evidence that I am aware of which suggests there is any real significance to the color of mantilla a woman wears is the dress code or etiquette regarding dress when visiting with the pope.

    Catholic royal women are allowed the “Privilège du blanc” or “privilege of the white”. http://www.daylife.com/photo/08eMc1R7Ehg4P?q=Pope+Benedict+XVI

    All other female dignitaries are asked to wear a black mantilla.

  54. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    To another Catholic woman (and in the USA) I would advise, if she is just starting to wear a head covering, go with a smaller chapel veil, and in a color not too far different from her own hair color. Blondes, go with the white, Brunettes, go with the black. Those are the two most commonly found colors. And like a few other women posted, I do sometimes wear a hat (wool in winter, and straw in summer) to Church.

    While living overseas and going to Mass, I did notice that in some Asian countries (Korea, Japan, China) women will wear white veils on their heads in Church and really no where else, it is not a fashion statement.

  55. EWTN Rocks says:

    Thanks for the responses – I think I’ll skip the veil and go with a hat…

  56. gloriainexcelsis says:

    It is a matter of choice. I have white, bone, brown, black and navy blue. Usually in winter I wear the black to go with shoes and purse. In summer it is white for the same reason. Sometimes, depending upon the event (celebration, etc.), I might choose one of the others. At times I do wear a hat instead. I never thought there was a hard and fast rule.

  57. Centristian says:

    A lace veil, such as the sort some women wear in church, is a matter of fashion just as any other feminine head covering and has no intrinsic symbolic significance, at all. A hat might just as easily be worn as a veil, and today, nothing at all.

    A married woman, therefore, may certainly wear a white lace veil just as well as a virgin. A widow, too, once social mourning is over (in the old days, up to the anniversary husband’s death), may discard black forever and, if she elects, wear a white veil (think of images of the widowed Queen Victoria in her numerous white veils…and that was in the day when that stuff really mattered). It’s all just a matter of fashion. And nothing more.

  58. Agnes says:

    There is a prayer for veiling that a friend (an ex-novice) shared with me – “May I be known to the Lord, and none other.” If the goal is modesty, then the obsession with headgear is excessive. Just wear it or don’t wear it, and don’t make a big fuss.

  59. BLB Oregon says:

    A blue veil signifies a devotion to Our Lady, and has the added advantage that it is not a liturgical color. Speaking of Queen Victoria (mentioned above), she is reportedly the one who initiated the practice in modern Europe of brides wearing white. Prior to her wedding in 1840, the tradition was for brides to wear blue, since at that time it was blue which signified virginity and fidelity. (That is the reason that the Blessed Virgin is so often depicted in blue.)

    Having said that, “making a statement” is not the goal. A veil is a veil, not a bumper sticker. For that reason, any color, pattern, or fabric that is not distracting will suffice. I’d argue against eccentricity, whether in veils or hats or whatever garments, but that is just my take on “women should adorn themselves with proper conduct, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hairstyles and gold ornaments, or pearls, or expensive clothes, but rather, as befits women who profess reverence for God, with good deeds.” (1 Tim. 2:9-10) I say that with regards to choosing for our own closets only, and not with regards to judging what anyone else wears. It is better not to worry about that. Give thanks that correcting true abuses in dress is the pastor’s job, and let him worry about making any needed corrections….the poor fellow!

  60. AnAmericanMother says:

    I have two mantillas — a black and a dark silver — and a little black chapel veil/ chapel cap dating from my Episcopalian years. My daughter has a cream-colored mantilla that looks very nice on her (she was your typical Irish redhead as a child, her hair has darkened but her skin has not). We both have very slick straight hair, so keeping them anchored is . . . entertaining. I wound up basting small spring clips in at the corners, which solved the problem completely.

    When I’m in the choir, a mantilla would look just a bit too outre’ in my opinion, so I wear my chapel veil. Another choir member stopped me and said, “I haven’t seen one of those since I was in school!”

    Oh, well. It’s for the Lord, not for what anybody in the choir or congregation may think or say.

  61. benedetta says:

    I posted this to the other thread concerning wearing chapel veils as well…Just a couple of Catholic women having a chat…with heads covered…


  62. oakdiocesegirl says:

    I’m impressed by the response to this item,since it only posted yesterday! More thoughts: Fr.Z, I have never seen a “grey” mantilla..uh, veil, only silver ones, which I lust after but I hear they’re expensive. I think only girls under 12 could pull off a pink veil, unless it’s actually old rose.

  63. Joan A. says:

    Pardon me, but I need to make a small correction to Cordelia’s statement that the privilège du blanc applies to “Catholic Royal Women.” No, it is much more restrictive than that.

    Only women who are the wives of a royal monarch of an officially Catholic nation may wear a white veil in the presence of the Pope. I believe at this time that would include only three countries: Malta, Liechtenstein and Monaco.

    There are also some “princesses” in Italy in some way associated with the Holy See, going back to the middle ages, that have this privilege, but it’s so complex as to who they are, I don’t claim to understand it.

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