Continuing our celebration of the ongoing Vanderbilt/Cecil family wedding exhibition at the Biltmore Legacy Museum in Asheville, NC—which opened in February of last year—I'll re-share another article I wrote featuring an antique lace bridal veil on display with celebrity connections. ("A Veil of Distinction" was first published in the 2016 spring issue of Season magazine.) Enjoy!
A Veil of Distinction
Wedding veils hold an especially distinctive yet intimate place in a family’s collective memory. Even more than the wedding gown, the family bridal veil has, historically, been the treasure most often passed down and shared with daughters and granddaughters, nieces and cousins.
That was the case with a certain heirloom veil with a most captivating provenance. First worn by Margaret Merritt as an Edwardian bride when she married James Thomas Lee of New York City in 1903, her cathedral-length, rose point lace veil was also worn by her daughters Marion Lee Ryan, Janet Lee Bouvier and Winifred Lee D’Olier. But this veil developed a particular mystique when her granddaughter Jacqueline Bouvier wore it, along with Margaret’s delicate wreath of wax orange blossoms, for her marriage to Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953.
I became intrigued by this veil’s lineage when I learned it was to go on a first-ever display early this year as part of the wedding costume exhibitions on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The veil’s connection with the Vanderbilt family is through Jackie Kennedy’s cousin, Mary Lee Ryan—“Mimi” wore it when she married George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William Amherst Cecil, in 1957.
Jackie’s only daughter Caroline Kennedy didn’t wear the Lee family veil, but both Mimi’s daughter and daughter-in-law wore it with their 1980’s Diana-era “princess gowns.” I find this is part of the beauty and pleasure of a bridal veil: as fashions change, it can be adapted to wear in various stylish ways; and even as women and their roles change, because of its strong feminine impulse, the bridal veil always carries a precious tradition.
Later when lace was not as popular and travel to Europe was aboard airplanes instead of ships, bringing home a lace wedding veil stayed dear to the hearts of many American women. Perhaps there is one stored away in your family’s “treasure chest”? ~