Andalusian Spring Fairs: The Magic Behind the Flamenco Dress
Versión en español aquí
Spring is the season of festivities here in Andalusia, the most vibrant and electric being the Feria; a spectacular celebration of the incredible weather, lifestyle and culture heritage that this area has to offer.
Feria is a 4 to 7 day explosion of joy and colour, taking place in different towns and cities throughout Andalusia from April till August. Feria is all about “letting your hair down”; creating an opportunity for everybody to experience freedom and fun in an environment whereby these precious moments can be shared with loved ones.
For women this annual event has especially become iconic, because they are the ones who steal the show. It’s during the feria when they wear these gorgeous flamenco dresses, known in Spanish as “trajes de gitana” (gipsy dresses) or “trajes de flamenca”. Adorned in these beautiful dresses and jewellery, women become their most beautiful.
“After the wedding dress, it’s the most beautiful costume a woman can wear. Besides, it’s the dress with which women have most fun”, said Charo Fernández, an ex-professional tailor from el Puerto de Santa María.
The Flamenco Dress is a powerful extension of a woman’s right of both self expression and divine femininity and at the Feria there is no hierarchy: all women are queens. Equally respected, adored and worshipped all day long.
It’s as if women get a magic injection of elegance, beauty and cheerfulness when they get into their flamenco dresses. “Sure! We gain a lot of power in our flamenco dresses, and that’s because we know we look beautiful in them”, said Lucía laughing, when we asked her at the local fabric shop where she works in Jerez, called Telas el Metro.
Now, have you ever wondered who’s actually behind the making of flamenco dresses? Who’s responsible for stitching into the fabric that secret power Lucia talks about? Even though there are professional tailors from whom some people buy their flamenco dresses, the many number of women here in Andalusia love nothing more than getting creative with the sewing machine. With years of experience often passed down through generations, they combine all their skills and expertise to make their very own custom-made dresses.
DIY has always been a very common approach to custom clothing in Andalusia, so fabric shops and haberdasheries are numerous in Andalusian towns and cities. They are busy places where people start to talk about the feria earlier than anywhere else. “The first meters of fabric for flamenco dresses for the feria are sold in January” said Herminia, who works with Lucia at Telas el Metro in Jerez.
They experience the busiest time of the year in Spring. Thousands of meters of plain fabric are sold first for the tunics and hoods of Easter processions members. Then it’s time for the colourful patterns with polka dots and flowers to be chosen for the making of flamenco dresses. Choosing the perfect fabric for your dress isn’t an easy process considering the hundreds of different fabric patterns and designs available.
Once people have decided on their fabric, often a meticulous task, they go the next key “DIY” shop: the haberdashery.
If you thought choosing a fabric of your liking was difficult enough ,then just await for the indecisions and choices that arise when people step into a haberdashery in Andalusia. With the endless varieties of tassels, laces, ribbons and other infinite add-ons to customize a flamenco dress, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
Though not having a clear idea can also be fun. The shop attendants have tons of patience and sense of humour. Some of them are a real laugh, like Antonio, who works in a haberdashery called Cervera in Jerez. He talks out loud to the clients and to himself while he comes and goes to the store rooms to fetch what he guesses people mean when they speak to him about their ideas.
With all the necessary materials, advice and extra inspiration acquired in these shops, women then start the making of their dresses in workshops or in their homes. During the process, these spaces turn into real factories of one of the most dynamic traditions in Andalusia.
“The trends in flamenco dresses change. That’s one of the reasons why women like to have a new dress every year. The designs one can see these days would have been unthinkable some years ago. People like to innovate and create new models. Some women buy new fabrics and add-ons every year. However, there’s also a great deal of old dresses being transformed for each year’s feria”, said Toñi Fernández, who sew professionally for many years in El Puerto de Santa María.
The finishing touches of a flamenco outfit are accessories or “abalorios” in Spanish. Accesories are a must have and the most basic of sets must include large hooped earrings, a fan and a flower. Then, a shawl, a necklace and bracelets are optional. “Some people buy more than one set of accesories. They are an easily replaceable part of any flamenco outfit and they can make people look as if they were wearing a different dress. Besides, there’re some people who have different dresses for different days or different times of the day, so they need to have several sets” said Chari from Accesorios Colorido in Jerez.
Accessory shops are also great experiences. Full to the brim with varying options of the aforementioned ítems, the biggest surprise we had was when we asked Chari what colors people were choosing this year. After letting us know that red and white are always popular, she very naturally mentioned other colors such as “aguamarina” (aquamarine), “verde agua” (water green), “rosa palo” (a sort of light pink), bugainvillea or peacock blue…colours we never knew existed!
Case study: a mother who made a flamenco dress for her daughter via skype
You’d think that making a tailor-made flamenco dress would involve the client and the tailor meeting several times throughout the process; measurements, fittings, modifications and general queries… Whilst this is true, with the advancement of technology nowadays it’s possible to make a dress without ever meeting the client in person. This is how Charo Fernández managed to get her daughter’s flamenco dress made last year.
Cristina, who lives and works in Valencia, had her dress made in El Puerto without ever trying it on. The first time she tried it on was when she arrived in El Puerto for the start of the Feria and this was the result!
Whilst Genuine Andalusia sadly doesn’t make custom-made Flamenco dresses (well at least not yet!) we are pleased to offer you our own tailor-made tours in Andalusia.