Guiri, Whoa: Buying a Flamenco Dress in Seville

Anda ya! 

Jose Manuel drops his hands in desperation as I paw a gorgeous, pale pink flamenco dress with a cascade of ruffles. No hay quien pueda with this guiri.

Nearly two hours into a search for the perfect flamenco dress, I was more undecided than ever. I got the last one in 2011 and knew immediately it was the right one for me, but this year has my head spinning. Jose Manuel dutifully pulls one dress after another, then hangs them up once I’ve ruled them out.

This flamenco dress business is a big deal.

When the Novio’s mother announced she’d be floating the bill for my traje de gitana this year, I jumped at the opportunity to design my own. I sketched out what I wanted – a one-color, sleeveless dress with three volantes and encaje around the bust and waist to make my boobs smaller and accentuate my small cintura.

I called Taller Los Príncipes to ask about pricing, trying to find something for less than 300€ so that the Novio, his mother and I would all pay 100€ each. The woman started asking me a flurry of questions. How tall was I in centimeters (….uhh…..)? What kind of ruffles did I want? Would I bring my own fabric? 

I politely said I’d call back. But I was way in over my head and with not a single seasoned guiri around to help me. In the past, I’d always bought my dresses off the rack and had them taken in (or out) as needed.

A bit of vocabulary so that you understand how confused I was.

A flamenco dress is known around these parts as the traje de gitana, or simply a traje. They’re worn during local festivals like the ferias and romerias such as El Rocío and can cost anywhere from 100€ to 500€, or ever more, especially those that are tailormade.

The dress is composed of a body, sleeves and a train of volantes, or ruffles. Made of tela, you can get high-quality fabric or normal and the detailing is called encaje. Lace is especially popular this year. The seamstress, called a modista, assists you in designing your dress and then sews it for you. The most traditional sort of fabric has lunares, or polka dots, but they can also me liso (one color) or with pattterns.

Next to the academy where I work, there’s a flamenco dress shop that’s only open from January until June. The first day I heard the heavy reja go up, it was a sign. I peered in the windows, lights off, when I opened the school and saw the exact dresses I wanted – lisos, con volantes graduados, encaje por un tubo. One color, big ruffles, details in all the right places. Either a deep magenta, turquoise or a pale green.

Later that week, I eat a light breakfast and showed up at Marqués Diseño de Trajes Flamencas. Jose Manuel is on the phone but immediately introduces himself as he hangs up (on his mother, oops!).

I fumbled for the words to tell him what I wanted. Tú no eres de aquí, verdad?

Stupid accent always giving me away as a foreigner.

He ushers me over to the racks of dresses, each slightly different from the next. Grabbing my arm, he shows me the sale dresses, available for just 175€ – una ganga, if you ask me. They are bold – bright reds and blues – but I shy away from wearing something so loud. Jose Manuel assures me that a pale, blue-eyed person would need something crazy to call the attention away from the Andalusian beauties.

So, verde agua is out. 

I show him my sketch and tell him I am dead-set on a single color, to which he scoffs. “Those are dresses for women who have nothing better to do during the fair but sit pretty in a horse carriage and look bored in their casetas.” I laugh, and admit that I am far more likely to drop greasy fried fish on my dress than abstain from eating and drinking so as not to get dirty.

Jose Manuel hands me traje after traje, zips me up, and leads me to a full-length mirror with each one, quick to judge the styles that make me look anything but fabulous. Easy-to-move-in cañastera ruffles are ruled out, as is the encaje that call too much attention to my chest and belly. I soon accumulate a pile of half a dozen dresses to discard (as well as my original design).

As it turns out, Jose Manuel da en el clavo: I am extremely traditional when it comes to flamenco dresses. I need color, lunares, volantes, a classy dose of cleavage and tight in all the right places. After narrowing the field down to two thanks to the miracle of whatsapp groups and my American friends, trying them on with a shawl and pulling my hair back to get the full effect, I make a decision before even asking the price.

It’s the tronillo design (pictured on the left and only 220€!) and in a size smaller than I usually get, and we set to the task of selecting the colors. What sets many dresses apart, even with a similar design, is the color chosen and the small details in the encaje. I already have a celestial blue dress with cream and coral accents, so I wanted to go bold.

Choosing the color palate for the dress takes nearly as long as trying them on. I hold up square samples of color, searching for the right combination, peruse back through the racks for inspiration. The smaller lunares, called lentejuelas, are better for big busts because they draw less attention to that area, so I stick with the pattern combination of the original dress I tried on and decide on turqoise. I momentarily consider a paisely, but Jose Manuel’s side eye when I mention it sets me back in place.

A week later, Jose Manuel raps on the window of the academy and asks if I could step out to OK the color patterns and pay a deposit on the dress. The original color I had in mind was not available, so he chose a shade darker, a bit more towards a green hue. I sign the receipt, paid 40€ and quickly scamper over to the academy (those ruffles start at the knee and make it hard to move swiftly) to have María José give me the thumbs up.

Jose Manuel hands me my receipt and says, “un mes largo” for the dress to be ready for its first fitting. Starting three months ahead of time means I’ve got a buffer for those extra weeks in a long month, but true to form, it is five weeks to the day. Nervously, I pulled the fabric over my hips and zipped it into place. It needs to be taken in a bit in the stomach and hips (success!), but it’s perfect.

Chicas, have you ever bought a flamenco dress in Spain? Need help with your complementos? Click here for a guide to buying accessories! 

 

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Oh I am living vicariously through you. Glad to hear it came out perfectly! So much fun.

  2. Oohhhhh this brings me back. Excited to see your traje this year! I got unbelievably lucky with Elisa deciding she’d just make me a traje for shits & giggles. If it still fits I need to find my way back to Feria ASAP and wear it again.
    Lauren recently posted..Misogyny Monday: 7 Flaws With A Man’s 7 Flaws He Likes In WomenMy Profile

    • I loved how much personality you had in that dress – elisa is a gem! AND YES, VENTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. What an experience! This sounds just as complicated as choosing a wedding dress. Maybe TLC can do a Spanish version of their Say Yes to the Dress show–Say Yes to the Flamenco Dress! Can’t wait to see the final product.
    amelie88 recently posted..Teaching English in Spain: UCETAM FAQMy Profile

  4. Not only do you drop greasy fried fish on yourself but also on your friends!!!

  5. Gah, when we were there Maggie bought a couple of the cheap ones for her nieces and she said they’re just obsessed. You look amazing! I
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..skiing in the black forest, my own backyard.My Profile

  6. Jesús de Marina Zamarriego says:

    Ole esa flamenca y ole el Real Betis, enhorabuena. Sevilla-0, Real Betis-2.
    Go Betis, you are champion.

  7. I loved hearing about this story, Cat. It was interesting to see how this flamenco dress experience differed from the first one, too!
    Cassandra recently posted..Quinta de los Molinos ParkMy Profile

  8. What a fun read! Can’t wait to see pics of the dress in action (at the Feria)!
    Kaley recently posted..American Cartoons in Spain: Do You Know Who Triki Is?My Profile

  9. Christine says:

    How exciting…can’t wait to see the pics. In my mind I have the perfect traje,dance sevillanas along side the Duquesa and sipping my rebujito… all the while looking freakin fab!
    It can happen, right? Ahhh, ok I will just live through you. :)

  10. Some women have the most amazing shapes in those trajes. And certainly because they were custom-tailored to each figure…seems it is ALL about the butt. If only all our clothes were tailored! And “Say Yes to the Flamencho Dress” would be a totally genius show in Sevilla! Seeing there’s so much thought and detail put into it…someone should pitch it!
    Justine recently posted..The Visionary Urban Design of the Eixample District, BarcelonaMy Profile

    • I love the way the dress fits right to my body. It’s the one week of the year where no self consciousness creeps in!

  11. So much fun! Love it.
    I’m looking forward to seeing the dress you designed.
    Did you stick to one color or did he convince you otherwise?
    Lauren @Roamingtheworld recently posted..A blind-date adventure with Lauren from Sobremesa in SpainMy Profile

  12. I love love love these dresses! I’ve just been informed about what the Feria in Sevilla actually consists of and I really want to go! April is going to be a really expensive month for me so I’m a bit worried about planning it now, but I feel pressure because it’ll be so busy. AHH! There is too much to do in Spain!
    Jessica Wray recently posted..Young, Alive & Present in GranadaMy Profile

    • It’s not in April this year, but in May!! You can always opt for the cheaper Feria de Jerez or Córdoba a bit later in the season, too.

  13. ¡óle mi niña!

  14. This was such a great read! I was hanging on to every word and I could imagine exactly how Jose Manuel was. Trying on clothes is stressful, especially when you’re getting honest opinions from a somewhat stranger! But this post was beautifully written and I can’t wait to see pictures of the final dress!
    Kelsey recently posted..Spring in Madrid + Blog updates + *Lettr Giveaway*My Profile

  15. Great story of a dress. Looking forward to the in-action pictures. I would be so rubbish at buying a flamenco dress… shopping is not my strong suit and all the decisions would overwhelm me.
    Sophie RR recently posted..Silent Sunday 30 March 2014My Profile

  16. What an interesting saga! And now I REALLY want one of those dresses. They look great!
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..The Hidden Danger of a Famous Tourist AttractionMy Profile

  17. Great post. I would have no idea how how to buy a flamenco dress. Thanks for the pointers!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday: NOLA’s Next GenerationMy Profile

  18. Gorgeous! I’m with @Lillie – I really want one of those dresses!
    Micki recently posted..Why the Best of Seville Isn’t In Your GuidebookMy Profile

  19. Great post, Cat. Didn’t realize reduced boobage was a feature of flamenco dresses. Beautiful photos, as always.

  20. I’d not considered getting a Flamenco dress myself – I don’t think I have the figure for it… I’m just not curvy enough (bug butt, small boobs). But I love looking at everyone else’s.

    Great article as usual, Cat love!

    Elle xx
    Elle in Spain recently posted..Easy Spanish recipe: Huevos rotos con jamonMy Profile

  21. What a delightful saga. And how different from shopping for something that’s ready made! The only flamenco dresses I’ve ever seen were on dancers, but now I know the back story about how they get made.
    Terry at Overnight New York recently posted..70 Park Avenue: E-reads in Your RoomMy Profile

    • Thanks, Terry. The dresses dancers wear are looser and simpler, as well as made of different fabric. You can dance in the dresses we wear for Feria, but they’re much more restricted! Now, to try mine on – two weeks to estreno!

  22. This is going to come in extremely handy next year! :D

  23. Oh, you made me laugh out loud! I am usually on the other side – being the “modista”, mostly for flamenco dance costumes but also some Feria dresses – so I know exactly what you went through :-)
    http://www.flamencreaciones.com
    Anke recently posted..How to Sew Ruffles on a SleeveMy Profile

  24. Hi Cat, I’m loving your blog! I just found it and am reading through it every few days. My question to you is: We’re attending the feria in 2015 (we’re from So. Calif.) and I’m wondering what to do about my traje? We arrive a week before the feria – will I have time to buy one off the rack? If not, then? Help?
    P.S. What do you suggest for the boys?
    Thanks in advance!
    Elizabeth in California

    • Correction: it should have read, “HELP!” ;)

    • Hola Elizabeth! You can buy off the rack, though you may find the dresses to be pricy. You could try Amazon or even consider buying one now if you’re in Spain, as some of the design houses have sales. Try Asuncion Peña, Molina and Lina. The shop where I got mine has some sale items, though they’re limited with color and style. While wearing one if infinitely more fun, you don’t have to wear one, just a nice dress or pair of slacks will do!

      Men should wear a suit, even with the heat! Some of the more posh tents won’t let you even enter without the jacket! My boyfriend was denied entrance to a caseta we belonged to, even though the temps reached 100 degrees in April, so best to bring one.

      Thanks for reading – keep me posted with your plans!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Buying a flamenco dress every two years and figuring out how to deck it out has become my adult version of dress-up (who needs Halloween when you can wear ruffles? And big flowers on your head! And side-eye anyone wearing an outdated dress design!). I’m probably just as excited to shop for complements than I am for the actual flamenco dress. […]

  2. […] also need a flower in your hair and an abanico [fan] to keep you cool. Here’s Cat’s guide for buying a flamenco dress and another for buying its accessories, called complementos. Though trajes aren’t required, […]

  3. […] and a kitchen large enough for an actual table and multiple bookshelves and closet space for my two flamenco dresses. There are two bathrooms, three bedrooms, air conditioning units in most rooms, mosquito nets on […]

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