I Bought a Flamenco Dress, Now What?!: a Guide to Buying Complementos

My phone buzzes just as I’m hopping on my bike, telling me I’ve got a photo in my whatsapp. M has sent me a photo of two different earrings, set side-by-side with a series of questions marks. 

I know where she’s coming from. 

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 And side-eye anyone wearing an outdated dress design!).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.

I confess that my first Feria was rife with mistakes: I wore jeans and a ratty tee to the alumbrado, bought baby-sized accessories and – gasp! – wore my mantoncillo around my hips because I didn’t know you had to buy a brooch for it. Hey, no one helped me, and the lady in the Don Regalón probably laughed when I chose demure earrings that only an infant should have been wearing.

Shame is having a six-month-old show you up on Calle La Bombita while she’s napping in her stroller, trust me.

Oh, and did I mention I also wore a purse and a WINDRBREAKER?! Guiri, no.

I sent M the cardinal rule of flamenco accessories – BE BOLD. When else can you wear ridiculously oversized jewelry? When else is risk-taking so handsomely rewarded? Her dress is black, so the obvious, traditional choice is red. When I suggested gold, fuschia or even neons, I think I confused her even more. Having options makes sticking to a color palate really, really tough.

Let it be known that I am quitting my job for the next month to become a flamenco accessory consultant. 

First, you have to know the basics. Two months before the Greatest Week Ever begins, flamenco dress and accessories stores begin to pop up in the center of town, and you’ll hear the word traje spoken with a word density that makes your head spin (that, and azahar, playa, pasos and vacaciones, four sacred words in the sevillano lexicon when spring arrives).

Look for the stores near Calle Francos, Calle Cuna and Calle Asunción for both dresses and accessories. Your shoes can be bought on Calle Córdoba or any Pasarela store around town. If you’re looking for a deal on a dress, trajes are sold at warehouse prices in the towns outside of Seville, as well as older models at El Jueves flea market. A dizzying variety of complementos can be found at El Corte Inglés, Don Regalón and a number of specialty shops. Chinos also sell bargain items in plastic and sometimes beads.

Rule of thumb when it comes to your accessories: the bigger, the better. I mean it. No color, shape or size is off-limits. My new traje de gitana (you only get a preview below, sorry!) is a greenish turquoise color with cream-colored lunares, complimented by cream-colored encaje under the bust, where the sleeves open at the elbow, and at the ruffles. Since I didn’t pay for the dress, I was willing to splurge on complementos this year.

My advice is to browse before you buy. Because there are endless combinations of colors and styles, it’s easy to lose your head. When you have a dress made for you, ask for a swatch of fabric to take to the accessories stores for matching colors. I beelined straight for Isabel Mediavilla, a local designer who is friendly and helpful when it comes to suggesting possibilities. When she and I had come up with a color palate – dusty purple and gold – it was time to get to work.

Here’s your basic kit:

El Mantoncillo: The Shawl

I always buy the shawl as soon as I’ve got the dress nailed down. These shawls can cost up to 100€ or even more, given that some are hand-painted, hand-embroidered, a mix of patterns and textures. Buying the shawl will help you have an idea of what accessories will pair best. 

Some women choose a gargantilla (a choker with flecos, or the fringe that hangs down) or simple flecos that are sewn to the neckline of the traje de gitana.

Mine: Bought from Raquel Terán (Calle Francos, 4), 75€

La Flor: The Flower

The flower is a gitana’s hallmark, meant to look like a rose or carnation and worn either on top of the head or tucked behind the year. The flowers are made of cloth and have a flexible “stem” with which to secure it to your head with bobby pins. Flowers can be big or small, but you should probably just go ahead and get a big one if you’ve got “la altura” according to the snotty lady at the Corte Inglés.

I went back to Isabel Mediavilla, as she has literally a wall full of flowers of every imaginable color and style. I’m going big this year – BIG.

Mine: Bought from Isabel Mediavilla (Calle Francos, 34), 20€

Los Pendientes: The Earrings

In one of my less memorable Feria moments, I let a cheap pair of earrings I’d bought at Don Regalón get the better of me – I pouted when one slipped out of my ears while dancing (hey, the 13€ they cost meant an entire hour’s private lesson!). I love the bold, intricate earrings that women wear during the fair and am constantly looking for ones that aren’t too heavy. 

I bought these ceramic beauties, but they’re a bit heavy, and my earlobes may not be able to handle them!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés (Nervión), 23€

El Broche: The Brooch 

Many times, you’ll find brooches that match with your earrings, particularly at the Corte Inglés. A broche is mega important if you’re wearing a mantoncillo, as this will attach the  shawl to your dress and making dancing, eating and drinking hands-free.

Just, please, don’t tie the ends of the shawl together. Spend a few bucks on a brooch and you’ll not regret it!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés, 9€

La Peineta: The Comb

Even in the age of bobby pins and hairspray, many women choose to add plastic or metal combs to their hair. They often don’t serve any sort of purpose, but many women wear them just behind the flower or to capture the whips of hair that aren’t shellacked to their skull.

When matching your combs, try and be consistent with your other accessories. If you’ve got plastic earrings, stick with a plastic peineta. Same goes for metal and for colors.

Mine: Bought two years in a chino, 12€

Los Tacones: The Shoes

Although I’d argue that shoes are the least of your aesthetic worries during the fair (hell, they’re covered by your ruffles!), it’s important that you wear something comfortable for all of those hours on your feet. Women opt for espadrille wedges or even cloth flamenco shoes that have a thick heel for support. Calle Córdoba, near Plaza del Salvador, is a narrow alleyway full of zapaterías, so make that your first stop.

Let me just say this – if you’re wearing stilettos, you’ll be doing very little dancing and probably a lot of pouting!

Mine: Bought from Pasarela two years ago, 15€

Lo demás: Everything else

You’ll also need to buy hairspray and bobby pins to secure the flower’s stem and the combs without a doubt. I’ve also got a donut for making a big, thick bun, as well as a fan because this year’s fair goes well into May.

Some women opt for necklaces, bangles, mantoncillo or no – what it all comes down to is feeling comfortable and wearing your accessories confidently. Remember that the flamenco dress itself is heavy and it can get hot under there! 

As for M? I sincrerely hope she went with hot pink. Lo dicho: go big or stay at home!

Want to read more on the Feria de Sevilla?

On my first time buying accessories successfully // The Dos and Don’ts of the Feria de Sevilla // The Music of the Feria de Sevilla

Photo Post of Carmona: The Perfect Little Day Trip from Seville

Nothing says long weekend like a roadtrip, a quick stop in a village and the mass migration of people during the sacred puente. Not wanting to go too far, I settled on taking a day trip to Carmona, one of the province highlights that is often shadowed by Seville (even though, in my opinion, the province doesn’t offer too much by way of historical sites). 

Rain was on the forecast, but it didn’t matter – Phyllis and I grabbed Pequeño Monty and took the A-4 all the way into town. My first trip to Carmona was five years ago on a similar, drizzly morning – I’ve been aching to return since (particularly because that was one of my poorest points of expat life – we didn’t pay to see anything and split two plates of food between five of us).

Most visitors to the city arrive to the Plaza del Estatuto, known to locals as the Plaza de Abajo. The oblong plaza is lined with old man bars. I swooned immediately.

This small city, perched on a hill above acres of wheat and olives, has seen traces of Bronze Age settlers, Roman emperors, Visigoth Kings and the Moors before its conquest in the 13th Century. In pounding the pavement, I felt like we were on the tails of history.

The old center winds up from the Puerta de Sevilla and its imposing city walls and onto Plaza San Fernando towards Calle Prim, called the Plaza de Abajo by locals. Hidden within the gradually steep walls that stretch to the Iglesia de Santiago and the Puerte de Córdoba are tucked-away plazas, convents, grandiose cathedrals and stately palaces. Many alleyways are so slim, you can touch both sides of the walls.

There was little car traffic (it seemed the whole town was either sleeping off the Carnival celebrations or at a wedding at the Priory of Santa María), and we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

Ending the day at the Necrópolis de Carmona (which is free, so you have no excuse to not go), we had gone from lavish renaissance palaces to the ruins of an ancient burial ground by just driving to the other part of town. Laying along the Via Augusta, Carmona has been attracting tourists for millennia.  We were just two unassuming guiris still amazed that such old stuff exists.

Have you been to Carmona? What are you favorite villages in the Sevilla province? I’d recommend the following:

Estepa, Ciudad del Mantecado

Itálica and its Roman Ruins

San Nicolás del Puerto

Climbing the Via Ferrata of Archidona

Something hard hit my boob. I watched a rock about the size of a plum careen down the grassy knoll before rolling to a stop. I squinted up at the rock face. There was a lot of mountain to go, and it had already beaten me up.

The via ferrata is the Italian name given to the iron railings the Italian army used in WWI to scale the Alps and the Dolomites, which may have existed a century or two before. The peñón of Archidona is certainly not the Alps, but as a first time climber, my legs were shaking before I had even strapped my kit to the long wires extending more than 140 meters vertically.

Franci explained the procedure to us once more –  to use the mountains, take off one carabiner at a time and don’t panic. I watched Meg Spiderman crawl over the first half a dozen before I took a deep breath and pushed off the ground, grasping the iron peg above my head.

Reaching the top a few hours later (there were periods of waiting for slower climbers or turns to cross the bridge that spanned a canyon) was a tad anti-climactic because my legs were tired and I’d already seen this view of the town below and the mountains that enclose it. My hands were red and raw and I could feel my nose burning under the hot sun.

We started down the mountain – this time walking – and snaked back around to the cars.

Facing things that make me nervous gives me just as much satisfaction as a really good meal and a glass of wine. Yeah, I like being outdoors and trying new things, but I’m not an adrenaline junkie. That said, I’d consider doing other activities that Ocioaventura offers, like spelunking or rafting. Anything that allows me to keep my two feet on the ground!

Ocioaventura offers a half-day Via Ferrata pack, which includes equipment rental, insurance and a basic training course, plus the climb, for 45€. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes, put on sunscreen and eat beforehand. You’re able to carry a small backpack for water. The course in Archidona is for beginners and can be climbed in 2-3 hours.

And if you’re looking for a place to stay, be sure to check availability at Almohalla 51, a beautiful boutique hotel that will only require a quick uphill trek from the main square.

Spotlight on Spanish Autonomous Regions: Andalucía

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: travel to all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through spending ample time in Andalucía, Galicia and Castilla y León – vastly different in their own right – plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

I often get asked what my favorite part of Spain is, and it’s really a loaded question. I’ve drunk wine in La Rioja, hiked through Asturias, considered a move to Madrid. A piece of me can be found in each part of Spain, to be honest, and there are very few places that I’m truly iffy about (I’m looking at you, Barcelona and Santander). 

Spain’s long history means it’s a country waiting to be discovered, and I’m going the break it all down for you in my new feature, Spotlight on Spanish Autonomous Regions.

And how fitting is it to start with the one I call my hogar dulce hogar, Andalucía? And on the day that commemorates its independence (thank you, Journalism School 101, for reminding me that dates and anniversaries are great story ideas)?

Name: Andalucía, named for the Moorish Al-Andalus

Population: 8.4 million

Provinces: Eight; Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Maálaga, Sevilla.

When: 6th of 17 regions, July 2005

About Andalucía: This southernmost region (also home to the largest population) is the Spain you imagine: bullfights, tapas, sun, flamenco. I could write a love song to how much I adore this part of Spain, despite the mañana, mañana attitude, the heat and the immense size that has made it difficult for me to see everything there is to see here (though maybe that’s a good thing).

Must-sees: As this is a region I know well, heaps of places come to mind. In fact, this blog is loaded with six years of bus, train and car trips around Andalucía. From ferias to festivals to road trips to romerías, Andalucía is also known as the sailing point for the discovery of the New World, the epicenter of tapas culture and the birthplace of flamenco. A trip to Spain must include Madrid and Barcelona, but no picture of Iberia is complete without Andalusia on the list (and other areas, don’t attack me quite yet!).

For ideas, check out my Tourism category.

If you’re into the historical aspects of Andalucía, you can’t miss the Alhambra of Granada, wandering the streets of Santa Cruz and Córdoba and being witness to the Moorish influence during their seven century reign, and the Roman city of Itálica. Also of note are the small churches, other Roman relics and ruins.

For eats, you’re in luck – thanks to its varied geography, you can get everything from fresh fish to fresh game meat, olive oil to fish oil, wine to sherry. Andalusia has been known as a  traditionally rural area, and strawberries are grown in Huelva and Almería is known as Europe’s greenhouse. Fried fish and cured Iberian ham is practically a religion in my neck of the woods, and winter fruits like oranges populate the street’s of Andalucía’s great cities. 

Other great cultural sites include flamenco, the city ferias, bullfighting, Holy week, ceramics, fine arts, El Rocío…the list goes on and on (and, again, I’m biased). What seems to define Andalucía is its boisterous love for the folkloric and the traditional. 

My take: As the flamenco group Amigos de Gines sing, Andalucía es mi tierra, yo soy del sur, my personality is clearly best matched to an Andalusian. As one of the largest comunidades in Spain by land area, the region has far more to offer than I could ever write about on SandS. The regional pride and deep cultural patronomy, along with its gasronomic scene and spectacular architecture have me constantly excited to explore.

Each month for the next 16, I’ll take a look at Spain’s 17 comunidades autónomas and my travel through them, from A to, um, Valencia. I’d love your take on the good and the bad in each one, so be sure to sign up for my RSS feed to read about each autonomous region at the end of each month!

What do you love (or not) about Andalucía?

Spain Snapshots: The Carnavales de Cádiz

If andaluces are considered Spain’s most affable folk, it’s believed that the gaditanos, those from Cádiz, are blessed with the gift of wit. At no time in the year is this trait so celebrated as during the Carnavales de Cádiz.

Based (very) loosely on Venice’s extravagant Carnivale, this pre-Lenten festival is a huge tourist draw in Andalucía in which choirs, called coros, entertain city dwellers from flatbed trucks around the historic center. There’s also a song competition between chirigotas, or small, satirical musical groups who compose their own verses about whatever happens to be controversial each year.

But because it’s before Lent, why not add a pagan element to the festivities? Cádiz’s city center fills with young people who dress in costumes and carry around bottles of booze on Saturday night.

My first Carnaval experience was insane – partying with my Erasmus friends from Seville and Huelva, dressed up as an Indian with a kid’s costume I bought for 8€, endless amounts of tinto de verano and strong mixed drinks. I even ripped my shoes up on the broken glass that littered the streets.

Returning home at 6am and pulling into Plaza de Cuba just before 8, I slept the entire day, waking only for feul and a groggy Skype date with my parents.

Carnaval, you kicked my culo (but I blame the cheap tinto de verano).

For the next few years, I happened to always be out-of-town for the festivities (though I did make it to Cologne for their classed-up Carnival). In 2011, I joined a few friends, this year dressed for the weather and better rested.

The serpentine streets that wrap around town hall, the port and the cathedral held even more people than I remembered, pre-crisis. Like the chirigotas, revelers dress in sarcastic guises, or something that pokes fun at politicians or current events.

In 2011, everyone was hasta el moño with the government limiting freedoms, like pirating music and driving too fast on the highway. My personal favorite? When costumes are scandalous and obnoxious. Case in point: 

Being smarter this time around, we spent the night making friends and reliving our college days. No broken glass, lost friends or cold limbs!

Interested in attending the Carnavales?

March 1st and 8th are the huge party nights in 2014. Be sure to reserve travel and accommodation as far ahead as possible, as the city of Cádiz is quite small and everything gets booked up quite quickly. It’s not advisable to go by car, as parking is limited. You could also get a ticket with a student travel company and stay up all night.

Bring enough cash, as ATMs will run out of small bills, and you’ll probably be tempted to buy something to snack on from a street vendor. Dress for the weather – the nights will get chilly along the coast.

You can also consider attending a less-chaotic carnival in other towns around Spain, like Sanlúcar de la Barrameda or Chipiona. Plus, the choirs and chirigotas are a treat, and there is plenty of ambiance during the daytime.

Love festivals? Check out my articles on other Spanish Fiestas:

Spain’s Best Parties (Part 1) // The Tomatina // The Feria de Sevilla

Seville Snapshots: SIMOF and the Moda Flamenca Industry

A few years ago, I had this moment where I had to pinch myself – I was sitting seventh row at a flamenco fashion show. I couldn’t tell you anything more than it’s name in Spanish, let alone rattle off the colors, fabric, cuts and even the numerous ways to style those ruffles.

SIMOF, short for Salón Internacional de Moda Flamenca, is one of the world’s greatest flamenco fashion shows. Showcasing more than 50 designers (including kids!), Seville’s convention bureau rocks to bulerías as the year’s top designs go down the runway.

When I went three years ago to a Friday afternoon to see Loli Vera’s designs on show at SIMOF, I was drawn into a design world, Tim Gunn style. Even though the models looked like they couldn’t have been more bored as they strutted (well, it’s hard to strut in a traje de gitana) in front of fashion bloggers and video cameras. I began to take interest in desginers – not just of dresses but also shawls and accessories – and giddily begin planning my Feria look a few months before the big event.

The Reyes Magos came a bit late this year, but they left me a fantastic present – money to go towards a new flamenco dress for the Feria de Abril, which I started designing last week with a modista. It was both nerve-wracking and exciting!.

If you go: SIMOF 2014 takes place from this Thursday to the following Sunday in the Convention center of Seville, FIBES. Entrances to the fairgrounds and stands, where you can buy fabrics, trajes and accessories, is 5 and each fashion show costs 10. You can find all the information you need at FIBES Sevilla’s official site for the event.

Have you ever been to SIMOF, or own your own flamenco dress?

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