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 And side-eye anyone wearing an outdated dress design!).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

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! 

 

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?

Seville Snapshots: The Horses of the Feria de Abril of Sevilla

“Cat, estamos en Feria, ¿vale?”

Luna, the Novio’s god-daughter, is not quite three and already a declared feriante. We were sitting in a horse carriage, her teeny hand stroking the ruffles of my traje de gitana. In Spanish, “I’ve been to three Ferias. ¿Y tú?” Six, I replied, getting a puzzled look. Before I could explain, she drew in a deep breath and pointed at the team of horses pulling us along the fairgrounds. ¡Mira, Cat! ¡Un caballo!

photo by Hayley Salvo

There are so many things that are muu d’aqui about the Seville April Fair – the drinks, the dance, the dress (not to mention the etiquette). While it’s not for everyone, Seville’s social event of the year celebrates Andalusian beauty of all sorts, including its Jerezano stallions. Horses, riders and their carriages are allowed to circulate the fairgrounds until about 8pm, paying nearly 80€ an hour for the official license plate. Seeing the pale grey stallions, women dressed as amazonas perched on top with their legs dangling off the side and a crisp sherry in hand, adds an air of the past.

The caballos get gussied up for the event – their tales and manes are braided, balls of yarn and bells hang from their  bridles. I actually prefer seeing Feria during the day and admiring the creatures, as my family has always owned a horse and I’ve known how to ride since I was a kid.

Are you a horse lover? I’ll be going to the Feria del Caballo in a few weeks with my guiri friends – a whole week dedicated to horses and sherry!

The Do’s and Dont’s of the Feria de Abril of Seville

Recently, Shawn of Azahar Sevilla and the mastermind behind Seville Tapas tweeted that I have a reputation of being feriante, a lover of Seville’s famous festival, the Feria de Abril. We may have only met briefly, but mujer gets me. What’s not to love about a week dedicated to revelry, horses, wine and curve-hugging dresses?

Two weeks after sevillanos have dried their tears after another washed out Holy Week, a makeshift city of temporary tents is erected at the southwest end of the city. Known as the Real de la Feria, this pueblecito comes alive during six days of the year, from 9pm on the Monday two weeks after Resurrection Sunday to the following Sunday’s fireworks show.

The dizzying, vibrant week can be characterized by a whirl of polka dotted dresses, the jingle of horse bells and the sound of sevillanas, a type of flamenco music, and it’s one of Spain’s most well known festivals. But as a city deep-rooted in tradition, even the April Fair has its set of unofficial rules. I consider myself a fairly well-weathered feriante after five years of teaching class after late nights, of using my enchufe to my advantage and of lasting through six days of partying.

DO bring your wallet

One of the biggest pitfalls to Feria is that it falls two weeks after Holy Week (my perfect excuse for traveling during 10 days). Feria is a wallet drain.

First is the costly flamenco dress and everything that goes with it – the flower, shawl, earrings and shoes. I got my most recent dress during the July sale season for a mere 125€ and the accessories, called complementos, cost me another 60€. Styles change de feria en feria, so some wealthy women get a new dress each year!

My caseta membership costs Kike and I 150€ a year (we alternate who pays, this year me toca, while he’ll pay the cheaper gym membership), and then there’s the food, the drinks and the need to buy a new pair of shoes when I dance the others right into the trash. Tapas are not served in casetas, but rather raciones that can be 6 – 12€, while a jarra of rebujito can cost up to 10€! What’s more, hotels and taxis operate on a holiday price, so rates will be sky-high like during Holy Week. City buses have a 2€ day pass, and they’ll extend working hours – look for the “Especial Feria” bus.

To keep costs down, I usually eat lunch at home and walk to the fairgrounds and always ignore my dwindling bank account for the sake of un buen rato. Feria only comes once a year!

DON’T only see Feria by night

The fairgrounds open daily around 1p.m. and most casetas stay open until the wee hours, meaning the Feria de Abril is an exercise in stamina, and not just for your wallet. My first few years in Seville, I worked outside the city and therefore had to run home, change into my traje de gitana, eat and get to Calle Gitanillo de Triana. I’d alternate dancing sevillanas with sips of rebujito and riding the carnival attractions in Calle del Infierno, arriving home in the early morning hours and collapsing in my bed hoping to get a few hours of sleep.

I may have inadvertently taught my high schoolers the word “hangover” in English my second year in Olivares.

There are two different sides to the fair – during the day, horse carriages and riders crowd the streets, even parking their horse next to their caseta and drinking sherry by the glass atop the stallion. Music spills out of the tents at all hours, and kids roam the streets with plastic toys and cotton candy the size of their torsos. The ambience is festive and cultural.

As night falls, the carnival rides at the Calle del Infierno begin to light up, and the round paper lanterns, called farolillos, come on. While you’d be pressed to find a caseta that isn’t playing a rumba or sevillana, everyone switches from rebujito and beer to mixed drinks, and casetas are often open all night long. I’ve had mornings where I’ve ended the long day of partying with chocolate con churros!

I’m also partial to weekday visits. During Friday and Saturday, other villages in the area get a day off to enjoy the fair, which means that it’s difficult to walk and navigate around the streets, all named for bullfighters.

DO dress up

Feria is the pinnacle of pijo culture – women will don the traditional traje de gitana, a tight, ruffled dress that cost upwards of 500€. If you’re not keen on dressing like a wealthy gypsy, be sure to look nice. I went to the alumbrado, the lighting of the main gate and the official start to the festivities, wearing ratty jeans and sneakers, not fully aware of how the event worked. I’ve since wizened up and now make it a priority to have a few nice dresses on hand in case there’s a chance of rain or I can’t bear wearing my traje.

If you’re a chico, wear a suit and tie. Caseta etiquette is very important, and you’ll be expected to follow suit (literally!). If you’re planning on riding a horse, a traje corto, a short jacket and riding pants with a wide-brimmed hat called a cordobés. I’ve ridden in horse carriages, but never on the back of a jerezano stallion, kind of my dream!

DON’T forget the caseta etiquette

Casetas are the temporary tents that act as houses, kitchens, concert halls and lounges during the Feria. Since the private spaces come at a commodity (there’s even a waiting list for when a family or organization decides not to continue paying), a certain type of behavior is expected – you can’t be overly drunk, improperly dressed or smoking within the walls.

One year, a friend of a friend was visiting, and I took them to the Novio’s friend’s caseta. This girl, K, was not sipping the lethal rebujito, but instead treating it like a shot. She bumbled around like an idiot and starting making out with the Novio’s youngest brother, causing quite an escándolo and getting us banned from the caseta.

There’s also an unspoken rule that you can’t bring your twelve friends with you. The Novio’s best friend’s wife, Susana, often encourages me to invite some pals, but I try and keep it limited to two, maybe three. Even my own caseta has a one-buddy-per-socio rule!

DO set limits on consumption

If Feria is a marathon for your wallet and feet, it’s no stroll through the Real for your liver, either. The drink of choice is rebujito, a refreshing mix of half a litre of dry sherry and 7-Up, and it is potent. The sugary drink is usually served in enormous jars and drunk out of plastic shot glasses or sherry glasses between friends. Drinking water and curbing the intake often helps, as well as getting some fresh air every so often. During my first year, the only kind of connection I had was in Los Sanotes, and Kelly and I made sure to be there every day. Susana’s uncle finally reminded me that there was more to Feria than one caseta out of over 1000, and a break in the dancing and drinking will allow you to take in the ambience.

Be sure to eat during the day, too. I usually don’t want to stop dancing for a montadito or fried fish, but spacing out your drinks and punctuating them with some heavy food like carrillada or tortilla will help you last longer.

DON’T be pesada with your contacts, and try and make them early.

Feria is a time when enchufe, the age-old connections game that lives and thrives in Seville – nearly all of the casetas are private and protected by a doorman. I usually have to say the name of the person who I’m meeting or offer to drag that person back to the door after I’ve found them to prove that I’ve been invited. Phone lines collapse and batteries run dead, or someone is too drunk to get to their phone. Make your plans with friends ahead of time to avoid the letdown of arriving to the fairgrounds and having to wander around while you wait for an invitation.

I’ve have several invitations to casetas where I’m brought food and drink outside, though I’ve never actually psychically been inside of them. But that’s alright with me…as long as there’s rebujito and a plate of ham waiting, that is!

While I’m busy with pouring over relaciones institucionales or dancing my brains out on Calle Gitanillo de Triana, here are a few of the articles I’ve written in the past about la semana más bonita:

How to dress up a flamenco dress

A vivir! Que son dos días!

The Feria during the economic crisis

My first Feria experience 

Any other tips and tricks for enjoying the fair?

Andalusia: A Love Letter in Photos

The immortal Amigos de Gines sing, Andalucia es mi tierra, yo soy del sur. Andalusia is my home, I’m from the South. While I can’t claim to be a full-blood sevillana, I have certainly grown to love my adopted home. My skyscraper-dominated landscape at home now has just church spires and the Giralda piercing the sky, my all-beef hot dogs replaced by acorn-fed ham.

Tomorrow is Día de Andalucía, the day in which Andalusia was ratified as an autonomous state within the newly formed Spanish Republic just 33 years ago (fun fact: Andalusia is six months younger than the Novio!!). We get a day off of work, and many private places open their doors to the public, like the Town Hall or the Congressional Palace.

And why not celebrate? This is the land that has given us the Iberian Lynx and Jerez Stallions, given rise to Antonio Banderas and Paz Vega, cultivated olive oil and sherry. García Lorca wrote homages to his native land, Washington Irving made the Alhambra famous, and Velázquez and Picasso left Andalusia to become two of the most famous Spanish painters in history. Steeped in history and architecture, folklore and culture. Columbus set sail for La India from its very shores, and the last Muslim emperor was expelled from Granada, signalling the reconquest of Spain. Camarón put flamenco on the map from his chabola in San Fernando, while David Bisbal rocketed to fame with the pop hit, Bulería. It’s a place where a si, claro because a ahi, aro illo!

My visual homage to lovely Andalucía:

The landscapes and cityscapes

Seville

Granada

Santa Cruz, Sevilla

Estepa (Seville province)

The beach at Bolonia and ruins of Baelo Claudia

The pueblos blancos, or white villages

Tarifa (Cádiz)

Iglesia del Carmen, Zahora de los Atunes (Cádiz)

The food and drink (and la marcha!)

The folklore and culture

La Manera de Ser

Have you ever visited Andalusia? What do you like about this region? Can you believe I’ve actually never been to Jaén or Almería?

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