Because these dresses, typical of Andalucia, are specially made to highlight the best of the female body. And I’m not talking from a “machista” point of view, in fact just the opposite. Women dressed “de Flamenca” are admired for the beauty of the whole outfit, by both women and men, but mainly by women, who know all the hard work, that does not show, but is essential to look perfect in El Real (the place where the Feria is held, in the Barrio de Los Remedios, Seville); from the flower on the head down to the shoes.
There are fashion trends, shown in the most important Fair: SIMOF (Salon Internacional de la Moda Flamenca), every year in January/February, where the designers who specialise in Vestidos de Flamenca, show their latest ideas. The fashions can change: in the print of the fabric, in the number of the flounces on the skirt, whether they are wide or narrow, whether the sleeves have flounces or not – although usually they have flounces, matching the ones in the skirt, of course – and whether they fall from the shoulder or start at the elbow. Even the length of the dress can vary with fashion; normally it reaches to the shoes, but can also be between knee and ankle. This means that although what we are accustomed to seeing, the traditional red dress with white polka-dots, is not considered out of fashion, it is generally worn by more conservtive women. However if you feel brave enough to take a risk and draw attention to yourself, then you should change your “vestido de lunares” (polka-dot dress) for the new trends shown by the top designers.
So what else goes into the dress? The fabric used is normally high resistance lycra, that makes the dress into a second skin, extremely tight, from the top down to the knees, which requires a special elegance when walking – short steps, and balancing your body… and even requires help to go to the bathroom! As the back and the front usually have a plunging neckline it can be difficult to keep the dress in the right position, so they have a fine hidden cord (cordoncillo) that has to be tied tightly enough to keep the dress in place, but not so tight as to leave a mark on the skin. It’s not attractive when this “cordoncillo” shows, so often the dress is accompanied by the “mantoncillo” a little shawl with fringes, in a colour that matches the dress, the flower, the earrings, etc..
Special mention should be made of the head adornments and the arrangement of the hair, which has to be fixed really firmly, since it must be perfect for more than twelve hours, holding the flower, and the “peineta” or comb. Here too, fashion is important. One year hairstyles will have the hair with the flower arranged on top of the head, but other years it will be dressed on one side, just above the ear, or even below the ear, it depends on what is seen at SIMOF: there can be one big flower on top, or several small flowers. But a big one on top is the most widely-seen way to wear it. The ensemble is completed with the typical dangling earings, and make-up that enhances the eyes.
You will never, ever, see a woman dressed “de Flamenco” clutching money, house keys, kleenex, lipstick or a mobile phone in her hand, or even worse, pushed into her neckline… For this they have a small fabric bag, called “la Faltriquera”, which is fastened with cords to the inside of the skirt, between the skirt and the lining. Sometimes you might catch sight of a woman who, very discreetly, goes into a corner and puts her hands between the flounces of her skirt. She is looking for something in her “Faltriquera”. She does this with discretion, although not actually hiding herself, since it is considered in very bad taste to put her hand under her skirt openly in public. The only thing a Flamenca will carry in her hand is her fan, which she uses with sensual grace.
Of course we must not forget the shoes. The Flamenca dress is always accompanied by high-heeled shoes, in keeping with the very feminine spirit of the dress, since a high heel always flatters the figure. No matter whether it measures 2 cm or 10 cm, every woman knows what she’s used to wearing, and how long she will have to wear them in El Real. Generally she will choose a medium heel – about 4 cm – which is comfortable and elegant at the same time. Traditionally the shoe has always been the same style, varying only in the colour, black or red, to match the colors of the dress or accessories. It is a very simple style with no big adornments. However, in recent years the trend, especially among younger girls, has been towards a type of espadrille wedge, also about 4 cm high, more comfortable, and also very pretty, but simple, always discreet.
The shoes should never be the protagonist, but they should not detract from the overall look of the outfit, and never, under any circumstances, should you neglect them, for if you are lucky enough that your partner takes you up behind him on his horse, you will sit sideways on the rump, with your legs hanging down the side of the horse, and the first thing that everyone will see will be your shoes!
So what name do we give to the dress? Usually it is called “Flamenca” because it is so intimately linked to the art of the dance “Flamenco”, although it is also known as “Traje de Gitana” or Gypsy Dress. However there is one more name which you might hear “Traje de Faralaes” (literally, a dress with flounces), but please never use it, as to a woman from Sevilla it sounds insulting and vulgar.
So, it doesn’t matter whether you are fat or slim, if you are tall or short, young or old, have big eyes or small… you will always look perfect dressed “de Flamenca”!
In my personal opinion (and here I am probably going to offend some people!) only women who have been born in, or have had some link with Andalucia from childhood, have the “gracia” (elegance) and “salero” (charm) required to wear a Traje de Flamenca and look comfortable and natural – as opposed to looking like they dressed up for a Carnival Party, and of course this is absolutely not it at all.
But what is the real secret of why women dressed “de Flamenca” look so spectacular? THE SMILE. You will never see a woman looking tired, angry, or uncomfortable, even if they are. They keep their smile all the time, and not only in El Real de La Feria, but in general, in our everyday life we are all of us ALWAYS attractive when we smile!!
A special mention to my dear friend Manoli, a “sevillana por los cuatro costados” (Sevillana through and through) whose insights have revealed to me everything that’s INSIDE when you experience the Feria de Sevilla; being driven around in an XVIII Century horse-drawn carriage or “Enganche” as they are known in Seville, crossing the Rio Guadalquivir bridge, overlooking the Torre del Oro and the Giralda above the roofs of the city, the scent of orange blossom while crossing the Parque de Maria Luisa, the elegant buildings of the Universal Exhibition of the beginning of the XX century, while she and I talk about all these treasures. But INSIDE also means from inside the heart of a women from Seville, who loves Seville and who loves to transmit her passion, with a perfect mix of humility and pride in her city and its people…