The Flamenco Dress: The Most Characteristic Feature of La Feria de Abril
When you think of Spain, you think of flamenco. And bullfighting. And sangria. Depends on your frame of reference. One of the first things I would think about when thinking about Spain would be the unbearable heat in summer. And the women in flamenco dresses. In contrary to popular belief, not only flamenco dancers wear them. In Seville, almost every ‘Sevillana’ (a.k.a. female Sevillian inhabitant) owns at least one flamenco dress. These flamenco dresses are actually one of the only pieces of traditional clothing that are still fashionable and fashion-sensitive. They do not wear them to formal occasions, they do not wear them to informal occasions, they don’t even wear them to go grocery shopping. When DO they wear them, you might ask. Well, the only week when it’s socially acceptable to wear the flamenco dress out in public, is during the Feria de Abril, the annual April Fair in Seville.
Now you may wonder what the story behind these dresses is. How does one obtain such a traditional piece? What do they cost? I have experienced the Feria de Abril two times now, and I even bought one of these dresses myself so I can tell you all about it.
The history of these dresses is quite interesting. There are many different stories about the origin of flamenco, but the origin of the flamenco dress is quite clear. It is said that flamenco is a gypsy genre. While we can’t verify the actual origin of the flamenco genre, we do know that gypsy women started the flamenco dress trend. In the 1800’s, Romani women would wear self-made dresses. These dresses were made out of old fabric, but to make them look more appealing they were sewn into nice ruffles at the bottom. The women would wear them to the local fairs and get-togethers in the towns surrounding Seville. They also wore them to the city when the Ibero-American Expo was in town in 1929. This is where high-society women noticed the dresses and had more high-end versions made for themselves, which they wore to events during this exposition. This was when the dress gained its traditional status and when it became the official outfit for the Feria de Abril.
Today, the dress is popular in all of Andalusia. It’s one of the most distinctive features of every feria. The average Sevillana has 3-4 dresses and every few years they will add a new one to their collection. There are different colors that work at different times of the day. For example, you don’t really wear a black dress during the day, and a bright yellow dress during the evening. The really fashion-forward women change their dress every day of the feria, sometimes even twice a day. They usually won’t wear the same dress two days in a row.
The dresses are not cheap either. Prices range from € 300 to over € 2.000, the price of the average wedding dress! Can you imagine, having to buy a wedding dress every year? The price depends on the type of fabric, style, and adjustments needed for the perfect fit. As I said, these dresses are fashion sensitive, so if you want a fashionable style, you’ll have to spend a bit more. The cheapest dresses are often from earlier seasons, or not of very good quality. When buying a cheap one, there is the risk that you’ll see at least 5 other people walking around in exactly the same dress. This is something you want to avoid.
There is a difference between the traditional flamenco dresses, and the dresses flamenco dancers wear. The traditional style is quite hard to walk in because they are tightly fitted until the knees, where they flare out. The flamenco artists wear their dresses in a different style that allows more movement. Still, women at the Feria dance in their traditional getup as well. Not as elaborately as flamenco dancers, but their style of dancing is somewhat similar to the flamenco. It is called the ‘sevillanas’, a simplified version of the flamenco that almost every Sevillian knows.
The Feria of 2017 was my first-ever Feria. My mother-in-law lent me one of her dresses and even adjusted it for me so it would fit me perfectly. At first, it felt a little weird and uncomfortable, simply because I had never worn a dress like that in my life. Later I got used to it and I felt like a true Sevillana.
I loved it so much that in 2018, I decided I wanted to buy my own flamenco dress. Curious about how that went? You can read about my experience here.