The Flamenco Dress

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.

Feria de Abril 2017 Robin Custers
Feria de Abril 2017

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.




How Did I End Up Here?

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
William Shakespeare

I celebrated my 21st birthday a few months ago, I just graduated and  I have been living and working in Spain for almost a year now. Since this is my first blog on this website, I thought it best to introduce myself and explain how that happened.

The first time I went to Spain was in 1997 when I was exactly 8 months old. My grandparents moved to Spain just before I was born, and lived there for 4 years, but they moved back to The Netherlands after my little brother and cousins were born. I was their first grandchild, and when more followed, they decided that they wanted to be close to their family and Granada was not exactly right next door. I do not remember anything of my first time in Spain (obviously) and in the 18 years that followed, I never went back there. During summer breaks, my parents usually took us to France and we always traveled by car. France has good food, warm weather, and beautiful landscapes, so there was simply never a reason to drive even further south.

In 2016 I was studying Tourism at NHTV University in Breda (now known as Breda University). In June of that year, we went on a 6-day study trip to Granada and Seville. Our assignment was to prepare a 20-minute presentation on an important landmark in one of those two cities. First, we spent 3 days in the city of Granada. I absolutely loved this city. The narrow streets, the hills, the old white buildings, and the rich history are things that I find really appealing and interesting. Before this trip, I always said that I could never live in a city. I am from a small town, and cities always seemed too busy and modern. However, my trip to Granada and Seville really changed my mind.

After these three days, we drove to Seville. It was a 3-hour bus ride, and on this ride, I only saw maybe three small towns in the middle of endless olive tree fields and mountains. It was a breathtaking scenery until we arrived in Seville. The first thing I saw upon driving into the city was a huge amusement park and a very modern-looking bridge. I remember thinking: ‘this city is way too big and modern for me, I’m probably going to hate it’. Little did I know, that my whole life was about to change.

Upon arriving at our hostel, I had only seen the modern outskirts of the city. After settling into our rooms, we were given some free time to explore the center of the city. Walking towards the center, I was still thinking the same thing. ‘This looks more or less like Granada, but slightly bigger. Not a fan.’ And then I walked out of the big shopping street onto Plaza Nueva, and the sight took my breath away. When I came back to my room that evening, I remember calling my mom and telling her: “I love this city! Yes, I know I said I could never see myself living in a city, but you know what? This one might actually change my mind.” And it absolutely did.

I traveled to Seville again later that summer, this time with a friend, and we stayed there for 5 whole days. On the final day of our trip there, I met a handsome Spaniard who, later that year, would become my boyfriend. (It’s a long story, which I will tell you later in another blog post.) After doing the long distance thing for a little over a year, I moved to Seville to start an internship at a bike tour company. Because I was still a student, and my boyfriend did not have a job yet and was still living with his parents, I moved in with my Spanish in-laws. Five months after moving there, I finished my internship – and my degree – and decided to stay in Seville, working full-time at the same company.

That’s the story of how I ended up in Seville in a nutshell. My life has completely flipped upside down since I moved here, and I’m still adjusting to the cultural differences, but I do not regret anything. Did you move to another country and have any difficulties adjusting? I would love to hear about your experiences.

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