Spain's flamenco dress, an Andalusian classic evolving with fashion

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Spain's flamenco dress, an Andalusian classic evolving with fashion
Customer Virginia Cuaresma tries on a flamenco dress at Luis Fernandez' workshop in Seville. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Luis Fernández's workshop in Seville's Old City is buzzing with customers who have come to try on his dazzling array of flamenco dresses, their vibrant fabrics replete with voluptuous ruffles and polka dots.


Flamenco fashion hits its annual peak in springtime when towns and cities across Spain's southern Andalusia region hold their annual week-long ferias, when everyone puts on their finery to go out and eat, drink and dance into the small hours.

One customer is Virginia Cuaresma. Under the watchful eye of the designer, pins at the ready to make any necessary adjustment, she stands before the mirror in a traditional midnight blue gown, ruffles adorning the skirt and the sleeves.

Then she tries one in aquamarine, twinned with an embroidered fringed shawl in the same colour. Then a more modern styled red dress, which leaves a lot of skin on show.


"Right now, everything is in chaos, we're up to our eyes... these are the last few fittings" before the clients return to collect their gowns "and enjoy the feria," Fernández told AFP, referring to this southern city's prestigious fair which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and this year runs from April 14th to 20th.

The most traditional design, which dates back more than 100 years, is a floor-length dress which is closely fitted to the thigh, fishtailing out in a ruffled skirt and matching ruffles on the sleeves.

READ ALSO: ¡Olé! Five things you didn't know about Spain's flamenco art form

To complement the dress, women accessorise, wearing a fringed shawl round the shoulders, earrings and bracelets, their hair pulled up in a bun and pinned with a comb with a single flower in an ensemble that has become the image of Andalusia and even used abroad as a symbol of Spain.

"The flamenco dress brings out what's most beautiful in a woman," explains Fernández, pointing to the wide neckline and "hourglass silhouette" which highlights the contrast between the narrow waist and the hips and bust, in a style that's "very flattering" and makes the wearer look "beautiful".

"When I chose a dress to go to the feria, I look for something that will enhance my female figure, says Cuaresma, a 34-year-old geographer with a dark complexion and long dark hair.


For her, dressing up for the feria is a way of "carrying on Andalusian traditions" and connecting with her late grandmother Virginia, who used to sew flamenco dresses when she was a child.

Luis Fernández's workshop in Seville's Old City is buzzing with customers who have come to try on his dazzling array of flamenco dresses. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

A style evolution

A Seville native who grew up loving the fair, Fernández started working as a designer in 2012 alongside fellow couturier Manuel Jurado, and from the start he knew he wanted to make flamenco dresses.

For him, it is a unique regional costume "that evolves with fashion and the only one which incorporates new trends," he says with pride.

The garment has its roots in so-called "majo" costumes "worn by working class people" in Spain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and often captured in the paintings of Spanish master Goya, explained anthropologist Rosa María Martínez Moreno, who wrote a book called "El Traje de Flamenca ("The Flamenco Dress").


With the start of the Seville fairs in the middle of the 19th century, the style began to be adopted by the wealthy classes at a time when there was a pushback against all things French, including its aristocratic fashions.

READ ALSO: A guide to Seville's Feria de Abril in 2024

Thrown into the mix was the dress of the gypsy women who sold doughnuts at the fair and who wore dresses and skirts adorned with ruffles.

By the 20th century, the flamenco dress had evolved into its current form and become popular, thanks largely to the growth of flamenco as an art form and the expansion of schools teaching this Andalusian dance form, which women often learn to perform at the fairs, Martinez Moreno said.

Springtime is their heyday as towns and cities across the southern Andalusia region hold their annual ferias. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Image of Spain

During the 1960s, the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco set out to "sell Spain as a tourist attraction" and to do so used "popular stereotypes" such as the flamenco dress which "began to be recognised as the image of Spanishness" abroad, she adds.

READ ALSO: How Spain became a cheap mass tourism destination

In recent years Andalusian dress has inspired big name designers such as Christian Dior, who in 2022 showcased a new collection in Seville's iconic Plaza de España.

Fernández says the sector in Seville has become more professional with designers who follow "the trends from Paris and Milan", and who have since 1995 staged a yearly international flamenco fashion show in the city.

An outfit from an atelier like the one Fernández runs can range from several hundred euros to over one thousand.

But there are cheaper options today in an era where fashion has become more accessible.

That is a relief for women like Cuaresma, who says she usually buys "at least" one flamenco dress each year because for the fair, or at least the opening day, "we don't like to repeat" the same outfit worn in previous years.


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