In El Ajolí we are totally committed to what is known as flamenco fashion. But what is flamenco fashion? Why is it so special for us? Flamenco fashion, flamenco dresses, trajes de gitana or trajes de faralaes, as they are called in some parts of Spain, is fashion at its purest, and embodies the sentiment of a land: Andalusia. This is so because these dresses represent the only regional costume that changes with each season.
Every year, new colors, new ways of wearing the shawl, earrings made of uncommon materials, fabulous haircombs, or daring prints, make the catwalks of the most ground-breaking flamenco fashion shows. Everything is possible in flamenco fashion. However, in El Ajolí we stick, with utmost respect, to the classic forms of the flamenco dress.
Pepe Jiménez, El Ajolí´s alma mater, has relentlessly maintained that the genuine style of old-time gypsy women must never be lost. Those classic forms which Roma women started wearing when visiting the first livestock fairs in Andalusia. In other words, flamenco fashion must neither die nor stray away from classic forms, but just transform holding on to its brilliant tradition.
It is all about recycling every year, about valuing Andalusia’s history as a southern land, about handicraft and, of course, about all those works which contribute enormously towards our economic welfare: making tassels for a shawl, fans, or the typical Andalusian hat (sombrero cordobés). Flamenco dancing shoes, ruffles on the bias, or a typical flamenco jacket (marsellesa).
The central piece in flamenco fashion: the flamenco dress.
The Andalusian typical costume, the flamenco dress, traje de gitana or traje de faralaes is the central piece in flamenco fashion. It is a very exuberant, eye-catching dress, usually down to the ankle, although different times have brought variations in length. The one thing that never changes are the ruffles, be it on the skirt and/or the sleeves. Polka-dotted dresses are the most classical ones, but other patterns, especially floral prints, are also a must.
The dress becomes complete together with different types of accessories (you can read our article on flamenco accessories here) and that special way of wearing the hair, usually in a low bun, and always adorned with flowers.
We must note that there are different types of flamenco dresses. Those created specifically for flamenco dancing, thus generally lighter and more comfortable, are by no means the same as designs thought for the typical Andalusian festivals.
In the same manner, designs made to be worn for romerías (religious festivities held in the countryside and which usually involve some form of pilgrimage) are totally different from those designed for fairs. In romerías, such as the one held in El Rocío, women have to walk, or ride their horses, along dirt paths flanked by weed and brush, and across brooks on many occasions. These dresses are therefore lighter, more casual, and less form-fitting; even in many cases, two-piece outfits consisting of a skirt and a blouse. A different concept is batas rocieras, robes created specifically to be worn in the houses of El Rocío during its famous romería.
Dresses designed for fairs, such as Feria de Abril in Seville or those held in Malaga or Jerez are totally different. They are much more form-fitting, and generally more elegant.
Flamenco fashion: origins and history.
The flamenco dress has a very curious origin. These days, it is a valuable item, often quite pricey, and targeting a middle-to-upper class public, although there is a price range to meet every need. However, at first it was not so, and the situation was exactly the opposite.
The first women to wear flamenco dresses were of gypsy descent. They used to wear them to the livestock fairs, which became very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, where they went along with their partners. Those dresses quickly caught the eye of better-off women who also attended the fairs as part of the capitalist bourgeoisie of the time. They fell in love with the outfits and started to copy them.
This trend became so strong that, in 1929, when Seville held its first World Fair, the flamenco dress became forever established as the typical outfit for the Feria de Abril, in time reaching the rest of the provinces which make up Andalusia.
But we can go much further back in History. Flamenco dresses have been documented in Minoan civilization, where historians have found ivory and terracotta figures representing women wearing ruffles and tight bodices.
Nowadays, the flamenco dress is popular among all types of families, from all different classes.
The flamenco dress: changes.
As we already said, flamenco dresses change each season, and this fact allows an overview on its evolution through time. Just as the history of fashion itself, everything comes and goes. Each period has its own style, which in time will become outdated, only to later come back into fashion with regained strength.
For example, in the 60s and 70s, shorter flamenco dresses, even up to the knee, became fashionable. Spain’s most famous child star at that time, Marisol, is mostly remembered wearing these dresses which, curiously enough, became trendy again a few years ago. Then, hems dropped back to their original length, and today there is a mixture of styles. However, the shortest designs are not very popular as of now.
But there is more. Flamenco dresses come with a wide range of sleeves -short, long, French, balloon sleeves- or totally sleeveless. With or without ruffles. The same happens with colors. Polka dots are still around, but prints are at their most popular. There is an enormous variety of fabrics, as well: synthetic fabric, natural cotton, plumetis or silk. Everything is possible in today’s flamenco designs.
The influence of flamenco fashion on haute-couture.
It is sometimes said that flamenco fashion thrives on the great international designers, and it is true that their influence, as with many others, is impossible to escape. Still, it is becoming more and more evident that this is a proper exchange, something mutual, rather than a one-way thing, and there are well-documented examples to prove so.
Yves Saint-Laurent, John Galliano, Valentino, or Tom Ford are among the great international designers who have set their views on Andalusia and on flamenco fashion. We should never forget that personalities such as Grace Kelly were in time seen on Seville’s Real de la Feria (fairground) sporting flamenco dresses and looking awesome.