History of the Flamenco Costume

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History of the Flamenco Costume
Flamenco dresses are exuberant and sensual. (Spanish dancer image by timur1970 from Fotolia.com)

The history of flamenco costume is closely related to the history of the dance itself. The flamenco dance is part of the Spanish culture, in particular Andalusia, and has an multicultural origin, which is reflected in its costumes.

According to the Paco Pena Flamenco Dance Company, a male flamenco dancer wears tight black trousers with a shirt and short jacket or vest, while the female dancer wears a long skirt with many layers of colourful ruffles.

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Origins of Flamenco

In the 16 century, Gypsies, Moors, Jews and indigenous Andalusians influenced the creation of what is known today as flamenco, according to the Classic Guitar Midi's website.

At that stage, the music and dance was a form of expression for the poor and oppressed, not being directly linked to the contemporary flamenco costumes. Flamenco became a performing art only in the second half of the 19th century, when the use of colourful traditional costumes also started to get attention.

The First Dresses

The April Fair of Seville ("Feria de Abril"), which started as an agrarian market in 1847, had an important role in connecting flamenco music with the actual flamenco dress.

According to Iberia Ole Library, the wives of the cattle traders, who were often Gypsies or peasants, would go to the fair in their colourful and inexpensive dresses with two or three frills. The original "guitar" shape of the dress enhanced the body's qualities, while masking its defects.

Early 20th Century

Over time, wearing colourful, sexy dresses to attend the April Fair, where flamenco music was constantly played, became a fashion copied by the upper classes.

According to Iberia Ole Library, Seville's big Iberoamerican Exposition of 1929 marked the establishment of the "Flamenco dress" as a necessary article for attending the annual April Fair.

From 1940s to 1950s

With the ending of the Spanish Civil War in early 1940, women started to reflect their joy through the embellishments of their frilled dresses. According to Iberia Ole Library, the outfit was then complemented with flowers and decorative combs on the hair and bracelets .

During the 1950s, the dress was shortened and gained stitched lace or belts, which made dancing or horseback riding easier. The footwear, now visible, also become an important part of the costume.

Late 20th Century

The dress was shortened to knee or half-calf level during the 1960s, according to Iberia Ole Library. Embroidered cloth started to be used. In the 1970s, the dresses went back to ankle levels and gain even more colourful patterns.

Since the 1990s, the dress has started to lose the original volume. The waist was dropped to mark even more the silhouette, as a return to the origins.

Women also wear a fringed shawl folded into a V-shaped pattern that is often placed around the waist. Highly decorated fans are also used during the dance, according to the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company.

Men's Costume

The traditional flamenco costume for men is more austere in comparison to the women's. It includes close-fitting black trousers and shirt, which can be accompanied by a vest or a short jacket, which is likely to reflect the way men dressed to attend the April Fair. Cordoban flat hats are also part of the outfit, according to the Destination 360 website.

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