The dazzling colours of the tightly tailored, sequin-covered bullfighter's costume have been worn for centuries. The exact composition of the outfit is governed by rules and traditions handed down from the 17th century, when bullfighting was the preserve of the old Spanish aristocrats. Consisting of an embroidered silk jacket, tight trousers, pink socks and black slippers, the rich fabrics reflect the social status accorded to the bullfighter. Historically, the brightest colours, such as pink, were the hardest to achieve and hence the most expensive--a visible reminder of class and nobility.
Although the popular representation of the bullfighter shows him holding a scarlet cape, this is not the only colour used. Bullfighters make use of a pink cape too, which is backed with yellow. Shades of red and gold such as this, representing the blood of the bull and the special yellow sand of the arena, play a symbolic role in the proceedings. All over Spain, yellow is held to be a highly unlucky colour. Bullfighters recoil from wearing a yellow costume, choosing other colours for their suits. However, they use a yellow cape. The reverse side of the yellow cape being pink, this associates pink with good luck. Pink socks too, are a way of bringing good luck to a superstitious bullfighter.
A bullfighting costume--known as a "traje de luces" or suit of lights--follows designs laid down in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some say the intricate and ornate outfits were designed by the celebrated Spanish painter Goya and reflect his artist's appreciation of colour in details such as the elegant pink socks. Others suggest these details came from the extravagant clothing worn by the "majos," influential, upper class dandies who set the standard for the rest of fashionable Spain to follow in the 18th century.
The vivid colours of the bullfighter's outfit are not purely decorative. They have a practical aspect too, as they make the bullfighter highly visible to the crowd, in the same way as the bright markings on a road worker's high-visibility vest. The socks of the bullfighter, for example, are a bright, almost fluorescent, pink. This makes the fighter's legs highly visible. The Spanish word for a bullfight is "corrida," which means "run." The fight is a highly mobile affair and the fighter has to engage in some very quick footwork. His brightly coloured socks make it easy for the crowd to follow his deft moves.
Although some of the colours used in a traditional bullfighting costume, such as pink, might seem odd choices for such a manly pastime, they do at least make a bold statement. The cost of the suits, which can run into thousands of dollars, is another bold statement in itself, suggesting the fighter's pride and self-reliance, implying he is so confident in his strength, masculinity and skill that he can afford to risk getting all this costly, fancy stuff ruined by the bull. Seen in this context, pink socks are an expression of confident masculinity. Interviewed by "Vice" magazine, the bullfighters' tailor Antonio Lopez Fuentes acknowledges the "feminine" colours of the traditional suit of lights and suggests that they are worn by the men to make them more attractive and appealing to the women.
Bullfighters wear pink socks for a number of reasons: to be visible, to gain good luck, to make a bold statement, to suggest wealth and nobility and to conform with a tradition stretching back four hundred years.