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Fabulous frilly Feria flamenco fashion

April 26, 2010 – 10:49 am

So, the Feria is over for another year. Even now, as I write this, the casetas are being dismantled and packed away for next year, the hams are being taken down, and the kitchens are disappearing in a cloud of dust.

I went to the Feria twice this year, once with friends and once with my family. On both occasions I was “dry”, in other words not a drop of alcohol passed my lips (unless you count the cerveza sin with 1%), as I am the only driver in the family and, having been breathalysed recently on the way back from a (very rare) night out with friends, I wasn’t going to risk it. Needless to say, I was treated like an odd fish – I’m sure a teeny weeny glass of rebujito wouldn’t exactly have put me over the limit, but as I live down a country lane with no public transport nearby, the mere idea of losing my licence is enough to scare me into complete abstinence. Yes, to the Sevillanos, feriantes, who are no strangers to the concept of drinking-and-driving, I am a total freak. I’ve already decided that next year, I am getting a taxi – damn the cost – and getting stuck into the rebujito, which I love and have missed sorely.

Every year I enjoy the Feria more than the last. This was my first visit in three years, due to pregnancies and tiny babies (though I saw a one-month-old one there, complete with traje de gitano). It was my fifth feria in total, and while the sense of wonder at the magnificent horses and carriages, the colourful sight of all those flamenco dresses, and that pure joy in people’s faces at being able to spend a week doing nothing but eat, drink and dance, never fades, I’ve started noticing more details (probably helped by the alcohol-free clarity). How different casetas are decorated (my husband’s trade union one had hand-painted slogans such as “trabajar en la diversidad es fomentar la igualdad” – “working with diversity encourages equality”) – wallpaper, wood-panelling or traditional red-and-white or green-and-white stripes, often hung with white lace; fancy lights; ceramics; mirrors; pictures (the bull-breeders’ caseta had a bull’s head and a bucolic painting of livestock); flowers; shawls and fans.

One of my favourite features is the little painted wooden tables and chairs, in red, green or blue, which most casetas have in their front part, for all to see (the back part generally has basic folding wooden chairs and tables, but more space), though the bigger, posher casetas have chairs covered in fabric, like at weddings. And, of course, the festive farolillos, little paper lanterns strung across the ceiling, along with sherry-advertising bunting – La Gitana, Solear. There is even a competition for best interior of a caseta.

But the most fun part, for anyone who likes fashion and frilly flamenco dresses, is looking at the women in the trajes de flamenco. And, now having a daughter, the little girls in theirs as well, which often match their mothers’. To my mind, nothing is cuter than a little girl wearing a pink, frilly dress, and loving it, as most little girls do (I am already planning my daughter’s for next year). The best aspect of these wonderful, frothy creations is that anyone looks good in them. And I mean, anyone. Large ladies, in a patterned dress, just look blooming, rather than obese (rolls are cleverly hidden, or just disappear, as there’s no waist). It’s really difficult for anyone who is swathed in all those volantes (frills), with a flower in their hair, to look ugly. I’m not always the kindest person, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a person look really bad in a flamenco dress. Dodgy pattern, strange cut, horrible colour, but never truly awful, in a tight-white-leggings-and-stilettos kind of way.

For the uninitiated, the dress is typically tight to somewhere between bum and knees, then has either two, three or four frills, right down to the floor. They can either be sleeveless or (my preference), elbow-length with (more) frills. The traditional print is lunares (spots), and popular colours are white, red and black, with pink, green and orange also much in evidence. Broderie anglaise, with another colour underneath showing through the holes, is pretty, and a few years ago, the really avant-guarde flamencas wore denim, though I didn’t see any of that this year.

One of my favourite styles, personally, is white with a different patterned fabric on the volantes, sometimes with yet another colour on the inside of the frill, or on the edge (or even different layers of colour in each frill). Yes, it’s a whole new experience out there in the world of flamenco fashion. Many women have a dress made every year, to wear on the first day, and then wear a different one on subsequent days. (I’ve just got one skirt-and-top combo, and I think the time has finally come to get myself a dress.)

Once you’ve chosen your dress’s fabric and style, you then have to turn your attention to accessories in a coordinating colour – earrings (must be dangly for the full gitana effect), necklace, bracelets, fringed shawl, and, most importantly, flower (or flowers, if your outfit is two-tone) in your hair, either on top or tucked behind an ear (ladies who don’t bother to dress up in a flamenco dress often wear a flower in their hair for a toque de flamenca), and comb. This year I saw some really funky comb designs.

If you’re thinking “Oh no, now I have to wait a whole year before I can wear my flamenca again’’, you’d be wrong. Every Andalucian city, town and village has its own ferias and pilgrimages when all the women dress up in their outfits. In the Facebook Feria group, they’re already counting down to next year. I know that I’ll have my new dress, my daughter will have hers (possibly even matching – sorry), and I will have at least one day at the Feria when I can get well and truly into the spirit of the occasion.

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