For the Feria de Málaga, I decided to go all out with a flamenco dress (traje de gitana / traje de flamenca), which is traditionally worn by women the Andalusia region of Spain during ferias (festivals). The gorgeous Paulina on The Road was the one who planted the idea in my head in the first place. The journey of finding a dress and wearing it was quite exciting so I thought I’d share it with you.
Hunting for a dress:
This is not Halloween, I wouldn’t recommend settling for a cheap dress at a local Chinese bazar. That means you’re about to make an investment in either buying or renting a flamenco dress. It costs at least 70 euros to rent depending on the place and the design, the more elaborate the dress the more expensive it is. To own one, no adult dress would cost less than three digits. I normally don’t spend on these things but this time I made an exception, and I also didn’t want to mess it up since flamenco dresses are such important representation of the Andalusian culture. If a full dress it not exactly what you want, you can still have more affordable alternatives that comes in modernized dresses and skirts.
There are several stores in the Málaga region, those that I know of are either in Málaga or Vélez-Málaga. Due to the timing and proximity, I looked for options in Madrid. There are several shops near Puerta del Sol but mainly for sale. As I was not willing to commit yet, I found an option to rent with Menkes in Estrecho barrio, north of Madrid. There was another one with even cheaper offers in San Sebastián de los Reyes. I called the place but ended up not going there as it’s quite a commute of more than an hour by train.
Menkes has a wide selection of outfit for various occasions. There are many flamenco dresses but my selection was limited due to my petite frame that doesn’t fit in kids size but would drown in adult full-sized outfits. Of course with those that are slightly off-sized, the shop would help me tailor them accordingly. I tried on several dresses. Menkes asked for 130 euros (negotiable down to 120 euros) for the long-sleeved dresses and 90 euros for sleeveless ones. They were not font of the idea of selling their recurrent source of income so they told us they’d charge each dress roughly 500 euros(!). Fortunately the one that fit me best was sleeveless which is a win-win because it’s both wallet-friendly and summer-friendly. I did need some alteration for my dress that took a day. I picked the dress up from the shop the next day already fixed, ironed and hung in a plastic wrap.
A flower on your hair is a must. In fact, you can affix a mini bouquet of flowers with colors that are complimentary to your dress. The biggest flower of the bunch needed to be aligned with your hairline, according to a flamenco accessory shop owner. If you just want something simple, there are plenty of shops and vendors that sell clip-on flowers during the feria that you can purchase on the spot. They cost no more than 2 euros but you get what you pay for, they do the job but might not last you through the week-long feria.
A shawl worn over the shoulders is an important part of the outfit as well but I decided to skip it to not complicate things. Many shawls come as fringes dangling from the neck of your dress.
Large colorful earrings are crucial. I did own a few pairs of earrings but none of them made the cut. “They’re not festive enough,” claimed a malageña (from Málaga) mom who was so sweet that she guided me through the prepping process (and even gave me an introductory lesson of Sevillian/flamenco dance).
If you’re a flamenco dancer than you do you and wear your dancing shoes. For non-dancer enthusiasts like myself, you can wear pretty much anything you’d like. Since you’ll be walking a lot around the feria and possibly try to learn some basic flamenco, high heels might not be optimal; but I know you don’t want to look sloppy either so choose wisely. I wore a pair of wedges that was fairly comfortable and gave me a little boost of height.
As for makeup, do whatever makes you feel comfortable with. I see many women with dark eyeliner and red lipstick none of which I opted for. I’m not a big makeup junkie so I kept my makeup minimal, also because sweaty makeup was the last thing I wanted on my face.
Dressing up during the feria:
There’s no way you will be “looking too much” in your flamenco dress and hair because there are many Andalusians dressed up for the feria. So chest up, chin up and wear your dress with a lot of grace.
If you’re going to Feria de Sevilla in April, the weather shouldn’t be a problem. However, for ferias like the one in Málaga that happened in mid-August, be ready to battle the heat. The thing is that you can’t slap a hat on your beautifully done hair. Your best mate is a handheld fan (abanico) that you carry along fashionably and tuck it your bra between your chest when you’re not using it (yep, true tip from the locals!). Wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Well, wear sunscreen on a daily basis even when you’re not in a flamenco dress, but to have an extra layer for the feria isn’t a bad idea.
The least fun part about wearing a flamenco dress is probably going to the toilet but it’s by no means mission impossible. I learned how to hold my dress neatly and did not have a single problem in any restroom. Thank goodness for the western toilet seat, of course. Asian squatting toilets in the countryside would have been a challenge!
Overall I had a fabulous time at the feria in my flamenco dress. You might think I was crazy for splurging on a dress but I don’t give a damn, I liked it. In fact, I now look forward to buying or having one tailored. Yes, it’s quite an investment like I said but aren’t all well-made traditional dresses? My Vietnamese traditional áo dài isn’t an exception. Nevertheless, it’s all worth it if you put it in good use and I know I will. Until then, I gotta sign myself up for some flamenco dance lessons!¡Olé!