In Córdoba, for two weeks at the end of May and spanning across two weekends, there is a massive fair that is so big you really have to experience it for yourself. We were even given two days off work to enjoy the festivities. I went for a total of five days.
The festival is rooted in honour of Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health), and started as an old livestock market. In 2017, it included over a hundred casetas, where everyone comes to eat, drink, and dance. It attracts all ages, and also has a fairground with an impressive selection of rides and roller-coasters, plus sticks of candy floss nearly as big as me.
I wore the traje de flamenca or traje de gitana two out of the five days I attended. Some men and women wore another kind of traditional clothing whilst drinking beer on horseback, with many carriages taking people to and from the fair, but my focus here is on this dress. The traditional style of dress is a well-known symbol of Spain, but is rooted more in the Andalusia region , with different fairs also taking place throughout the summer in Malaga and Sevilla. With many English teachers like me living in Spain, it seemed a great example of cultural exchange – a matter where there was a clear appreciation rather than appropriation. The people here are generally very sociable and friendly, and they invite guiris in with open arms.
It is as though the other person thinks themselves superior to the whims and fancies of those wanting to express a kind of femininity.
The dresses worn to fair are more about style than practicality, whilst those dancers wear are made to move in. It was at the agricultural fairs in Sevilla in the mid-19th century that gypsy farmers’ wives began wearing handmade dresses, using everyday clothes and adding ruffles and frills to make them more extravagant. The popularity of the dresses grew in the 1920s and expanded to the whole of Andalusia. Whilst there are various designs now, they all tend to have a similar cut, and the accessories are also important: earrings so big they would do Pat Butcher proud, a fringed shawl, hair combs and flowers, big bracelets and necklaces, and the absolute must-have accessory – a fan.
It is also said that heeled shoes or espadrille wedges are to be worn as a rule. After a complication at a shoe shop that sold me a pair a size too small, I had to take a taxi back to change shoes, being inspired at someone else lifting up their long dress to reveal their comfortable sandals. Whilst this moment has cemented my preference for more practical flat shoes, I applaud women like my mum who can live in heels. I know she is irritated by constant questioning from others about how she can do it, just as I have been when wearing a short skirt in cold weather, or when men act baffled by the way women like to draw their eyebrows. What is implicit in these questions is shame and ridicule. It is as though the other person thinks themselves superior to the whims and fancies of those wanting to express a kind of femininity.
Clothes can be creative and a way of expressing ourselves, a way of playing and having fun. […] There is no superior act.
People who criticize others for wanting to dress up, wear makeup and play around with accessories claim that these things are shallow, unproductive, and a waste of time. They miss the point. Clothes can be creative and a way of expressing ourselves, a way of playing and having fun. To find enjoyment in such things is no different to enjoying playing video games, or reading a book. There is no superior act.
Wearing the traje de flamenca was a chance for me to embrace my Spanish heritage, and celebrate the strength and femininity of the flamenco spirit I witnessed when previously attending the live show (link to previous review here?). If I return in the future, I will have my dress to wear again, but I hope to be able to speak better Spanish (note: I cannot apparently become fluent in a year). One of the key elements of the fair that I had also not managed to master was the Sevillanas dance, which looks easy from a distance, but I could barely complete the first steps, let alone include the arm movements . But to have such experiences as this is to truly live in that place, making memories and building connections that will last a lifetime.
All images by Carmina Masoliver
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution and fund a better media future.