The dresses used by the bailaoras are possibly the most striking element of all the garments used during a flamenco performance. Its origins date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the saleswomen went to cattle fairs dressed in modest calico gowns adorned with frills.
Since then, the wealthy classes used this humble garment as the reference to create their more sophisticated dressing using rich fabrics.
The design, materials and patterns of the garments have evolved over time. On the one hand, influenced by fashion, such as shortening the lengths of the skirts in the 1970s. But also in favour of the quality and expressiveness of the performances, allowing dancers greater movements without losing its role as accompaniment.
Those long robes were left aside as the standard because, at times, instead of enhancing the performance, they became a burden for the flamenco dancers. Today, closely fitting garments predominate; costumes that make it possible to admire the beauty of the movement of the dancers’ arms; long skirts, that are wide and glossy that the bailaora dominates with grace to accompany the taconeo (heel tapping). Occasionally, they may wear a dress with a train that has been specifically designed for a dancer and performance.
Fabrics and prints
Although the most typical would be polka dots, flowers have always been a favourite element, as well as combinations of colours. Lace is also used as an adornment and accessory or also as the main fabric of the costume.
In addition to the fashions and the personal taste of the artist, the dresses and accessories depend on the style being performed, as this will affect the choice of colours and accessories.
Thus, for an Alegría, the dancer will choose happy colours, extensive frills, and colourful ornaments and accessories. For a Soleá, on the other hand, the clothing will be more sober and dark to adapt to the feeling of the piece.
In the case of men, garments have evolved toward a more neutral colours. Male dancers usually wear two or three-piece suits, that are tight at the waist and short. The three piece suit allows them to vary during the performance, wearing a jacket, a waistcoat, or simply a shirt.
The predominant colours are neutral tones, black and white or dark grey and ochre, although it is also common for men to wear red.
Male dancers often use their garments as accessories during the dance. For example, there are frequent bullfighting movements using the garments by way of cape.
Accessories and adornments
In addition to the garments, accessories and ornaments are very important in the performance, and can even be used as part of the movements.
Accessories are understood to be other elements that complement the clothes and that the artists use as props during certain movements. The mantón (large shawl) or the mantilla or piquillo (small shawl), jackets, waistcoats and even aprons in the case of women, neckerchiefs or scarves, long and short jackets or waistcoats among men.
In the case of women, their appearance is often complemented with ornaments; colourful earrings and richly adorned combs that accompany head movements, flowers in their hair, frills and occasionally fans, as well as other items.
Mantón (large shawl)
The mantón must be large enough to comfortably cover the dancer’s outstretched arms. It should not be confused with the small pañoleta (neckerchief) used with “faralaes” dresses. It is also important that does not weigh too much so that it can be easy to handle.
The type of fan used for dancing is larger than traditional fans, and is known as a “pericón”. They tend to display plain colours, without pictures. They require study and practice in order to use them correctly.
Footwear for dancing
For all dancers, footwear is a crucial item. However, it is even more important in the case of flamenco, because the footwear of the dancers is also an instrument.
Flamenco shoes feature a nails in the toes and heels so that when the come into contact with a wooden floor, they increase the sound and power of the “taconeos” (heel tapping) on the stage.
Both men and women use shoes with a short heel that enhances the power of the footwork, and shoes with laces so that they do not move during the energetic movements of the dance.
In the case of men, the models vary between the shoe with laces and boots. Women use closed shoes, tied with shoelaces or a clasp to ensure they do not move during the dance.
Both men and women often use coloured shoes, a particularly striking detail when the rest of the costume is very sober.