The roots of the flamenco dress can be traced to Andalusian women who accompanied livestock traders to livestock fairs in Seville. Andalusia is a region in southern Spain where gypsies (flamencos) lived.
Flamenco is their traditional song and dance, and the costume reflects that culture. Since the dance became part of the mainstream in the early 19th century, the dress has evolved, but the Andalusian influence remained.
Andalusian women accompanied their husbands, who were cattle traders, to the livestock fair in Seville. They were simple peasants and dressed in calico robes with a few frills, but the colors were lively and they accentuated the women’s bodies.
It wasn’t until the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition that Spain’s upper classes accepted this type of dress for attending the fair. This was also soon after flamenco, the dance, became part of mainstream culture as café entertainment and then as an art form.
The dress was designed to enhance a woman’s figure and hide flaws. The original dress had a guitar-shaped body with a low neck. With the hair pulled back in a bun, a round or square neck made the wearer’s neck appear thinner. The dress was cinched around the waist and widened at the hips. The frills are meant to enhance the way a woman walks and various accessories, such as scarves and flowers, added to the flirty style.
1940s and ’50s
In the 1940s, women worn long, frilly flamenco dresses to the fair. They added flowers, combs and hidden money pockets to the dresses as well. In the 1950s, the women added stitched lace and belts for comfort. The dress was also shortened so shoes were visible. The same calico cloth was used in both decades.
1960s and ’70s
In the 1960s, the flamenco dress went halfway up the calf or all the way to the knees. Dress makers began to use tergal–a base of cotton and embroidered cloth–as the main decorative feature. As the skirt length was shortened, the sleeve was made longer, reaching the elbows or the wrists. In the ’70s, the skirt was lengthened once again to reach the ankles.
1980s and ’90s
Printed tapestries were all the rage in the 1980s. By the ’90s, the dress had changed to be less voluminous with a more streamlined look. It did not, however, lose its sensuality. In fact, it became more simple and more similar to the original flamenco dress.
The flamenco dress still reflects the past while looking to the future. Poplin is being used once again, along with the close fit. However, the dress now also comes in a two-piece style.