This past summer, I was invited to a wedding in Poland between a Polish woman and her half-Mexican, half-Spanish partner. The couple live in London and, unsurprisingly, the wedding guests made a pretty international crowd (I was the only Brit there, an experience I enjoyed). Apparently Polish weddings can take place over two days, with the first day dedicated to the ceremony and the second being more for partying – and on this second day, guests were encouraged to wear a cultural costume which felt appropriate for them. A group of Spanish women, friends of the groom, opted for the traditional traje de gitana, or flamenco dress – something immediately recognisable as Spanish, even if it’s not typical of their region of Spain (the group came from Galicia). I loved the idea, and as I’ve been slowly planning my own nuptials over the past months, the prospect of hosting my own muliticultural wedding party -and getting to wear a flouncy dress myself- has seemed more and more appealing.
Last weekend, my boyfriend was attending a conference in Seville – and I decided to tag along, making it our second trip to the city this year. This time, instead of fighting our way though crowds and staying up all night to see the Macarena, my focus was going to be on getting my hands on an authentic flamenco dress. After reading up on the history of the flamenco dress and the vocabulary I would need to acquire one, I started googling during quiet moments at work to track down likely places in Seville to search for my prize. I decided early on that I’d buy a secondhand dress – I buy most of my clothes secondhand anyway, but budget was also important here: new flamenco dresses usually cost several hundred euros.
I got up early on Saturday morning, and after a breakfast of strong coffee and toasted bread with olive oil and tomato in a bar on the corner of our street, I headed straight to Humana at C/San Jacinto, 69. Humana is a Scandinavian chain of charity shops which are popular in continental Europe – Seville has three of them and I remembered seeing flamenco dresses inside the (now permanently closed) branch on the Calle Feria. No dice. The friendly shop assistant suggested that they would have flamenco dresses in stock un poco más adelante –– or later on, nearer the time of the Feria. Undeterred, I headed on foot to the Macarena district of the city, where I’d heard there were some vintage shops.
The first shop I headed into was this one, Ropero, at C/Feria, 37. See how they’ve done the shop sign like the London tube logo? In Spain, secondhand shopping still comes with a stigma, but those in the know associate “vintage” clothing with Europe’s hipster capitals like London and Berlin. Ropero had some great stuff, but sadly not much in the line I was looking for.
The lower end of the Calle Feria (before the food market) has several vintage shops selling clothing, furniture, antiques, and all kinds of other pre-loved items. I browsed a couple of them but I knew I was onto something when I crossed the road to El Ayer – the outside doesn’t look especially promising, but the treasures which lie within..!
The shop was tiny and the back was stuffed with racks of trajes of all kinds – with spots, with flowers, in single colours, and of varying lengths. I’d already decided that I wanted one with spots, or lunares, because it’s the traditional pattern. Fighting my way through the mounds of clothing, I began selecting likely candidates and laying them over my arm before asking the proprietor if I could try them on. The answer – yes! But there’s no changing room and no real mirror — just a tiny toilet with a square of mirror which just about lets you see your face above the sink. Despite these obstacles, I tried on five dresses, favouring fit over pattern. While I know a good tailor in the town where I live, it didn’t seem to make sense to me to buy something that was too big or small. It was too bad, because my favourite dress was a blue one with white spots that just wouldn’t quite zip up.
Eventually, this is the dress I ended up with, and it cost me €40 – una ganga (a bargain). Looking at the seams, I’d say it was made with a sewing machine at home or possibly by a professional seamstress. There were no visible marks or damage, and the dress didn’t seem particularly old. I was really happy with my purchase, and took it back to the little Triana flat where we were staying. It’s funny to think that there’s another woman, about my size and shape, who once wore this dress to the April Fair. Was she a Sevillana, or a foreigner like me? What did she do there? Was she a member of an exclusive private caseta, or did she have to drink in the public bars? Did she have a boyfriend who wore the traditional suit?
Sadly, we only arrived in Seville on Friday, thereby missing the popular market held on Calle Feria known as Mercadillo El Jueves (its name tells you exactly what and when it is – a Thursday flea market). Que pena, because I love nothing more than hunting through piles of old stuff and picking up little things here and there, especially when I’m on holiday. Happily, I got an insider tip from a woman I follow in Instagram, @becomingsevillana: there’s another large market a little out of the city centre on the Isla de la Cartuja, and on Sundays they sell secondhand stuff. I’d already got my dress by this point, but what I needed now was a fan and possibly other accessories. And, you know, I really wanted to go treasure hunting.
To be honest, I was glad I’d already bought my dress when I went to Mercadillo Charco de la Pava (the literal translation of this name into English is “flea market of the puddle with the female turkey”). The flamenco dresses there were sometimes notably dirty, pretty old, and not that cheap: and there was nowhere to try anything on. That said, I spent over two hours there, wandering among the many stalls and chatting to the sellers while taking pictures. I also came away with quite a few things, including two painted fans and a shawl, and only spent a total of €7. A perfect Sunday morning, really.
Clockwise from left: A badge from the ’92 Seville Expo; an old tin divided into four compartments; a red shawl with sewn-on seashells; two painted fans, and a Seville calendar for 2017. Everything cost just €1, except for the badge, which cost €2.
Reliable information for the market was hard to find online. According to my Instagram friend who lives in Seville, the market is open both on Saturdays and Sundays, with the secondhand stuff on Sunday only. I arrived at around 10am, but there were still lots of people arriving when I left after 12. I’d advise getting there early to make the most of it – and I was warned by one seller to keep a close eye on my valuables as theft is apparently common. Bring small change.