Traditional Spanish Dress

Back in the 16th century, Spain was on the cutting edge of fashion. Spanish clothing styles influenced the world and was widely known for its elegance.

As Habsburg Spain grew in power, Spanish fashions such as Spanish capes, corsets, and farthingales became popular all over Western Europe.

Farthingales were bell-shaped hoop skirts made up of whalebone, cloth, and intricate cages of wire underneath women’s clothes. The style was cumbersome for Renaissance women and it took them hours to get dressed. Spanish traditional clothing was heavily influenced by the Moorish culture, which dominated parts of the Iberian Peninsula from 711 AD until their expulsion in 1492. The Moorish culture popularized rich embroideries with the introduction of the use of jewels (often as buttons) and perfume as well as heavy girdles and collars.

The color black became popular for special events and both men and women wore heavy gold necklaces with precious stones. The apparel in Spain was often made of rich and heavy fabrics and decorated with gold or silver threads. But these Spanish styles failed to evolve with the rapidly changing times. As a result, traditional Spanish fashion would eventually become outdated and give way to French dominance. Cities like Paris were more innovative and began to lead the way in 17th-century European fashion.

Today, Spanish fashion is very modern, but traditional Spanish clothing is still worn for special events. Flamenco performers still wear typical Spanish dresses in red, black, or white with their hair in a bun and sometimes a rose behind their ear. The male flamenco performers' traditional costumes consist of black or red tuxedo shirts and classic slacks. Traditional Spanish bullfighters costumes have also remained unchanged over the years and are elaborate costumes inspired by the flamboyant 18th-century Andalusian styling. They are known as “suits of lights” (traje de luces) and easily distinguished by their use of sequins, gold and silver threads, and detailed embroidery. In addition to these Spanish costumes for specific performers, every region in Spain has its own traditional clothing and Spanish dresses. They are not often worn, but you can often catch a glimpse of them during regional celebrations and parades.

Most traditional Spanish clothing is reserved for special events and celebrations. The most common pieces, still used today, include: the mantilla, the peineta, and the gilet.

- The mantilla is a traditional Spanish veil piece that is often worn during religious celebrations such as Spanish weddings. It is a light lace or silk scarf that is worn over the head or shoulders on a high comb and held in place by pins.

- The peineta is a large decorative comb placed in the hair to hold up the mantilla. It is usually tortoiseshell colored with a curved body and long prongs to increase the height. The peineta, used on special occasions, originated centuries ago making it a traditional piece of Spanish clothing.

- The Gilet: The word gilet comes from the Spanish word jileco (from Arabic word yalíka), or chaleco in modern Spanish. It is a sleeveless jacket, much like a waistcoat or vest that forms an important part of traditional Spanish clothing. Historically they were fitted and embroidered, and in the 19th century the gilet was a bodice shaped like a man’s waistcoat. Contemporary gilets are used for additional warmth outdoors. In the first edition of El Quixote, in 1605, a diminutive of the word appeared: gilecuelo.