What is a Flamenco Shawl?
The Flamenco shawl, also known as the Manila shawl or Manton (shawl in Spanish), is a vibrant, embroidered silk garment that female flamenco dancers use to make their performance more visually dynamic, interesting, and expressive.
There’s a debate about the origin of the Flamenco shawls. Some say they originated in China and were brought to Mexico and Spain through Manila port (which explains the name). While others believe its origin is Filipino (which was occupied by Spanish colony). What we can tell for sure is that this fabulous garment later became a famous Spanish icon and a cultural symbol.
Today flamenco shawl has many variations. It is very popular as a souvenir garment and long ago earned its place as a timeless fashion accessory all over the world.
What Makes the Flamenco Shawl Special?
The Flamenco shawl is not just an accessory but a significant part of the Flamenco dance charm. Traditionally, Each shawl was uniquely crafted from natural silk, hand-embroidered with intricate designs that ensure no two are identical.
The Significance of the Shape
The traditional flamenco shawl is square-shaped, its typical dimensions are around 140 x 140 centimeters, with an additional 21 cm of lattice and 30 cm of fringe. These dimensions allow the shawl, when folded into two triangles, to drape diagonally over the dancer’s back, extending to the fingertips when the arms are widely open.
The Significance of the Weight
The weight of the shawl is significant, and it might surprise you, as it can be up to two kilos, providing enough body to prevent it from wrinkling during the dance.
The Origin and History of the Flamenco Shawl
As mentioned before, the flamenco shawl is also known as the ‘Manila shawl’, and many believe that although its name is related to the Philippines, which was a Spanish colony, it actually originated in China some 4000 years ago. That explains the oriental motifs that are found in many of the ancient flamenco shawls.
The Legend of Origin
The legend says these shawls were born as pieces of fabric that tobacco traders used to cover their bales. During their long journeys, these merchants took good care of these fabrics, embroidered them, and used them as a cover when the cold was too harsh.
A Fashion Staple
Although the shawls were mainly used to combat the cold, in the 18th century, Spanish women of the upper class admired their beauty, and the flamenco shawls became a popular fashionable accessory. Beauty has no boundaries, and naturally, these shawls stepped on stage and became an essential addition to the flamenco dress and other traditional costumes like Chulapa.
Today, apart from its role in the Flamenco dance, the shawl is still a stylish fashion accessory widely used in major events, especially in Andalusia.
The uniqueness and beauty of these shawls made them became popular collectible items, and even though mass production has changed the rarity of each shawl, you can still find magnificent old-style pieces made with hand embroidery on silk or satin.
Few words about The Flamenco Dance
The captivating Flamenco dance was born in the heart of Andalusia, Spain. With its roots steeped in the traditions of the Spanish gypsies, flamenco carries an undeniable passion, represented through its electrifying and sophisticated movements, expressing the fiery soul of the people of southern Spain.
The percussive footwork creates a magnifying beat, while the intricate dance of hands, arms, and body weave a deep, emotional story.
Accompanied by the melancholic strings of the guitar and the touching cry of the singer, the flamenco fulfills its name, which translates to “fire” in Spanish 🔥🔥🔥
Touched by the Fire
The first time I saw a live flamenco performance, I was 16. The magic captured my heart. The grace of the movements, the deep expression of the dancer, the feet beat, I felt it was something that connects you to a deep feeling of being alive. It affected me so much that I went to study and, for 5 years, I attended dancing lessons at least twice a week.
I never wanted to perform, but the lessons were always a bit of a show. A live guitar player was playing, and the energy of the group dancing together was so powerful. We were dressed in many different flamenco styles, and with the beautiful flowering hand movements, the amazing feet work of all of us together, the use of the flamenco skirt, and the whole attitude, these lessons were always full of captivating energy and great joy.
The Flamenco Shawl and its Role in Flamenco Dance
The flamenco shawl plays a key role in the flamenco dance, adding an element of visual intrigue and dramatic flair to the performance.
When the shawl is laid on the dancer’s shoulders, its special chic gives her a majestic, noble charismatic appearance which is fully expressed when she starts to dance.
But this beautiful accessory is much more than a garment; it is an extension of the dancer herself. The shawl enhances her expressive movements and gestures. And overall, it serves as a tool to help her express her emotions and tell her story.
How Exactly Does the Shawl Enhance the Dance?
The shawl is not only worn but also wielded skillfully as a prop, moving in harmony with the dancer, emphasizing her rhythmic motions, and echoing the intensity of the dance. Its vibrant colors and intricate patterns complement the dance’s passion, while its fringes create a stunning visual display as they sway with the beats of the music.
With the shawl, the dancer can fly, she can move around to create magnificent visual effects, she can hug her partner, and she can send him away…
The shawl contributes significantly to the flamenco performance’s overall aesthetic and expressive depth.
How to wear a flamenco shawl?
The traditional way to wear the flamenco shawl for dancing is simple:
You just lay it over your shoulders when the tip is at your back. It is simple but full of chic and attitude, and it allows the dancer to use it easily whenever she is ready. During the dance, the dancer plays and puts the shawl on her in many different ways, showing her artistic virtuosic abilities.
There are many more ways to use this beautiful shawl for dancing or as an accessory and even ways to wear it as a garment.
I found this video of how to style flamenco shawls, made by FlamencoholicTV, and I thought it is needless to say nothing more, just watch & Enjoy!
Flamenco Shawls in Fashion
The flamenco shawl is a beautiful accessory that can style up the most casual outfit with graceful chic. It is an evergreen accessory that provides the gypsy-boho style in a sec. (And boho is definitely here to stay!)
In my opinion, the flamenco shawl is the ultimate feminine, fashionable accessory.
Are Flamenco Shawls in Style in 2023?
As to the runway news, 2023 brought a revival to the flamenco and Spanish chic with the amazing Christian Dior new collection. Dior took the already captivating noble style of the Spanish traditions and raised it up to the haute couture.
The shawls in the collection are magnificent pieces. You can enjoy the collection here:
Also, you can explore the new colors of the flamenco dress for 2023 in Spain. Here: Flamenca 2023: Los cinco colores que más se llevan este año en los trajes de flamenca
The Evolution of Flamenco Shawls
The journey that the flamenco shawls made from being a warming garment to becoming an essential part of the flamenco dance and outfit seems to me as a perfectly natural evolution, owed to the shawl’s beauty.
When the ladies of the 18th century started admiring these shawls as fashionable pieces to exhibit their unique taste, it was already obvious these items had eternal beauty. Flamenco icons like Pastora Imperio, La Macarrona, and Matilde Coral played a significant role in making them part of the flamenco outfit and dance.
The uniqueness of each shawl of the earlier age made many of them become collectors’ items, passed down through generations.
Over time, these shawls have seen some changes in their quality, manufacturing ways, sizes, weights, and fabrics.
Traditionally, they were large and made of heavy, thick materials to keep the wearer warm. These days, you can find premium hand-embroidered silk shawls made in Andalusia, Spain, that are perfect for flamenco, and you can easily find smaller flamenco shawls, which are also known as “Mantoncillos” or “Picos”. They are machine sewn and mostly imported from China and made of lighter synthetic fabrics like acrylic or polyester.
They are much cheaper and serve primarily as fashion accessories and a symbol of cultural heritage that never goes out of style.
How to Choose a Flamenco Shawl?
First, let the experts speak:
Rina Orenalla, a Flamenco dancer and teacher, shared her knowledge about choosing the right flamenco shawl:
Ideal flamenco shawls are square, measuring at least 55’’ X 55’’ (140cm x 140cm), without the fringes. The shawl should cover your back and reach your fingertips when your arms are fully extended. Smaller shawls are too small for dancing, while the larger ones are more suitable for experienced dancers. They are also known as ‘Piano shawls’.
Shawls with thick, intricate knots or macrame fringes are usually made with better quality, though they might be more pricy. Ensure it’s not overly heavy for dance, as it might give you painful slaps while dancing 🤭.
When the shawl showcases even embroidery on both sides, you know it is top-notch. Inferior quality usually displays only one beautiful side. As a rule, tighter embroidery enhances the beauty of the design, but it comes with a cost of additional weight (and price), which might make it impractical for dance.
So you might want to choose a shawl that offers a balance of simplicity and elegance in its embroidery, making it ideal for dancing.
Silk is the best choice for flamenco shawls. Avoid polyester triangle shawls; they may come at a great price, but their visual effect is poor, and it is not suitable for Flamenco.
Keep in mind that the price of an authentic flamenco shawl can vary widely. Beginner’s shawls may cost around $175, nicer ones can be $300-400, while exquisite pieces may cost $800 and beyond.
A Few More Tips:
The weight of a flamenco shawl is a crucial aspect to consider for performance. While a heavy shawl may feature intricate embroidery and thick silk, it could potentially hinder movement during a dance, especially for beginners.
Therefore, it is better to choose a shawl that’s light enough to allow fluid, expressive movements yet weighty enough to convey its quality and beauty. A well-balanced shawl will enable the dancer to manage twirls and flicks elegantly.
Your dance style can dictate the type of shawl you’ll need. Lighter shawls are suitable for more dynamic dances like sevillanas or bulerias, while brightly colored shawls are appropriate for sensual dances like rumbas.
Common colors for flamenco shawls are red, ivory, black, and white.
Ultimately, choosing a flamenco shawl should be a balance between aesthetics, functionality, your level as a dancer, and your budget.
Can Men Wear a Flamenco Shawl?
As I wrote before, the Flamenco shawl is a stunning very feminine accessory. It usually depicts heavy embroidery with soft motifs like flowers and animals, and together with the long fringe, they create a piece that is more flattering to the feminine silhouette. Though fashion is unpredictable, I couldn’t find a trace of men wearing it.
But when it comes to Flamenco dancers, their passionate manner is unstoppable. This (male) dancer shows us everything a shawl can do and express! Enjoy.
How to Take Care of a Flamenco Shawl?
Taking care of an authentic flamenco shawl requires mindful use and delicate storage.
The best care for your Flamenco shawl is to keep it clean as much as you can.
When wearing your shawl, it’s advisable to wear it always on top of a body suit or another top to protect the shawl from sweat and cosmetic products.
Silk shawls are delicate, making them difficult to wash or dry clean, as the dyes may run and the fringe might tangle irreversibly.
According to Grangalaflamenco.com, preservation is the key to the Manila shawl’s longevity. Avoid hanging it on a hanger (unless you do it attentively) to prevent the weight of the embroidery from tearing down the silk. Instead, wrap it in white tissue paper and store it in a cardboard tube to prevent wrinkles. Keep the shawl at a stable temperature of 20-25 degrees Celsius and air it at least twice a year so that the silk can ‘breathe’. If the shawl wrinkles, you can it leave it stretched out on a flat surface for a few days; the weight of the fringe and embroidery will help it regain its shape.
The Maria Osende flamenco school in Canada warns us to avoid wearing anything that could snag the shawl’s fringes, like buttons, jewelry, flowers, or buckled shoes. Lace-up shoes are a safer choice.
*Remember not to wash or soak your shawl!
Overall, these measures can help to ensure that your flamenco shawl remains in excellent condition for years or even generations to come!
To Wrap it Up!
In conclusion, the flamenco shawl is an exquisite garment both for dancing and for styling up the dullest outfit.
Selecting a flamenco shawl is like choosing your dance partner. When the fit is right, it’s a beautiful harmony of movement and style that makes the performance SPECTACULAR.
Bonus – A Flamenco Dancer’s Secret Tip!
Aneta Suchomelova shares her secret tip for making her shawl always perfect when she dances:
Bonus #2 – A Nice Surprise I Came Across
While writing and researching for this blog post, I came across these beautiful Ukrainian shawls that look so similar to the Spanish Flamenco shawls, so I just had to include them too!