The art of dressing a fallera

ANYONE who has ventured out in Valencia or the surrounding towns recently can’t have failed to notice the elaborately dressed falleras at every turn. They are the women and girls who are members of the local fallas groups which put up the magnificent monuments now adorning our streets and organise activities during the week up to 19 March.

Falleras at Valencia’s mercado Colón

Whatever your opinion of the fallera, and their style is certainly not to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying each outfit is a work of art, from the top of their Princess Leia-like hairdo down to their Louis XIV-inspired court shoes. And let’s not forget the royal price tag which goes with dressing a fallera. Even the most basic traje (the skirt and top) won’t leave you much change from €1,000. This is before we add the matching handmade shoes, and the hair: the ornate moños (the plaited buns worn at the back and sides of the head) are usually false hairpieces. Finally, there are the peinetas, the ornamental hair combs, and the aderezos, the set of matching costume jewellery, are another tidy sum.

That hair

Creating the perfect ‘do’ is a lengthy process involving gallons of sticky hair gel, piles of hairpins, rubber bands, and kirby grips, as well as much scraping of delicate scalps which often ends in tears. Maybe that’s just at our house, although I doubt it.

The ‘dress’

Once the torture of the hair is finished, and the fallera has recovered her composure, make-up is applied after which the dressing can begin. It’s important to go to the bathroom beforehand as going to the loo is a much more complicated manoeuvre with ten layers of petticoats in the way.

First, we put on tights or special fallera socks, some even wear bloomers for greater authenticity. It’s also a good idea to put shoes on at this stage as touching one’s own toes is also tricky once dressed.

Next comes the cancan, the structure which gives the skirt its shape. A good cancan is vital to show off one’s skirt to the max. Depending on the style, many of these have drawstrings around the waist which I’m told are not especially comfortable to wear. Over the cancan goes a pretty enagua, a petticoat which often has a pocket stitched into it. Useful for keeping your, mobile, keys,or lose change.

Finally, we add the traje, made in the iconic fabrics which you can be forgiven for thinking are made of curtain material. On a trip to Benisanó Castle, we actually found a sofa in the exact same fabric as my daughter’s traje de fallera.

We start with the skirt which has to be put on over the head, being careful not to mess up the hairdo or get it caught on the aderezos. Next, the corpiño which is the top part of the outfit. Some wear the traditional fallera sleeve of lace above the elbow, others a long-sleeved bodice, in a matching plain fabric.

It’s important to note there are certain rules in the world of the fallera, for instance, the bodice with the three-quarter length sleeve is generally made in the same fabric as the skirt and the shoes, while the long-sleeve top is always plain in a colour that combines with the skirt and usually the shoes are made of the same fabric as the top. The dainty court shoes are specially made by artisan shoe makers who cover them with the off-cuts of the dress fabric.

Over the skirt hangs an exquisite lace apron or delantal, and any fallera worth her salt knows that the delantal, should be accompanied by a matching mantaleta, the lace which covers the shoulders.

On less formal days falleras wear the labradora or huertana outfit which is more comfortable and as its name suggests is easier to work in, although today’s falleras do very little work in the fields, the most they might do is some regional dancing. The outfit consists of a more rustic style skirt, a pretty blouse with a bodice over the top which is laced up and adjusted at the front and there are no sequins on the apron. The side moños aren’t used, just the large plaited bun at the back of the head, and instead of the delicate court shoes, falleras usually wear alpargatas, cloth shoes with a straw sole.

Regional dances in the Mercado Colón (Pilar Alfonso)

Fashions change

Illogical though it may seem, the fashions for this ‘traditional’ dress don’t remain the same; skirt lengths go up and down, sleeve styles change, sequins on aprons come and go, and peinetas nowadays are far less pointy than they were 20 or so years ago. But of course, if nothing ever changed how would the seamstresses and shops selling accessories ever make any money?

Ofrenda

Only when the falleras are taking part in the ofrenda, the procession when flowers are offered to the Virgen de los Desamparados, do they wear a lace veil over their head. The ofrenda takes place on 17 and 18 March and this year half of the city will be crossing their fingers hoping the weather forecasters have got it wrong and the whole thing won’t be a washout.

Falleras on their way to the Ofrenda in last September’s celebration

So next time you’re out for a morning stroll in your comfy trainers and joggers, and you spot a fallera taking part in a pasacalle or enjoying a sneaky buñuelo, spare a thought for her weighed down by hefty fabrics, tottering along in dainty court shoes with a head that feels like she’s just had a facelift. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the poor mother or grandmother who had to get up at the crack of dawn to make her look this perfect.

Felices Fallas!

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