Summer is already here, and it is the time when all around Spain we celebrate bull festivals. No matter how small the village is, for sure there will be a bull related festivity to honor the local Saint. It might be the world famous running with bulls or just a small bull teasing comedy for children. But the most important bull related celebrations are the bullfights.
When we think about a matador, what comes to mind is that flamboyant dress he wears. This extremely beautiful dress takes hours to manufacture. They are made to measure. The bullfighter chooses the color, the embroideries, all the small details. These dresses are made of silk, gold thread, sequins and pearls. As they are so embellished, they are called traje de luces, Suit of Lights, a good one can go up to 12000 US dollars.
GOYESCA style dress
Let’s get the history behind the bullfighters look.
Maybe you have heard about one of Spain’s best painters, Francisco De Goya, born in 1746. He was the royal painter in the court of King Charles IV.
Goya was one of the first painters who designed suits of light. If you come to Madrid and visit the Prado museum, you will be able to see his paintings. Those designs were a bit different to the ones we know now. They used to not be as tight as today´s, there was no Lycra back then. That was a problem, because as the matador needs to fight body to body the risk of being gored was higher, if he wears a loose custom, the horn of the bull can be hooked to it. Another difference is the bullfighter’s hat, today they wear a black flat hat called montera. Back then, they used to wear a fancy net to cover their hair.
This look is called Goyesco style, every year in the city of Ronda we celebrate an old style Goyesca bullfight, where the “matador´´ is dressed following not only the designs of Goya, but also Picasso´´ designs or even Giorgio Armani´s.
Goya 1816 Bullfighting
Giorgio Armani´s Bullfighting desing for Cayetano Ribera Ordoñez. One of the top bullfighters today
Modern Suit of lights
The modern dress is skin tight, and requires the help of an assistant to get dressed.
The tradition dictates that a bullfighter starts his dressing up by the pink stockings. The helper will have them perfectly pressed, so there is not one wrinkle that could disturb the torero. These fucsia stockings go up to mid thigh, then they are rolled down to right below the knees, where they are adjusted with a garter belt.
Now the pants (taleguilla) are so tight that the help of two men is needed. In the bullfighting world it is said that these two men know “where the matador charges his weight” In fact the taleguilla is wider in the inner thigh of one leg.
Once the shirt and the tie are tacked in, it is the moment to button up the pants, adjust the sash and set the suspenders in place. When everything is in place, the sleepers are placed.
The final touch are the vest and of course the bolero jacket (chaquetilla). The tailoring in the bolero is amazing, it has to be stiff as a rock, so seven interlinings are pressed together and over them, the silk and the heavy embroidery are placed.
To make the suit of lights even more flamboyant, the helpers will decorate the bolero and the pants with golden pendants called machos. In fact when we say that a guy is very “macho” we are referring to these silk and sequined pendants that are worn by bullfighters. IMAGE: Machos – Fernando Ochoa
As you can imagine, it takes a long time to put all of this together, it is a big ritual that takes over an hour to get everything ready. It is a very intimate moment for the matador, he might be getting dressed for the last time in his life. Bullfighters don’t like to have people that they don’t know while they get dressed, not for shyness or modesty, but for bad luck, most of them are very superstitious.
If you want to buy a real matador dress, be ready to invest about 10.000€. It will take almost two months until it is ready, but you will have in your hands a work of art.