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Everything you need to know about Flamenco shawls

A versatile addition to your dance wardrobe, Flamenco shawls will enhance your look and can be used as props when dancing. Also known as mantónes, the shawls are traditional accessories which are heavy and useful for keeping warm when not dancing. When you are dancing, the shawls would restrict your arms and conceal your body movements but can be used as dramatic props, like a matador’s cape. A lighter shawl known as a mantoncillo is a great choice for improving dancers and enables you to honour the heritage look.


What is a mantón?

The traditional mantónes were fashioned from luxurious fabrics and were truly works of art. You can still invest in beautiful pieces which have been fashioned from sumptuous silks but they are costly and easily damaged. The finest examples boast intricate embroidery and are completed by elaborate fringes (Flecos).

The term mantón is derived from manton de manila which provides a clue to the history of the garments. In 1565 Andrés de Urdaneta discovered a shipping route from Manila to Mexico. Fine goods were traded between China and the Philippines and then transported to Mexico from where they were shipped to Seville and later Cadiz in Spain. Amongst the goods were silk shawls which became popular in Andalusia. They were thought to have come from Manila but were actually crafted in China. Spanish women asked for fringes to be added to the shawls to create more attention-grabbing styles.

In the 19th century it became the fashion for European women to leave their shoulders uncovered. Spanish women followed the trend but partnered their dresses with mantónes for warmth. The shawls were also used to decorate grand pianos and sofas in Spanish homes.

A manton de manila remains a popular choice for festive occasions and parties as well as being used by Flamenco dancers during their performances.

How to wear a mantón

Mantónes can be draped around the body or over the shoulders. Their size and weight makes them unsuitable for actually dancing in and so a Flamenca with a mantón will remove it and twirl the shawl around her body and above her head to add interest, drama and colour to her performance.

There are other interesting ways to incorporate a mantón into your outfit. It could be wrapped around the upper body to create a top which can be teamed up with a Flamenco skirt. This look can be achieved using either the traditional or sarong method. With the traditional method, you wrap the shawl around your front and then make shoulder straps with the ends as follows:

  • Fold the shawl into a triangle
  • Hold the shawl in front of you, one end in each hand, with the folded edge along the top
  • Place the folded edge of the shawl across your bust
  • Adjust it so that the point is centred
  • Pin the shawl to your bra or top temporarily
  • Cross the ends behind your back and bring them up over your shoulders
  • Pull each end down to meet the folded edge of the shawl
  • Pin the ends to the shawl and remove the temporary pins

Alternatively fashion a sarong top as follows:

  • Fold the shawl into a triangle
  • Hold the folded shawl with the folded edge along the top
  • Hold the shawl behind your back with the point centred
  • Pass the ends under your arms and cross them over
  • Tie the ends behind your neck

It is best to wear something underneath your shawl if you are using it as a top. This is a more modest look and protects the fabric from sweat and fake tan. If you are feeling even more creative and love the fabric of your shawl, you could consider cutting it to make a top. Unless you are skilled seamstress, you will need to find an appropriate pattern to use.

What is a mantoncillo?

Smaller and lighter than a mantón, a mantoncillo is a practical yet beautiful alternative which you can wear while dancing. These can be folded and then draped over the shoulders. You can secure your mantoncillo with a brooch if you don’t plan to twirl it. To ensure that the shawl really stands out, choose one in a contrasting colour to your dress. As the shawls are folded into a triangle, you could also choose a half shawl (triangular shawl) as they are cooler to wear, won’t separate when twirled and are generally less expensive. But making life easier for yourself in manipulating the shawl could see you developing poor techniques.

Working your shawl

Whatever shawl you choose, it could become a striking feature of your performances. If you wish to learn how to dance with your shawl, it is best to start out with a smaller and lighter style and then progress to a heavier piece when you have honed your technique.

Stylish and affordable mantónes

At El Mundo Flamenco we feature a stylish range of Flamenco shawls for you to choose from. Our range includes both black and red pieces to suit your outfits which enable you to lift your look and begin practising your moves.


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