Sunday, November 15, 2015

Overview of the Costumes of Spain, part 1 - The North

Hello all,
Today I am going to attempt to give an overview  of the Folk Costumes of Spain. Spain is a multilingual and multiethnic State; several distinct languages are spoken, four of which are officially recognized by the State. The image above shows the flags of the traditional regions of Spain, many of which were formerly kingdoms. They are for the most part coterminous with the modern 'Autonomous Communities' Here is a map of the traditional regions followed by one of the current Autonomous Communities, which also shows the provinces into which they are divided.

The main difference is that Castile has been split into three regions; New Castile, which is called 'Castile La Mancha',  the city of Madrid, and Old Castile, which has been lumped together with Leon as 'Castile Leon'. Here is a map showing the names of all of the Provinces.

I will proceed region by region, and province by province where appropriate.


Galicia has its own federally recognized language, and is quite different in character from the rest of Spain, being mainly of Celtic blood. The language is much closer to Portuguese than to Castillian Spanish

It is currently divided into four Provinces: Ourense, Lugo, A Coruña, and Pontevedra. I have not been able to discern any distinction in the local costumes, they seem to all be of the same tradition.
Galician costumes are distinguished by a great deal of beadwork in jet, which is locally available. The costume tradition is rich and very elegant. 



 A Coruña


Here is a video of a dance group from Galicia, doing first a Jota, and then what looks a lot  like a jig. Very Celtic in both sound and appearance.

More images of Galego Costume

A piece by piece explanation of Galician Costume. I am not sure if it is in Galego or Castillian.


The Asturians have many cultural similarities to the Galicians, also being partly of Celtic origin. In the western edge of Asturias, Galego is spoken, in the rest, the Asturian language, which has some legal protection, but is not recognized by the federal government. Castillian is the official language of Asturias.  Asturias is mountainous, and because  of its proximity to the ocean, it is moist and green. It is composed of one province only.

A dance from Asturias


Cantabria is also part of Spain's green zone, being along the  Atlantic coast. Some indigenous dialects are still spoken in the western part, but have no legal recognition. The eastern part has long been Castillian speaking.

A dance from Cantabria.

Euskal Herria - Basque Country

The Basque people have their own very distinctive language, which is one of the four Federally recognized languages of Spain. It is without doubt that the Basque language had an influence on the development of Castillian, and was once more  widely spoken than it is today. It is completely unrelated to the other languages of Spain, and predated the Latin language in Iberia.

Although the Basque people have preserved very strongly many aspects of their culture, from cuisine to language to sports, even dance and music, they have not kept, or perhaps never developed a distinctive folk costume, except for the famous beret. The majority of images of Basque costume show very plain work costumes, or ritual costumes. The Basque country of Spain, as small as it is, is divided into three provinces, Bizkaia, Araba, and Gipuzkoa. The Basques also inhabit the north part of Navarre and adjacent regions in France. Here are some images which I have found.

Basque men dancing.

Mixed Basque dance


Navarre has a very long history as a separate kingdom. It was founded by the tribe Vascones, but later grew to the south and attracted many Romance speaking settlers. There was a native Romance dialect related to Aragonese, but this has died out. At present, the north of Navarre is Basque speaking, the south is Castillian speaking, and the center is mixed. Navarre forms only one province.

The best known and preserved costume of Navarre is that of Roncal in the northeast. This was originally a Basque speaking area, as is preserved in the names of the costume pieces.




Jota from Navarre

Parade in Navarre

La Rioja

HIstorically this area was disputed and held at various times by Navarre, Aragon, Castille, and the Basques. Today it is completely Castillian speaking, but was designated a separate Autonomous Community by the government  of Spain. It forms a single province. It used to be known as Logroño.

Here is a dance from La Rioja.

Here is a ritual dance from this  region, done on the feast of St Mary Magdalene in the village of Anguiano.  It features boys in skirts and on stilts dancing in the streets. This outfit is only worn for this festival. There are many such traditions around Spain.


Aragon was one of the major kingdoms which made up Spain in the course of history. Like Castille and Leon, it made territorial advances to the south during the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. The Aragonese language was similar to that of southern Navarre, which is now extinct, and survives only in the northern mountains of Aragon. In the east there is a narrow strip of territory in which Catalan is spoken. In the center and south of the region, only Castillian is spoken today.

Aragon is made up of three provinces, Huesca, Zaragoza, and Teruel, from north to south. 


The most famous costume in Huesca is that of Anso, which lies just over a ridge of mountains from Roncal.

A dance from Anso


There are country and city versions of this costume, distinguished by the materials used.

A website where they make Zaragozan costume.

A dance from Zaragoza


A dance from Albarracin in Teruel.


Leon is one of the original kingdoms which made up Spain. It later became somewhat eclipsed by Castille. Today it has been merged with the northern part of Castille to form the Autonomous Community of Castille-Leon. The Leonese language has affinities with Asturian, and likewise has no legal recognition. It has mostly become replaced by Castillian. 

The region of Leon is divided into the provinces of Leon, Zamora and Salamanca, from north to south. 


Festival and dancing in the province of Leon.



 Carbajales de Alba

A dance from Carbajales de Alba in Zamora. There is a rather annoying introduction.


La Alberca



A dance of the Charro of Salamanca.

Old Castile - Castilla la Vieja

Castile was one of the major kingdoms which made up Spain. Through the course of history the rulers and language of Castile became dominant. The Castillian language is used over most of Spain today. Its exact borders are difficult to define because of merging, annexation and conquest which occured over the course of history. The old capitol of Castile was in Burgos.

Today Old Castile is considered to include the provinces of Burgos, Soria, Segovia, Avila, Palencia and Valladolid.


Dances from Burgos.


Dances from Soria.


Dance from Palencia.



Street dance in Segovia. The last couple is in full Segovian dress, the next girl in the yellow skirt is in Avila costume. The rest in some sort of dance group costume.

Dance from Segovia.


TV story about a performing group from Avila.

Group from Avila dancing in a simpler costume.

This is enough for one article. I will continue the  southern part of Spain in my next article.
Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative.

Roman K.


  1. I just wanted to let you know that I LOVE your blog!

    1. Thank you very much. I am glad that people appreciate my efforts.

  2. Thank you so much for doing all this work! My son had to do a "clothespin" doll project from the country his ancestors are from. With the detailed genealogy info we already had, we used your section about Navarre to create our clothing. I used this machine embroidery file and altered it slightly to work better with the clothespin and changed the colors to match our guys from Navarre, and VOILA, project complete.

    1. I am very glad that you found my writing useful.
      I always like to hear that the information was of help

  3. I'm very sad at your choosing of pictures from both Asturias and Galicia. They were originally almost exact costumes, but Asturians decided to change theirs to differ them (that way of wearing the head piece was in use everywhere but on the guild of Bakers, for example).
    I encourage you to look up this colection of folk pieces 'Traxandaina' (is the most accurated collection of folk clothing from the north west region). Some pecularities about Galician/Asturian folk clothing among Iberians is embroidery: they embroidered linen only in white. Colourful embroidery was reserved for black pieces or colourful undergarments. The most interesting piece in my opinion are the knitted/crochetted 'refaixos' which are the skirts that are right over the shirt, and of male clothing 'monteira' and 'polainas' which gained for them (Both Galegos and Astures) the name 'Farruco' (rooster in Arabic). Also, the monteira is worn like in the picture you've shown by bachelors and children: when a man married it went with the embroidery facing the sides instead of the front.

  4. I also have to mention that this "Spanish traditional costumes" is a forgery of the women division of the Dictatorship of Franco. They handpicked the pieces they thought the most beautiful and inserted pieces from some places to others with the excuse of 'modesty' (or 'atractiveness' as on their own aesthetic desires of that puritan moment of XXc.). That's why I insist on Traxandaina (since it is a very well researched collection on the garments of 'folk people', opposite to the garments of burgh or city peoples.). For example, as in Galician black velvet apronlike pieces, they were used in rich towns, while among less wealthy were made of other materials and were decorated differently (velvet used Glass and jet, wool used applique of the same material in different colors). That forgery made by the Dictatorship mixed old fashions (Alberca or Haro, with costumes about 2 centuries older than the rest of the territory) with rich people fashions (Valencia, Burgos) and added some 'continental' flavor (with those white cotton underskirts that were wore only by the rich girls that dressed like in the Uk and France).
    For instance, a Galician/Asturian/Zamoran/Leonese girl of the folk would wear some nice knitted stockings, a knitted/crochetted skirt, a long sleeve linen shirt on top of a corset-like piece, that was on top of her undergarment (a fine linen piece called 'combinación'), on top of the knitted skirt were other skirts decorated with subtle embroideries in bright colors (some wore one, the wealthier wore five). On top of all those skirts was another skirt heavily decorated (it could be closed, in that case was called 'basquiña', or open, crossing in the back, called 'rodao') and on top of that she would wear an apron, an apron-like heavy decorated piece, or a 'lença' (depending on the material, as I've said). On top of the shirt the girl would wear a corpiño (normally made black, or a mix of black and burgundy on the upper side). On top of that she would wear a 'mantón' or a 'bobine' (depending on the social class) and on top of that they wore a piece called 'dengue' which is like a capelette but crosses on the front and it's tied in the back (It's a reminiscence of older times, nobody knows how old it is, but it was present only in the region of the peninsula that was ruled by the Gothic, so maybe it has something to do with that. At the time, it was considered as a 'wealthy' garment. By 1900 it was already not in use.)
    All of that would be common too with Salamanca, but them would heavily decorate with colorfull embroidery every piece of garment.
    As of Galicia, they used also a head garment (different from the castillian mantillas) to go to church, and it was also an apron-like piece. They wore the hair styled in two braids, until they married. The bride would go to church with her hair loose, covered with a white piece, and after they went out of the church, she would get it again in two braids, that were braided into one when reaching the spine. She would were it that way for the rest of her life, until she widowed, when she would cut it, or style it as a bun on the back of her head. There was no taboo around hair in Galicia, so it was frequent for women to take off their head pieces and go around with their oiled (with castor oil) braids on display.
    Another thing to have in mind is that in the northern regions villages and little villages were ruled by petrucios (ancient people) that were the ones deciding on how people could dress (among other things) so it was frequent to have a village full of colorful cotton shirts and skirts, and the next one with full linen and black velvet (that around 2nd half of XIX c.)

  5. First, thank you for posting this informative website! My grandfather was from Asturias, my grandmother from Galicia. I should point out that while it is now fashionable for Galicia to stress its "Celtic-ness" it really is much more of a mixture of ancient peoples (the Celts being just one of the groups that settled there) - Actually, the population of all Roman Hispania were known as "Celtiberians", so Celts weren't just in Galicia. The bagpipes (played in Galicia and Asturias) are found all over Europe, including Turkey, and probably didn't originate with the Celts. Gallego, the language of Galicia, is a Latin language and Portuguese is actually derived from it.
    To Sigour - Very interesting comments about Franco's government "inventing" folk costumes! I remember souvenirs displaying folk costumes from my grandparents' respective provinces and wonder to what degree they were inventions! Thanks for the link to your website Traxandaina.