Take-Homes is a series of posts from each destination in which I recommend mementos to buy. My suggestions, and my own purchase choices, are based on sustainable travel criteria: they must be things that are authentically local, that are traditionally made by locals, or things locally produced that are used on an everyday basis by locals, and could include anything from handicrafts to regional food produce. See my earlier posts on Moroccan Take-Homes and Jerez Supermarket Souvenirs.
Jerez doesn’t really cater to tourists, so there are few souvenir shops, which is what we love about it. So you need to get creative when it comes to looking for something to take home. Sherry and foodstuffs are an obvious choice, but for girls it’s got to be something flamenco.
There are a dozen or more specialized flamenco shops in Jerez, such as Molina Baile Campera Flamenca and Merceria Algarve, catering for professional and amateur flamenco dancers, and while you’re probably not going to invest hundreds of euros on a flouncy flamenco gown that will hang in your cupboard, flamenco accessories make fun, fabulous, and very affordable souvenirs that you can actually wear, which is what I always like.
I’m not certain whether every woman I saw wearing a vibrant coloured flamenco hair comb – or peineta in Spanish – was a dancer, or whether it’s simply the fashion in Jerez. Either way, they looked gorgeous and they were everywhere. Historically, the hair combs were made of mother-of-pearl, ivory, tortoise shell, steer horn, and even amber, however, these days most are made of plastic. You can still find vintage hair combs in antique and bric-a-brac shops if you’re looking for something special, however, if you want to actually wear them, keep in mind the old combs are heavy – the enormous ones are intended to hold up the mantilla or lace veil – so unless you have a thick head of hair, you’re best opting for plastic or the light-weight beaded combs, or simply small pretty beaded hair pins and clips.
Thanks to H&M every woman around the world started wearing a fabric flower pinned on something or other last year, and we’re going to see more flowers this spring apparently, but in Jerez, the girls are wearing flamenco flowers – flores de flamenca or maravilla – in their hair at the moment. Traditionally, hair was pulled back and the flower was worn on a ponytail to attract attention to a beautiful neck. These days I think it’s just a case of something traditional being reinterpreted in fun and funky ways. Some of the flowers are quite flamboyant, in polka dots or with peacock feathers, but these are mainly worn on the stage. You’ll probably just want a simple bold colour, and you can find these everywhere in Jerez.
The bigger, bolder and more elaborate the better, when it comes to flamenco earrings it seems. I’ve no idea how the dancers keep them on when they’re performing, but they’re certainly attention grabbing. Every flamenco shop has a great variety in Jerez, and although you’ll see flamboyant combinations of crystals and beads, most are made of plastic – I asked why, and it’s because they’re lighter. While the big plastic hoops, circa 1984, are particularly popular at the moment, I had a soft spot for the floral and swirly-patterned plastic beaded earrings above.
Every flamenco show features a Caracoles dance with a fan – or pericon – at some point during the performance. However, in Spain it’s also common to see Spanish women carrying fans about the streets to cool themselves during the sultry summer months. Some fans are very plain and simple, made from plastic and paper, and, sadly, often manufactured in factories in China. The handmade fans are obviously more beautiful and more collectable, often made of tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and wood, with intricately patterned lace, a fine painting, or embellishments of gems or crystals, although these are far more expensive. You’ll find these in antique or vintage clothing shops. I was told the flamenco dancers tend to opt for either traditional black lace-patterned fans or bold coloured fans to match their costumes, while plastic and wooden fans were favoured as cooling devices because they were longerlasting.