FashionMuse: m – mantilla

A mantilla is a traditional lace or silk veil or shawl worn over the head and shoulders, often over a high comb called a peineta, popular with women in Spain

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Holy Week, Sevilla

Mantilla; a hood, a cloak, a covering.  Spiritual, secretive, seductive.

Worshipful: The custom of head-covering for women in Spain is an ancient tradition,  dating back, at least, to the Iberians (who lived in Spain around 4th century BC).   Now credited as remarkably cultured and artistic people their heraldry has been epitomized by the Dama (Lady) de Elche (Dama d’Elx in Catalan); reputedly a high-priestess whose sculpture can be seen at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid – a pean to ancient beauty – and headgear.

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Dama d’Elche

Respectful: Iberian women of a lower social standing also wore veils, usually translucent ones to completely cover themselves when they went out in public (possibly an Arabic influence). It was called the manto, and a shorter shoulder length version was called the mantilla.

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Practical:   The manta was adopted by women throughout Spain. However, each region adapted it according to social and physical factors, like the climate. In this way, in the coldest areas, the mantilla was used like an outer coat, made in more substantial fabrics. In the warmer Southern areas, mantillas were lighter and smoother and became more luxurious and decorative.

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Curious-ful: By the late 16th century, upper class ladies were wearing lightweight, lacy mantillas. However the lace veil was not yet draped over the high Peineta, but simply placed across the head and falling on either side of the face in a becoming manner. These lace mantillas were worn not only for attending church but for all occasions when an aristocratic lady went out in public. In such situations the veil was usually drawn modestly across the face to conceal the wearer’s identity – adding a certain sense of flirtatiousness or intrigue to social interactions.

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Portrait of Antonia Zarate by Francisco de Goya (1805)

Royal-ful:  Since the 17th century, the Queens of Spain have further popularized the wearing of these ornamental lace scarves. Isabella II of Spain (1830 – 1904) was very fond of fine lace, and she used her influence to make the lace mantilla fashionable at court. She and her ladies wore it for many ceremonies both public and private. This led to the high Peineta and mantilla veil being widely adopted by sophisticated ladies during the course of the 19th century. It was in this form that the mantilla comb and veil as we now know them became an established part of traditional Spanish costumes.

Queen María Luisa (1799), Queen Isabella II (1830-1904), Queen Sofia (1975-2014)

Conspiracy-ful: The high comb and mantilla also played a part in Spanish politics in the so-called Mantilla Conspiracy. In 1870 Isabella was deposed, and the Cortes (Spanish parliament) decided to reinstate the monarchy under a new dynasty. The Duke of Aosta was elected King as Amadeo I in 1871, but this was a widely unpopular choice with the Spanish people. In Madrid the wearing of the mantilla became a symbol of opposition to the foreign fashions which Amadeo I and his wife Maria Victoria attempted to introduce. The protest was led by women who refused to wear the fashionable foreign hats and bonnets and instead preferred their native comb and mantilla. Amadeo I abdicated the throne of Spain after about three years, due to the “lawlessness” of the Spaniards.

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Religious-ful: From earliest Christianity, wearing chapel veils as head coverings when entering a Church, has been common practice for faithful women. Since the Second Vatican Council this practice is no longer required but it is still very much supported and encouraged by the Church.

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This act of partially concealing of a woman’s head is deeply symbolic; as glorifier of God her physical beauty (especially her lovely hair) is suppressed; as mystical sacrifice the veil enables the woman to ascend the ladder of sanctity; as emulator of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her humility, purity and submissiveness; as a sign of reverence, modesty and piety in the Presence of God; and as signifier of the role of women as a life-bearing vessel (like the Eucharist).

It is traditional for a Spanish woman to wear a Mantilla to an audience with the Pope.

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Jackie Kennedy, practising Catholic

Custom-ful:  Today in Spain, the mantilla can be seen, almost exclusively, at bullfights, Semana Santa (Holy Week – the week before Easter, especially in Andalusia) and weddings. Traditionally, the black veils were worn by married or widowed women, while the white veils were worn by young girls, or unmarried women, but these rules are not steadfast.

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Holy Week, Sevilla 2014


Fashion-ful:  High fashion also loves to indulge a mantilla moment every now and then. As statement headwear it cannot fail to make an impression.

As featured in Vogue

in 1923:

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and 2007:

Featured Image: Vogue 2007


Mantillas then – probably not for the shy or reserved, but worth a try next time you fancy a Spanish fling…


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