A Spanish Lesson 

by Emily Dulcan <mlegatita@hotmail.com>

Perhaps it is an American prejudice to associate Europeans with style. The assumption is not completely far fetched--haute couture is French, after all. Yet as I walk the streets of Barcelona during my junior year abroad, I find this preconception has little truth to it. Many women seem to accept the mannequins in store windows as the only credible representations of style and beauty. Hence most young Spanish women seem to have only one style, and in my opinion, just one is worse than none at all.

The overwhelming need of Spanish women to conform physically and fashionably has its roots in the country's history. Especially during its imperial days, clothing meant wealth and status. Families would starve so daughters could wear new hats when the seasons changed. Surely such extremes are no longer the norm, but attitudes resonant of imperialist Spain are still detectable in the style of many young women.

It's easy to lump people into groups, especially when you're an outsider with a rare and extended chance to look in. Here are just a few things I've noticed about this culture's sense of moda (style):

1) Falta de color (lack of color). You don't even have to turn your head to see ten women dressed completely in black or gray. You do, however, have to search high and low for someone in a red jacket (and if you find her she's sure to be wearing black pants). 

2) No tienes nada mas grande? (You don't have anything in a bigger size?) If you're prone to eating disorders, Spain is not the place to boost your self esteem. Tight pants and dresses are all the rage, as long as you are small. Many of the shirts on display for spring and summer require you to go sans brassiere, which would be impossible for yours truly (ow!) 

3) Maquillaje (make-up). I am an international opponent of the notion that make-up makes women look better. This opposition is reaffirmed daily when I pass women on the street whose faces are different colors than their necks (who said foundation made you look more natural?), not to mention the twelve-year-old girls who look like they got their make-up tips from the kindly neighborhood transvestite. 

4) Cigarros (cigarettes). The health consciousness that has swept the US and caused millions of Americans to kick the nicotine habit has not even touched Spain. Here, smoking is still considered stylish and mature, even among twelve-year-olds.

Although it's hard to find, style does exist in Spain outside of the group of women who find it necessary to look like everyone else. I was pleasantly reminded of this fact when I found myself (purely by accident) marching with a large group of quasi-anarchist, semi-communist youth. Nothing they were wearing could be described as de moda. They sported colorful scarves, not to mention their colorful hairdos; they were dressed for comfort and mobility; the closest thing to make-up was bright face paint. (They were all smoking, but three out of four ain't bad.) As I helped hold up traffic in downtown Barcelona in my long, flowy pink skirt, surrounded by people who just wanted to be heard and didn't give a damn what they looked like, I felt closer to true style than I had all year.


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