At nine o’clock on Saturday morning, a banner of red, yellow and green unfurled at the entrance of the Carriage and Western Art Museum, welcoming Santa Barbara locals and tourists seeking attire for the 88th annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebration in August.
This year’s sale — although bustling with customers — more closely resembled that of a family gathering than a public event.
Veteran vendors — one in curlers, another sharing pastries — chattered with old friends and mothered the newcomers, cajoling them to try on another dress, asking them about their children, getting updates on dance lessons, and arranging a variety of hairstyles with flowered ornaments and lacquered combs.
For lovers of all things lacy, embroidered, ruffled or polka-dotted, however, it was another opportunity to twirl in front of the mirror and play dress-up amid troves of traditional Spanish and Mexican clothing.
Carmen Flores, manager of local costume shop Victorian Vogue, gestured to her display of fans and jewels, ones typically worn by flamenco performers: “I’m not a dancer,” she said, “but my favorite part of this is dressing up, wearing a wig, and getting really creative with all the different themes and festivities.”
Indeed, costumes are a central part of Old Spanish Days, whether for couples searching for a night of dinner and dancing, a local dance studio seeking to outfit its performers, or a family looking to highlight a beachside vacation with cultural festivities.
For many, though, Fiesta is a tradition deeply rooted in both family and community, and marks a lifetime of living in Santa Barbara.
Cathy, who chatted with her customers about everything from local Japanese art to Parisian opera, has collected Mexican jewelry, textiles and paintings, which drew a particular fascination to those wary among the frills and fabrics of Fiesta.
“I have photos of myself as a 2 or 3-year-old in my Old Spanish Days dress,” she recalled happily. “So that’s how long I’ve been doing it: practically since I was born!”
The Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebration is Aug. 1-5 and will take place at a variety of events and venues, including a City Council meet-and-greet at the Santa Barbara Zoo, music and dancing at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden, and a children’s parade organized by the City Parks and Recreation Department.
Click here for more information about all Old Spanish Days Fiesta events.