A Day at the Fights: Theater Arts for the Common Male

This is the second of three posts on a trip I took to the bullfights last Sunday (you can read more about the fights, themselves, in the first post).  

One of the first impressions made upon me, even more than the fight, itself, is the traditional pomp and circumstance that accompanies the bullfights.  At the beginning of the day, the matadors, picadors, banderilleros, and a host of men (and an occasional woman) that organize the fights parade around the center of the ring.  As I understand, this tradition is meant to symbolize the “clearing of the ring,” from when fights were held in town squares and not specialized and dedicated bullrings.

Each of the participants in the fight, from the various toreros to the officials to the men who remove the slain bulls are dressed in elaborate costumes, referred to as traje de luces.  

...this banderillero dressed in cream...

...this banderillero dressed in cream...

The costumes include ornate and elaborately decorated pants and shirt, with stitched patterns, dangling tassels, and an interlay of dark and brights colors.  The various banderilleros wore costumes with black on cream, red, or green, but the matadors all wear gold — by tradition, the only ones allowed to do so.  And, of course, there are the capes, in pink and yellow for the banderilleros and red for the matador.  Toreros also wear special hats, which seem like they might be more appropriate at Disneyland; although the striking similarity between the hats, or monteras, and Mickey Mouse’s ears make me wonder if it wasn’t Walt D. himself who borrowed the design.

The picadors, the men with lances on horseback, and even the horses, themselves, are also dressed in elaborate uniforms.  The riders wear intricately designed shirts that are similar to those of the banderilleros, special wide-brimmed hats… and armor to protect their legs.  The horses wear blindfolds and padding, each festooned with colors.  I’d have to figure the horse knows that something’s not right when they strap on the padding.

Of course, I’m no expert on fashion, nor does it really interest me.  But I do find that the costumes worn by the toreros to be an integral part of the appeal of bullfighting.  Much like opera (Toreador!  Toreador!) or ballet, the costumes add to the spectacle and drama.  In bullfighting, the costumes are also steeped in tradition, most of which I will never know.  Perhaps in this sense, bullfighting is theater for the bourgeoisie; costumes, music, dancing, and a little death in the afternoon.

The similarity to dancing isn’t that far-fetched, as the matador’s movement with the bull seems like a choreographed duet and the banderilleros often prance on the tips of their toes as they run up, arms and points held high, to the glaring bull.  What’s more, the shoes that each wears (take a look at the pictures!), also part of the costume, might be better suited for the stage at Lincoln Center than the blood and dust of the Plaza de Toros.


México, D.F.


One Response

  1. […] to see the bullfights at the Plaza de Toros last December.  I posted pictures of the fight and the costumes, and this final post will share a few pictures of the food.  Like a baseball game, the food at the […]

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