According to the 1803 dictionary of the Real Academia Española, gandaya meant both ‘type of hair bonnet’ and ‘mischievous, idle, free living’. No scholar has ever paid attention to the relationship between these two meanings and the majismo. The gandaya was a headdress usually knitted, colourful and, depending on the wearer’s wealth, made of silk. It was characterized by a lavish hanging tasselled ‘tail’ that swayed loosely following the movements of whoever wore it, captivating everyone’s attention. Not surprisingly, majos borrowed this accessory (originally a Catalan-Valencian adornment, therefore autochthonous) for the essential mise-en-scène of their ‘figure’.
Defined by Dorothy Noyes as ‘working-class dandies’, majos were a social group constituted by emigrants from all over the peninsula settled in an expanding Madrid. Yet, what essentially characterized majos and majas were: their brutal vitality, vanity, haughtiness, rebelliousness and impertinence, their gandaya. This behaviour fulfilled its purpose only as a reaction against everything and everyone (petimetres and petimetras) considered of being foreigner. The second were perceived as vicious for their ostentatious consumption of French fashions.
Madrilenian elites perceived majos’s debauchery and boldness as picturesque and patriotic, and soon adopted majos’ fashion and manners and even mingled with them. The act of replacing their affected, heavy and static headdress à la française by a gandaya should be contemplated as a subversive act: gandayas exposed, partly, their hair and its tassel waved against their own bodies while, probably, becoming entangled with others’ during public events. In addition, gandayas, distorted gender roles and appearances. Gandayas can be considered one of the very few non-gendered early modern fashionable accessories. They were a representative sign of the exceptional freedom and public presence women enjoyed at that time in Madrid, and the gender distorting which some 18th century writers, satirically, witness of.
Gandayas travelled throughout space and time. Space-wise, they can be approached as evidence of the ‘early-modern globalization’. In France, a gandaya was the accessory chosen by Beaumarchais to characterize his subversive Figaro in his Mariage de Figaro. It is also interesting to point towards the similarities between the gandaya represented in Thénard’s portrait as Figaro and another one currently preserved in the Museo del Traje in Madrid. Even though, they might not be the same one, it suggests that Beaumarchais was well familiarized with this headdress, which he might have seen in his visit to Madrid between 1764-1765.
Around the same period, between 1775-1800, we find representations of gandayas in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (today Mexico). Various figures, both men and women, of a series of ‘castas paintings’ have been represented wearing gandayas. It is remarkable to highlight the swift of these gandayas’ symbolical value here. The sitters are not represented with gandayas in association to majismo. In these cases, gandayas seem to appear as a fashionable accessory.
Timewise, gandayas were adapted and adopted by the Haute Couture in the twentieth century. Hubert de Givenchy designed in 1964 a red velvet headdress that possibly inspired in a gandaya. It was this gandaya-like hat that was, amongst others, chosen to feature Audrey Hepburn in a photo-shoot by Cecil Beaton in 1964 UK Vogue. Possibly, Hubert de Givenchy might have learned this head adornment through his master, the Spanish haute couture master, Cristobal Balenciaga.
In brief, gandayas are a great example of how early modern fashions travelled and still inspire: throughout class (from the working classes to the aristocracy), throughout geographies (from Spain to the Colonies) and throughout time (from the eighteenth-century to nowadays).
Cite this blog post
Corinne Thepaut-Cabasset (2016, November 4). “H” for Headdress: The Gandaya, a colourful silk knitted bonnet in Global-Spain. Victoria de Lorenzo, MA alumni at the Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum, London. DRESSING THE NEW WORLD. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/nwqe