A mantilla is a women's lace scarf that is worn over the head like a veil. This type of garment is most often worn in Spain. In fact, the word "mantilla" is Spanish for "little mantle." Although the mantilla was once quite popular, it is usually worn in modern times only for special occasions and religious celebrations.
It is possible that the mantilla's origin is linked to the presence of the Islamic faith in Spain. Spanish Muslim women traditionally wore veils to cover their faces. Later, women of the lower classes began to wear mantillas, although these were made of heavier fabric and worn more like a coat or cape. By the late 16th century, upper class ladies were wearing lightweight, lacy mantillas. During the 17th century, Queen Isabel the II further popularized these ornamental lace scarves.
Following the death of Isabel the II, the mantilla's popularity began to decline. In modern times, it is worn primarily at weddings, bullfights, and during the week before Easter, or Holy Week. In keeping with tradition, some Catholic women still wear mantillas to church. It is also traditional to don one of these lace scarves for a meeting with the Pope.
There are three types of mantilla, each distinguished by a different kind of lace fabric or motif. The blonda lace variety is made from two types of silk, usually with a floral motif. Chantilly lace mantillas are heavily embroidered with fruit, flowers, and even vegetable designs. They take their name from the town in France where the lace was originally produced. Brides tend to wear mantillas made from tulle that are embroidered with lace motifs.
Only two colors of mantilla are readily available: white and black. White is reserved for single women, while black is worn by married women. A bride usually wears white on her wedding day.
Mantillas are large, oval-shaped pieces of fabric. To wear one, a woman drapes the fabric over her head and fastens it to her hair using a pin. The resulting silhouette is sleek and straight.
Frequently, a mantilla is worn with a peineta, or ornamental comb, which holds up the lace fabric and gives a woman the illusion of extra height. Though they were once made from tortoiseshell, peinetas are usually plastic or another synthetic material. This style of comb is most often worn during weddings, dances, and processions. Female Flamenco dancers traditionally wear peinetas to keep their mantillas in place. The peineta is also part of the folk costumes of Andalusia and Valencia.