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From the Print Journal

The Fabric of the City: Magazines, Dressmakers, and Madrid’s Gran Vía

© 2021 Johns Hopkins University Press

In February 1928, the popular magazine Estampa published an unassuming centerfold photograph of a large group of people strolling through Madrid.[1] The jovial crowd pictured is so large that they take over the sidewalk and spill into the avenue (fig. 1). At the center of the image, cheerful female dressmakers walk with synchronized steps. Nearby pedestrians take note of the group’s energetic display for the photographer and pause to look at them. This photograph does not appear to immediately offer revelations about the advent of modernity in Madrid. In fact, the revolutionary aspects of the image might go entirely unnoticed for a viewer today. However, this centerfold encompasses a number of key social and political debates brought on by the modernization of Madrid and permits surprising insight into the visual and literary culture of Spanish modernity during the 1920s and 1930s.

Estampa, Madrid, February 21, 1928.
Fig. 1. Estampa, Madrid, February 21, 1928. © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España.

The centerfold shows how the flourishing—albeit understudied—popular press negotiated the modernization of Madrid and the corresponding effects of this phenomenon upon metropolitan urban dynamics.[2] I contend that mass-produced periodicals played a central part in creating new understandings of the role of modern urban citizens in Madrid throughout this period. While there are very few examples of paintings that portray early twentieth-century Madrid and even fewer that depict its modernized areas, the city in all its forms was a constant visual and textual presence in periodicals. Magazines contained photographs and conflicting reports that ranged from praise to thoughtful critique of the city’s expansions and renovations. Together, text and images mediated the modern city’s purposes and problems for readers. The popular press alerted their audience that modernity’s objectives were debatable and compelled further reflection, inviting them to personally interpret their city’s transformations. Thus, periodicals did more than entertain; they proposed and propagated critical views of modernization to their wide readership.

The centerfold is one among thousands published in the thriving periodical culture of Spain in the 1920s and 1930s. By this time, the increased literacy rates among the Spanish population, along with new technologies and lower cost of printing, resulted in a surge of periodical literature. Spanish literary scholar Jeffrey Zamostny has designated these mass-marketed publications, frequently sold in newsstands, as “kiosk literature.” Kiosk literature sought to entertain and inform. But beyond that, according to Zamostny, it was central to how Spaniards “represented the world to themselves in the face of modern change.”[3] Historians admit that the statistics declaring Madrid’s illiteracy rate (21.4 percent in 1920) as the lowest in Spain are unreliable.[4] Yet, despite the lack of precise data, it is certain that throughout the first decades of the twentieth century all of Spain’s literacy rates rose rapidly.[5] This burgeoning reading public sustained the booming number of newspapers, as well as dozens of serial literature and magazine titles. For the relatively low price of 20 to 30 céntimos, readers of different education levels could enjoy the photograph-filled pages, short stories, news reports, and celebrity interviews of an issue of Estampa (1929–38), Crónica (1929–38), Ciudad (1934–35), or Mundo Gráfico (1911–38).[6] Party politics were not emphasized in these consumer magazines, as the editors intended to attract a broad consumer base. And among these many titles, Estampa, and its main competitor, Crónica, set the standard for success for Spanish magazines. Both of these weekly magazines helped modernize Spanish graphic journalism by lowering the price, increasing the number of images, and paying close attention to the design and format of their product. To understand the influence Estampa wielded, consider that by the second month of existence its print run reached 100,000; by its third month, 150,000; and ultimately it surpassed 200,000 copies per issue. The weekly had one of the highest print runs in Spain before the print industry’s plunge during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39).[7]

But why might this centerfold in this particular magazine merit our attention? It proves particularly rich in explorative potential as it registers a wide scope of the debates surrounding modernity. Material culture scholar Glenn Adamson defines the term “register” as the capacity of material and, in this case, visual culture to capture social patterns.[8] Thus, the photographer’s or the editorial board’s intentions are not the primary concern of this study. Instead, the argument is based on the ability of the image to offer insight, clarify, and affirm the socio-political transformations of Madrid.[9] A close analysis permits us to uncover patterns of representations and connect disparate discourses. In fact, it is because the photograph appears cheerful and uncritical that it is most revelatory. Specifically, the image and its caption bring up questions about the place of local Madrid history and tradition within modernity, as some Spaniards perceived that modernity was an invasive, foreign, and negative force in Spain.

In studying the centerfold, I interpret its meaning within the wider network of the period’s popular press. This strategy allows for two intersecting approaches of inquiry: the first considers the confines of class and the spatial politics of the city; the second focuses specifically on the role of dressmakers who act as representatives of both traditional Madrid and of the city’s working-class women. Together, these approaches permit insight into the meanings, demands, and limitations of human movement in both literal and symbolic terms in Madrid during the 1920s and 1930s. When contextualized as part of the visual culture of periodicals, this seemingly lighthearted centerfold exposes the complications of the city’s social milieu, the oft-conflicting reception of urban growth, and the effects of the processes of modernization on Madrid’s citizens.

The Centerfold’s Setting

Beneath the photograph the caption states:

Estampa is the magazine of all and for all. You see what happens on the streets of Madrid on Tuesdays, the day that Estampa comes out. There is no madrileña or madrileño that doesn’t have a copy. Estampa is in the hands of ladies and village women, in the hands of the well-to-do gent and the young workers, of kids and the elderly . . . . but perhaps it is the modistilla, the joy and mirth of Madrid, that is the most avid reader of Estampa. On Tuesday on the Gran Vía, on Alcalá street, in the Puerta del Sol, in Recoletos, the young girls, primped and pretty as they go, each with her copy of Estampa, commenting . . . and affirming with their enthusiasm the success of the magazine. (Estampa, February 21, 1928, n.p.)[10]

Neither the photograph nor the caption is concerned with the specifics of either individuals or urban geography. The protagonists of the image and text are singled out as modistillas, a colloquial diminutive term that referred to Madrid’s large population of female dressmakers (modistas). Despite being identified solely by their common profession, the women’s importance in the centerfold is clear. They lead the group while either reading the latest issue of Estampa or looking straight ahead. The caption disregards the numerous men that shadow the ordered line of women or those assembled at the sides of the group. Together, the crowd walks along a clean, broad sidewalk lined with elegant buildings that would have provided the contemporaneous reader enough visual information to recognize it as a modern street. The caption names a few of the principal parkways in Madrid but does not specify the photograph’s location. Nonetheless, a perceptive reader could have identified the architecture of the building in the background as the Hotel de Roma and the window display next to the women as that of the Rafael Sánchez store. These landmarks locate the photograph on the Gran Vía, arguably the most stylish avenue of Madrid by 1928. The women’s importance is doubly highlighted: they cross the central Madrid street and, appropriately, appear in the centerfold of the magazine.

The Gran Vía setting is pivotal to comprehending how this photograph models the varying potentials of modernizing Madrid. This location acts as the juncture from which the other questions of modernity arise. When this photograph was taken, the avenue (begun in 1910) was still under construction. The Gran Vía numbered among various projects that the Spanish government undertook to keep Madrid’s urbanism apace with the population’s growth and to elevate the capital to modern standards of sanitation and order.[11] The results of the government’s efforts were uneven, but the Gran Vía was where modernization was most distinct.[12] Startlingly different from its surroundings, the avenue cut across Madrid’s congested medieval center. The Gran Vía replaced the chaos of the past with a clear design of straight and wide avenue segments. The thoroughfare runs east to west across Madrid. A few steps away from the eastern end of the Gran Vía is the area that had been the focus of urban development beginning in the late eighteenth century and includes grandiose public buildings such as the Bank of Spain or the Prado Museum. The western end of the avenue is the site of the nineteenth-century expansion which offered modern housing for middle and upper-middle class families. To connect the two sectors, the avenue had to cut across the medieval center of Madrid. The project was driven by grandiose aims: to reclaim the overcrowded heart of the city and facilitate communication between the center and the nineteenth-century border expansion of the city.[13] Consequently, it was an immense enterprise that necessitated the razing of the organically developed center.

Only meters away from the Puerta del Sol—the historic epicenter of Madrid and the symbolic center of Spain—the Gran Vía attracted the attention of Madrid’s citizens. The wearisome process of making the avenue a reality entailed many difficulties, including high costs and the seizing of private properties. Throughout the four-decade construction, periodicals like Estampa pictured the Gran Vía’s development, and it is in the popular press where we may best discover the conflicting receptions of the project. For many citizens, the expense and problems made the proposed plan feel unattainable under the economic conditions of Madrid.[14] Other detractors saw the avenue as a space with no personality or tradition: “Madrid disappears . . . and in this phrase loyal admirers of Madrid bring a deep lament. From all that is destroyed and erased the Gran Vía rises.”[15] Meanwhile, enthusiastic supporters of the project saw the avenue as a physical manifestation of a much-anticipated modernity. Fourteen years into the avenue’s construction, a journalist observed that the Gran Vía held the “promise to renovate traditional behavior.”[16]

However, the Gran Vía’s promise of renovation and progress came at a cost. After the long-expected role of the avenue as a symbol of urban progress, as it took shape, a critical question arose regarding its lack of local character. A 1920 government-issued report stated that the street was to be for transit and residential living, but the latter never took place.[17] The avenue never acquired a significant number of permanent residents that may have provided it with the neighborhood personality present in other areas of Madrid (Baker, Madrid cosmopolita, 53, 84–87). Instead, the Gran Vía lots were purchased by international and national companies that filled the avenue with hotels, social clubs, cocktail bars (notably called “American bars”), cinemas, and company headquarters. These commercial entities reinforced the complaints that the Gran Vía could not represent Madrid. The modernity the avenue conveyed was one exclusively delineated by capitalism and entirely disconnected from local history.[18] Ideally, the Gran Vía would have been the site where the local and modern would co-exist. But critics noted that the local was inconspicuous among the models of international capitalism and launched new debates about the consequences of modernity. These arguments frequently placed modernity and local tradition as opposing poles in competition with each other. But more important for our analysis is what the polemic revealed about the role of traditional or modern social practices in the heart of Madrid. It is within these terms of social space that the centerfold allows for an exploration of the role of the photographed working-class women within the metropolis.

The Dressmakers

By the late 1920s, urban women were seen as symbols of modernity, not only in Spain, but throughout Europe and North America. Women’s increased visibility and participation in urban spaces was one of the most pronounced changes among the many that had taken place since the end of the nineteenth century. New female “urban types” arose and became emblems of modernity: working girls, leisure shoppers, and Jazz Age women.[19] In Spain, this followed the transformation of the nineteenth century ideal woman of the “angel of the house,” confined to the domestic space, into the modern woman who participated in new economic and urban activities (Larson, Constructing and Resisting Modernity, 70–71). Thus, the centerfold caption’s focus on women is not surprising; it was women who best represented the move away from the practices of the past. Importantly, although the emergent new female urban types belonged to different social classes, Spanish magazines throughout the late nineteenth century only represented the bourgeois class. According to Spanish literary scholar Lou Charnon-Deutsch, during this period the working-class woman was not illustrated or photographed in periodicals. But while the nineteenth-century popular press “rendered invisible” working-class women, it incited “women of the leisure classes . . . to self-spectacle and extravagant consumption.”[20]

If the fin de siècle Spanish popular press preferred to picture a bourgeois, elegant female consumer of covetable fashions and commodities, this 1928 centerfold signals a significant shift. The periodicals of the previous century would not have photographed this group of women because, although they lived in the city and took part in everyday urban culture, they had limited purchasing power due to their precarious economic position. By 1930, Madrid’s textile workers earned a median wage of a paltry 3.62 pesetas for ten or more hours of work.[21] The centerfold’s dressmakers, well-aware of fads and fashion, could not afford the expensive products the magazines advertised. However, here the working-class modistillas—rather than affluent classes—are expressly singled out as worthy of representing model women of the period. The working-class dressmakers, despite their relatively limited economic capacity, evidence the change from the conventional Victorian ideal (Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis, 43). These smiling women are assigned the role of the exemplary urban consumers and stand in for the numerous readers of the magazine.

The emphasis on the dressmakers indicates a trend toward greater representation of different social classes in the popular press. The centerfold did not mark the only appearance of dressmakers in Estampa. In fact, the previous issue had also included interviews and photographs of a different group of dressmakers.[22] This growing inclusivity in terms of the magazines’ content can be interpreted as a result of the expanding number of working-class consumers for these low-cost magazines, proving that despite a limited fiscal capacity, the working class participated and impacted the expanding capitalist economy. In the caption, the centerfold promotes the magazine’s influence over all of Madrid society. But by spotlighting the dressmakers as a preferred consumer group, the magazine positions the women beyond the limitations of mere readers of Estampa and turns them into its subject. The centerfold’s modistillas move across the city, embodying the far-reaching circulation that the publishers desired for their magazine and performing as exemplary actors of the (exceedingly capitalist) urban scene.

The dressmakers display for the camera a literate and urbane consumer. Despite their perceived lower-class status, the caption describes them as “primped and pretty” to emphasize how they are not out of place in the modern and luxurious Gran Vía. Such a characterization underscores their ability to represent a 1920s’ woman ideal, which is significant because it goes against the traditional stereotype of Madrid’s modistillas. In the public’s imagination, the typical Madrid dressmaker was a young, candid, flirtatious, and uneducated girl. Dressmakers, a majority female workforce, became set within the urban imaginary since the 1840s. During this time, the rise of the bourgeois class led to the textile industry’s expansion and a greater number of buyers. It was then that the number of dressmakers increased in Madrid and the modistilla became a set conventional type. The stereotype was further popularized by the frequent inclusion of dressmakers in musical revues throughout the nineteenth century.[23]

But the Estampa centerfold revises the dressmaker type. Some women appear to be reading, although we cannot confirm if they indeed read. Nevertheless, they indicate familiarity with magazines and a degree of literacy. Moreover, they all walk confidently through the cosmopolitan Gran Vía. Rather than coarse working-class women, these dignified modistillas have moved a step toward sophistication. Even the border illustrations underscore the women’s fashionable flair. The four decorative drawings of women are extra-sleek examples of the photographed dressmakers. The slender body type, tight-fitting fur-trimmed coats, and stylish haircuts exaggerate the features of the real women of the photograph. As the frame to the photograph, the invitation to comparison is clear, as some of the women share the à la garçon haircut and wear a looser-fitting version of the knee-length coat. Thus, the real dressmakers pictured partake in the beneficial modernizing effects that critics foresaw for the whole of Madrid with the construction of the Gran Vía.

Tradition and Modernity

The centerfold’s juxtaposition of image and caption acts as an attempt to infuse local tradition to the site’s modernity. The wide sidewalks and the store’s glass display that marked the Gran Vía and Madrid as modern also fueled the critiques that admonished the street as lacking in local history. But together, the text and photograph align the modern urban features with the castizo, or traditional, thanks to the widely-recognized dressmaker type typical in Madrid. The modistillas’ regional character underscores the continuity of the city’s past to offset the frequent criticisms that portrayed the Gran Vía as the site of encroaching cosmopolitanism. The centerfold assigns the dressmakers a new role as the purveyors of localism within an urban environment threatened by modernity’s standardization. Their presence imparts folkloric authenticity upon the modern street that was negatively referred to as the site of “Americanization” or reminiscent of the streets of New York City.[24]

The centerfold’s reference to local Madrid tradition within the modernizing urbanscape exemplifies a widespread ambivalence toward both modernity and tradition that configured much of Madrid’s early twentieth-century visual culture. The Estampa centerfold is one among many examples that spotlighted the co-existence between the old and new in Madrid. In popular magazines, modernity and tradition often appeared performing in concert. The impact of recognizable developments of modernity was attenuated by having them appear subsumed within the features of a traditional Madrid. Traditional types also endowed the new features of the city with local character to help compensate for modernity’s perceived shortcomings. For example, in the 1934 Ciudad magazine cover, the magazine that claimed to be the “magazine of Madrid for all of Spain,” a traditional horse carriage appears sharing the road with an automobile and a streetcar to underscore the coexistence of the new with the traditional (fig. 2). Although horse carriages were rapidly disappearing, the photograph strategically pictures them on the same plane, making them appear able to work side by side with the newer modes of transportation.[25] We see this again in an article of the weekly Nuevo Mundo. The photo-essay examines Madrid’s transformations and includes photographs taken with extreme angles that exaggerate the Gran Vía buildings’ modern architecture. In the captions, the writer domesticates these disruptive buildings by comparing them to traditional sites.[26] For example, the Telefónica building in the Gran Vía, the first skyscraper in Spain and the headquarters for the telecommunications company, is referred to as a “cement cathedral,” thus combining the traditional central site common to medieval European cities with the inexpensive material associated with modern constructions.

Photograph by Ángel Aracil, Ciudad, Madrid, January 23, 1935.
Fig. 2. Photograph by Ángel Aracil, Ciudad, Madrid, January 23, 1935. © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Returning to the centerfold, we may note how the group’s movement appears to evoke a sense of stability and continuity within the fast-moving and forward action of modernization. The co-existence of the new and traditional present in so many images portrayed a city where casticismo and modernity could function alongside each other. The visual culture of periodicals goes against journalists’ critiques and the predictions that described Madrid as doomed to lose its character. Instead, the presence of the modistillas in the centerfold exemplifies the persistence of traditional Madrid. Rather than a break with the past, the dressmakers represent continuity of madrileño character, polished and updated to cohere with the modernizing city. Thus, despite the expectations that the construction of the Gran Vía would signify the immediate implementation of a proper modernity, it seemed that parallel to the young women’s tempo, the avenue induced change at a casual and comfortable pace.

Physical Overflow

The centerfold spotlights a coordinated, if not strictly organized, group that traverses the center of their city. But some members of the group spill over from the sidewalk to the street, ignoring pedestrian rules and invading the road. In doing so, they demonstrate an ongoing issue of disordered pedestrian behavior that defied the demands of the modern metropolis. When the Gran Vía opened, madrileños acted within it as they had customarily acted on other streets. Instead of following the pedestrian transit rules, the group walks on an area exclusive to cars and makes the city accommodate its needs. Such behavior was not uncommon in 1920s Madrid because customarily madrileños walked on the streets and would only step onto the narrow sidewalks to access a door. However, unlike the city streets of previous centuries, the Gran Vía was the first street designed for automobile transit and accordingly, its sidewalk was designed to be seven meters wide to permit for heavy pedestrian traffic (Baker, Madrid cosmopolita, 171).

The indiscriminate use of the street as an extension of the sidewalk, as in the centerfold, spoke to the growing necessity to modernize citizens’ behavior to correspond with a modernizing Madrid. During the 1920s and 1930s, the popular press instructed pedestrians to observe the regulations of the city. Madrid’s vehicular traffic had grown exponentially and compelled a writer in 1930 to demand traffic control commensurate with the new traffic standards. The same article included complaints about the city’s inadequate number of officers whose job was precisely to help the city run smoothly.[27] In 1932, an urban transit congress was appointed to discuss remedies to these problems. A newspaper announced the event with the headline, “Do you know how to walk on the street?,” and proceeded to explain the currency of the traffic issue because, “twenty years ago Madrid had the psychological makeup of a village, a large village, but a village nonetheless.”[28] Perhaps most pointed and comical was the 1934 cartoon “Dawn in the Gran Vía or Exit of the Sunday Excursionists” mocking the continuing disorder and the anarchical behavior of Madrid’s citizens (fig. 3). That such behavior continued to be portrayed in 1934 demonstrated the continuing relevance of educating transit-minded populations along with the difficulties of adjusting citizens’ ingrained behavior to have it adapt to the city’s unprecedented growth.

Antonio Bellón, “La Gran Vía de madrugada o la salida de los excursionistas domingueros”
Fig. 3. Antonio Bellón, “La Gran Vía de madrugada o la salida de los excursionistas domingueros” (“Dawn in the Gran Vía or Exit of the Sunday Excursionists”), Crónica, Madrid, May 20, 1934. © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España.

The actions pictured in the centerfold corroborate the criticisms describing locals as stuck in tradition and unable to advance alongside the speed of Madrid’s development. Under this light, the picture of the dressmakers and their followers is no longer entirely positive. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the image can be perceived as indulging or perhaps even promoting a type of behavior that had to change for Madrid to be modern. The Gran Vía had been projected for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic and, more importantly, to compensate for the failures of the past with its areas of organic urban development. The avenue induced progress but it also set new demands for citizens. If, as the anonymous journalist from 1924 had foreseen, there had been any renovation of traditional behavior with the construction of the Gran Vía, the centerfold demonstrates that new ways of acting had not permeated through all of the conventional communal attitudes.[29] For Madrid to exhibit progress, citizens needed to be educated in civic behavior appropriate to the modern metropolis. Streamlined functionality, order, and control would ensure that Madrid not only looked like a modern city, but that it would be perceived as such.

Thus, in the face of outdated modes of acting in the city, it was necessary to implement control and supervision. Along with an urban visual culture that emphasized the skyscrapers, traffic, and movement, it is not surprising that new figures of authority also appeared. Specifically, the traffic guard became an emblem of modernity because he fulfilled the much-needed role of ordering the city. The editorial board declared in the first issue of Ciudad magazine an intent to focus solely on the positive aspects of Madrid and Spain. Given this editorial aim, it is significant that throughout the magazine’s run there was a constant reference to traffic officers. The emphatic repetition of the traffic guard figure could imply that urban authorities played an important role in the city’s progress. Its debut cover showed the Gran Vía’s art-deco Carrión building peeking out from behind a crossing guard who is himself dwarfed by the size of a traffic light (fig. 4). The image summarily depicts Madrid’s modernity as aesthetically pleasing and ordered by necessary authority. The photograph’s tilted perspective recalls movement while the camera’s low-on-the-ground position gives a sense of enormity to the subjects and underscores the guard’s importance and authority.

Photograph by Ángel Aracil, Ciudad, Madrid, December 26, 1934.
Fig. 4. Photograph by Ángel Aracil, Ciudad, Madrid, December 26, 1934. © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Photographs with tilted perspective, like the Ciudad cover, proliferated in the press as they helped accentuate each new building’s most notable characteristic: its height. And it was their vertical scale that further extended the constructions’ power and implied capacity for supervision and control. A 1930 article in Crónica notes that aerial views of Madrid exploded in the press and had become an inevitable trope in the city’s portrayal.[30] More telling, however, is how, for the author, these buildings meant that new Madrid could look down on old Madrid because from the “enormous buildings . . . the city has no secrets” (A. R., “El Madrid que se espiga,” n.p.).[31] In the article the dominating skyscrapers are even called “guardias de la porra,” a colloquial term that designated municipal policemen who carried a bludgeon stick (the porra). The comparison seems fitting and once more reiterates the priority of keeping order in the streets, be that from the ground or from above.

The ability to look at the city from new perspectives was exciting, and supervision itself, be that by traffic guards or from above, acquired modern connotations as well. A 1929 photograph of King Alfonso XIII looking down on Madrid from the Teléfonica skyscraper embraces both the gratifying new perspectives and the symbolic connotations of the elevated heights (fig. 5). The King, dressed as a modern gentleman, gazes out, beholding a totalizing view of the capital city. Unsurprisingly, this photograph was part of the telephone company’s propaganda campaign to promote its modernizing activities throughout Spain. It is a powerful example of modernity, whereby a gentleman king, atop the country’s first skyscraper, looks down authoritatively into his newly-reorganized capital’s center.[32] The image effectively communicates that the King is the state’s power, able to oversee his people. From the top of the Telefónica, he may have seen the capital as an abstracted design that elided the disorder that was pictured in the Estampa centerfold, caricatured in cartoons, and criticized in the articles complaining about pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Luis Ramón Marín, King Alfonso XIII on Telefónica building roof in the Gran Vía, Madrid, 1929
Fig. 5. Luis Ramón Marín, King Alfonso XIII on Telefónica building roof in the Gran Vía, Madrid, Madrid, 1929. © Colección Telefónica.

Symbolic Overflow

Metropolitan order in the streets remained an aspiration throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, and within this capacity the centerfold also reveals a related debate surrounding the concern for symbolic boundaries. The actions pictured in Estampa not only break the rules of traffic, but also with previously established rules of spatial politics. The photograph depicts the overflow from the urban areas, where working class types were expected, into the Gran Vía, a luxurious new street where they were not. The nineteenth-century urban renovations and expansions had been clean, organized, modern, and designed to exclusively address the interests of the upper classes. Bourgeois and aristocratic classes abandoned the city center they had historically shared with the working classes for newly constructed areas, frequenting the center now only to work or shop (Baker, Madrid cosmopolita, 56). After centuries of co-habitation, the move of the well-borne classes to the newly parceled territories meant the effective spatial differentiation and separation of the social hierarchies.[33] As for the working classes, at best they continued living in the benighted historical area, at worst they were displaced to outskirts that lacked satisfactory sanitary and transportation infrastructures (Baker, Madrid cosmopolita, 65).

But among the many planned upper-class areas, the Gran Vía was exceptional. Because it lacked a history, the avenue was a blank slate on which to assert meaning. It was the site that most easily allowed for the working classes to partake in the city’s progress. The avenue’s geographic location implied a shift in urban dynamics because it was constructed over an area previously populated by the working classes.[34] And behind the new buildings and refined commercial spaces of the Gran Vía, the impoverished and unsanitary streets remained. Ilya Ehrenburg, a Russian tourist in Madrid in 1931, found the Gran Vía to be a “wide and open avenue; however, to the right and left slits open, brimming with dark courtyards, resounding with the meows of cats and creatures.”[35] The zone continued to house the scores of people that had not been evicted, making the fresh constructions merely a curtain that concealed an ongoing disorder that threatened to seep into the Gran Vía.

Additionally, the criticisms regarding the Gran Vía’s disconnection from tradition or local character helped advance the site’s accessibility for the different social classes. The Gran Vía lacked the tacit social rules that governed traditional promenades or bourgeois residential areas and was available for use by the working classes.[36] This openness was essential to the street’s success as the site of capitalist spectacle. Despite the avenue’s businesses catering to the affluent classes, the Gran Vía’s artistic store displays appealed to pedestrians and were advertised in magazines of the 1920s and 1930s as urban sights.[37] Periodicals veiled this activity in culture, asserting that storefronts were a new art that aided in cultivating aesthetic taste. Consequently, readers were alerted that window shopping was an attraction that was not exclusive to those who could afford to purchase the goods on exhibit. Thus, strolling along the Gran Vía presupposed participating in a culture of sightseeing and display. The dressmakers in the centerfold fully participate in the Gran Vía’s commodified culture of spectacle: they walk along the shop windows both as potential consumers and as a sight for pedestrians and for readers of the magazine. The dressmakers’ presence signals the broadening possibility of commodifying spectacle to also include the tradition and local history they represented.

The accessibility of the commercial Gran Vía lends evidence to philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s argument about the modern city.[38] Although Ortega y Gasset celebrated the city as a place capable of channeling individuals’ participation in society, he warned that the twentieth century metropolis had transformed social and political relations. Cities were increasingly becoming places of urban agglomeration. Indeed, despite Ortega y Gasset’s interest in Spain’s modernization, his writings indicate a rather foreboding view of the rise of the working classes, what he called the “mass-man.” The growing working-class population in urban centers presaged their involvement in political action, a role that according to Ortega y Gasset had been rightly limited in the past to the educated classes (La rebelión de las masas, 96–97). What the centerfold implicitly promoted was working-class access to symbolic sites like the Gran Vía and thus brings to the surface the pressing questions about the social and political destabilization wrought by modernity. The metropolitan transformations of the 1920s and 1930s had not only resulted in the physical expansion and renovation of Madrid, they also anticipated political frictions and changes in social class structures that would later help justify the necessity of the Spanish Civil War.

In strictly political terms, it was the 1931 democratic election that resulted in the forced abdication of the King and the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic. The resulting new republican constitution protected and expanded the rights of all Spanish citizens. Its proclamation of universal suffrage ensured that the working classes would be able to exert greater political influence. For a host of conservative voices, the progressive republic represented the beginning of the “plebeian-ization” of the capital.[39] The term denotes the capital’s decline as brought on by a proletariat class that no longer respected the established spatial boundaries of different social categories and relates this change to a growing political discord.

For conservative novelist Agustín de Foxá, dressmakers exemplified the “plebeian” influence that so degraded Madrid’s condition.[40] His 1938 novel, Madrid de Corte a checa is considered a fascist narrative, explaining the necessity behind the military uprising that initiated the Spanish Civil War.[41] The book takes Ortega y Gasset’s fears of urban agglomeration further, as Republican-era Madrid is portrayed as a city overrun by the masses. In the narrative, modistillas are identified as part of the lower classes whose presence brought about the decay of Madrid. Dressmakers epitomized disorder: in the book they carouse with students, drink with sailors, chant, and sing. As for the area of Madrid where they convene, it is described as “the north American coast of the city, pounded by the native racket of students and modistillas of San Bernardo street.”[42]

In the centerfold, the women’s appearance in the avenue designed to represent modernization and progress announces the growing power of the masses. These dressmakers represented a growing force: they constituted the majority of the textile industry’s workers and accounted for an enormous segment of the city’s laboring class and the urban economy (Núñez Orgaz, “‘Las modistillas’ de Madrid,” 436).[43] By 1905, dressmakers accounted for over 23,000 workers of the city’s nearly 600,000 inhabitants. Moreover, while the centerfold’s caption description of the modistillas as the “joy” of Madrid would have us surmise that they were viewed as a positive energy in the city, the dressmakers’ stereotype also characterized them as rather licentious women. Even the colloquial term “modistillas,” as the Spanish diminutive of modista, derides the women’s occupation as ordinary, even inferior. Knowing the negative attributes applied to Madrid’s dressmakers, Estampa’s good-humored caption suddenly appears incongruous.

The pejorative connotations reflect the women’s reputation, as their easy-going nature is weighed down with the notoriety of their supposedly loose morals. To clarify their characterization, consider the following advice published as early as 1873 within a Madrid visitor’s guide: it advises a man who wishes to enjoy the love of a modistilla to use the phrase “I’d eat you up” rather than to compliment her beauty, because from the author’s experience, the more lewd phrase was more successful.[44] The author describes dressmakers as companions to men of questionable social standing (often students and military cadets) and open to any male who flattered them (Matoses, “La hora de las modistas,” 341, 348). The sexualized stereotype persisted well into the 1920s, as demonstrated by a 1928 illustrated story from the magazine Blanco y Negro.[45] The short story entitled “El tenorio y la modista” (“The Tenorio and the Dressmaker”) was accompanied by a cartoon depicting a curvy woman, who appears to pay little attention to the man following her closely (fig. 6). The male’s name in the story is Pepe, but the title references the classic womanizing Don Juan Tenorio character because of his passionate pursuit of a dressmaker. The fictional narrative tells of Pepe’s romantic pursuit of the dressmaker and takes place “far away from Velázquez street,” a street in the aristocratic Salamanca neighborhood.[46] As the story develops, the man prevails over the dressmaker who almost falls for his wiles. That is, until Pepe’s wife catches the adulterous flirtation. The narrative’s connotations are twofold: such an upper-class street would not be the site for this vulgar incident and dressmakers are easily seduced.

K-hito (Ricardo García), El tenorio y la modista o los hay que se pierden de vista
Fig. 6. K-hito (Ricardo García), El tenorio y la modista o los hay que se pierden de vista (The tenorio and the dressmaker, or there’s those among us that lose sight) ink, pencil, and watercolor on paper, Blanco y Negro, Madrid, November 18, 1928. © ABC Collection.

Their low economic status along with their reputation as loose women ascribed the dressmakers to impoverished areas like those depicted by de Foxá. Thus, the centerfold celebrates their displacement from the areas where they were expected to be seen. The image is a stark contrast to typical narratives where they were relegated to the non-gentrified or under-supervised areas of Madrid, primarily the Puerta del Sol. Despite its historical significance, the Puerta del Sol continued to be overcrowded and unsanitary. Because of its central location and history, it remained the point of convergence for the city’s population. Other than in the Puerta del Sol, throughout the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century, dressmakers were also frequently found in the outdoor dances and fairs that took place in the disorganized outskirts of Madrid.[47] These summer fairs or verbenas, much like dressmakers themselves, were traditional to Madrid. However, the end of the nineteenth century had marked the decline of these fairs as they transformed into a lower-class affair that modistillas reportedly attended because of the lax supervision at the events. Such a relaxed atmosphere was said to attract these women because there they could flirt openly in hopes of finding male companions.[48] Indeed, such clandestine activities may have been imperative to modistillas’ survival since the low wages in the textile industry forced some to resort to male attachments or prostitution simply to make ends meet.[49] The joyful and exuberant characterization of dressmakers in popular culture papered over their real socio-economic problems.[50]

Although the Estampa photograph shows the dressmakers in a central modern site, it retains a nod to their traditional context within the city. The modistillas walk along a storefront that displays a customary element typically seen in verbenas: the mantón de manila, a type of embroidered silk shawl. Although the rest of the goods the store offers are obscured by the chosen angle, we can clearly see the large draping fabric of the shawl, easily recognizable because of its long decorative fringe. By the 1920s, the lively mantón was one of the last remaining elements of the local folkloric costume, and it was almost solely seen during summer fair celebrations that the modistillas attended.[51] Perhaps unintentionally, this visual connection evokes how the dressmakers’ flirtatious image might have persisted despite their displacement from the festival areas to the commercial Gran Vía and signals the continuing resistance to a complete transformation of the dressmakers’ conventional stereotype.


If the Gran Vía was built to compensate for or shroud the city’s chaos, it failed. As the most significant urban transformation of Madrid during the twentieth-century, the Gran Vía was an exceptional project that allowed for the working classes to assert a new role in the city. This 1928 centerfold arguably recognizes the modistillas’ claim over the central Gran Vía and marks a change in terms of the areas where they were expected to congregate. Moreover, the image denotes the unstable nature of the dressmakers’ typification. In the avenue, they were simultaneously the harbingers of the modern woman and symbols of perseverance of local character while also personifying the underlying danger of the uncontrollable popular or working classes in the modern metropolis. The centerfold of women traversing the Gran Vía registers a working class no longer constrained by the tacit rules of tradition. The dressmakers move freely outside of the under-supervised areas or the spaces of accepted class confluence. The women stand in for the great number of workers that could possibly overrun the city. Adding to the assumed danger, their actions are also imaged as infectious. The men trail behind the women seemingly caught up in their course and recalling the Blanco y Negro illustration where the man follows a modista. As a result, the centerfold’s women not only flaunt their supposed independence, they also appear to contribute to men’s breaking of social norms and spatial boundaries since it was understood that men pursued dressmakers wherever they went. If the working-class women symbolized modernity, they also represented the capacity for subversive power.

A close analysis of the centerfold photograph suggests that the dissolution of spatial control that conservatives linked to the politics of Republican Madrid should also be connected to Madrid’s modernization. The centerfold signals that disorder claimed its place in Madrid as early as 1928 when the monarchy ruled alongside the Dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera. Thus, the image demonstrates how the traditional ruling classes had already lost a great degree of power before the installation of the Republican government. A decade before de Foxá described the “plebeian-ization” of Madrid, the photographed modistas and the accompanying men correspond to his concerns of the masses taking over the city. That they spill out from sidewalk to the street only calls more attention for the need to rein in those perceived to be of lower-class status. The centerfold depicted a harmless diversion in the context of 1928. But during the polarized climate of the Second Republic, the picture represented the fears of the upper classes who no longer felt capable of asserting power and control in the city. The centerfold demonstrates that the issue of spatial democratization (or “plebeian-ization”) was not solely tied to a political regime change but also—and equally if not more significantly—to the modernizing processes that had altered the social rules of Madrid.

Alfonso Sánchez García, Un grupo de modistillas con bandera republicana desfilando por delante del palacio dando aire a sus cantos
Fig. 7. Alfonso Sánchez García, Un grupo de modistillas con bandera republicana desfilando por delante del palacio dando aire a sus cantos (A group of dressmakers with the Republican flag walking in front of the palace chanting), Madrid, April 14, 1931. © ABC Collection.

To conclude, let us compare the 1928 centerfold to a 1931 photograph taken by Alfonso Sánchez García. Once more, dressmakers are at the center. This time they appear marching to support the Republic before the Royal Palace of Madrid (fig. 7). Taken on the day of the momentous election where voters chose to make Spain a republic, the powerful photograph portrays the working-class women marching in front of the King’s residence: it is an image of the newly emboldened masses. As in the centerfold, the modistillas act in an urban zone that is highly symbolic, but one in which their presence would be atypical. Again, they walk in unison, their arms linked in a display of collective strength. One might propose that this photograph implies the women’s nascent feminism. The photographed working-class women, who were patently ignored in the nineteenth-century development of feminist discourse in Spain, manifest their desire to participate in public life (Scanlon, La polémica feminista, 64). Nevertheless, historicizing this image is challenging, as the extent of women’s activity and their role in labor movements and strikes continues to be unclear. Yet it is undeniable that in their collective action they show conviction that progress will follow under a new government (Scanlon, La polémica feminista, 235).[52] The few men present do not appear to be leading the march, yet their show of support was essential: women’s suffrage came with the new republican constitution, so these politically-active women were not able to vote for the Republican cause. This 1931 photograph confirms the increasing accessibility to urban spaces brought about by Madrid’s modernization, an opportunity that can be traced back to how the Gran Vía compelled new forms of acting in the center of the city. Estampa’s centerfold photograph captured modernity’s elusive promise of equal access for all, but especially for working women. In a way, the Estampa centerfold publicly legitimized the working-class women’s claim for a new role in their metropolis. In 1931, the dressmakers marching no longer merely attracted attention, they demanded it; what the centerfold suggested, this photograph proclaims.


I am grateful to Adele Nelson, Jordana Mendelson, Joseph Larnerd, Therese Dolan, and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback and bibliographic suggestions.

[1] Anonymous, Estampa, February 21, 1928, n.p.

[2] Scholars have begun to study the impact of mass periodical culture in early twentieth century Spain. Nevertheless, studies thus far focus on literary culture. By incorporating analyses of visual culture into periodical studies, we will better understand the emergence and influence of kiosk literature. See Kiosk Literature of Silver Age Spain: Modernity and Mass Culture, ed. Jeffrey Zamostny and Susan Larson (Chicago, IL: Intellect/University of Chicago Press, 2017).

[3] Jeffrey Zamostny, “Kiosk Literature and the Enduring Ephemeral,” in Kiosk Literature of Silver Age Spain, 1–27, 4.

[4] Evelyne López Campillo, “La escuela y la enseñanza,” in Los felices años veinte: España, crisis y modernidad, ed. Carlos Serrano and Serge Salaün (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2006), 91–111, 91.

[5] For more information regarding the literacy rates of Spain, see Clara Eugenia Núñez, “Educación,” in Estadísticas históricas de España: Siglos XIXXX, ed. Albert Carreras and Xavier Tafunell (Bilbao: Fundación BBVA, 2005), 1:155–244, 1:230.

[6] Borja Carballo Barral, “El ‘Madrid burgués’: el ensanche Este de la capital, (1860–1931)” (PhD diss., Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2014), 624. Carballo Barral references the earnings of artisans or skilled workers dwelling in the nineteenth-century expansions of Madrid. In 1930, the daily salary for men averaged to 7.88 pesetas. Among the highest earners were tailors. Women in the textile industry, despite also forming part of the skilled labor sector, earned an average of 3.62 pesetas a day. For reference, a kilogram of bread would have cost 65 céntimos (100 céntimos make one peseta) in Madrid from 1926–31. See Pedro Villa, “El precio del pan en la Restauración 1875–1931,” in La sociedad madrileña durante la Restauración, 1876–1931, ed. Ángel Bahamonde Magro and Luis Enrique Otero Carvajal (Madrid: Comunidad de Madrid-Alfoz-UCM, 1989), 1:479–88, 1:481.

[7] Estampa folded in 1938, two years into the conflict (introduction to Digital Collection of Estampa, Biblioteca Nacional de España); Margherita Bernard, “Moda y modernidad en las crónicas de Magda Donato,” in Nuevos modelos: Cultura, moda y literatura (España 19001939), ed. Margherita Bernard and Ivana Rota (Bergamo: Bergamo University Press, 2012), 33–56, 33–34.

[8] Glenn Adamson, “The Case of the Missing Footstool: Reading the Absent Object,” in History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, ed. Karen Harvey (New York: Routledge, 2009), 192–205, 205.

[9] The analysis can also be understood as following James J. Gibson’s “theory of affordances,” as it explores the multivalent interpretative possibilities of objects and images. See James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986), 127–37. For more on how the theory is applied in cultural studies, see Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015).

[10]Estampa es la revista de todos y para todos. Vean ustedes lo que ocurre en las calles de Madrid los martes, día en que aparece Estampa. No hay madrileña ni madrileño que no lleven consigo un ejemplar . . . . Se ve Estampa en manos de las damas y de las mujeres del pueblo: en manos de los ‘pollos bien’ y de los muchachos obreros; en manos de los niños y de los ancianos. Pero quizá sean las modistillas—alegría y gracia de Madrid—las lectoras más entusiastas de Estampa. . . El martes, en la Gran Vía, en la calle de Alcalá, en la Puerta del Sol, en Recoletos, las muchachas reidoras y bonitas van, cada cual con su Estampa, comentando . . . y afirmando con su interés el éxito de la revista.” All English translations are mine unless otherwise noted.

[11] Among these projects the most significant are the Plan de Castro expansion and the renovation of the Puerta del Sol and Callao. See Pedro Navascués Palacio and José Ramón Alonso Pereira, La Gran Vía de Madrid (Madrid: Ediciones Encuentro, 2002), 24; Javier García-Gutiérrez Mosteiro, “Del Madrid isabelino al de la Restauración: arquitectura y espacio urbano,” in Arquitectura y espacio urbano de Madrid en el siglo XIX (Madrid: Ayuntamiento de Madrid and Museo de Historia de Madrid, 2008), 38–55.

[12] The uneven modernization of Madrid is rooted in project flaws, misunderstanding of capital flow, and abrupt changes in government during this period. The monarchical restoration following the First Republic, and the subsequent dictatorship, Second Republic, and Civil War, all necessarily affected any plans that required long-term administrative commitment. For more on this, see Susan Larson, Constructing and Resisting Modernity: Madrid 1900–1936 (Madrid: Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2011), 45–57.

[13] Edward Baker, Madrid cosmopolita, La Gran Vía: 19101936 (Madrid: Marcial Pons and Villaverde Editores, 2009), 11; Raúl Guerra Garrido, “Los cien años y nombres de la Gran Vía,” Gran Vía 19102010 (Madrid: Ayuntamiento de Madrid, 2010), 15–49, 18.

[14] The final segment that united the center with the western expansion of the city was only considered complete in 1950. See J. R. Alonso Pereira, “En torno a la Gran Vía,” Villa de Madrid 18, no. 69 (1980): 19–28, 25.

[15] Anonymous, “El nuevo Madrid y su Gran Vía. Un viejo barrio que desparece,” La Esfera, May 14, 1927, 18–19, 18. “Madrid se va . . . La vieja lamentación se repite . . . en las columnas del periódico, en el cuplé de la cancionista . . . Y en esta frase ponen los madrileñistas una emoción triste, un lamento hondo . . . . De todo ello, borrado, destrozado, surge la nueva Gran Vía.”

[16] Francisco Arimón Blanco, “Un barrio que muere,” La Esfera, November 29, 1924, 30. “y la Gran Vía . . . parece prometer también una renovación de costumbres.”

[17] La “Gran Vía” (Madrid: Government Report, 1920), 17.

[18] Luis Fernández Cifuentes, “The City as Stage: Rebuilding the Metropolis after the Colonial Wars,” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 3 (1999): 105–27, 120.

[19] Deborah L. Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City, and Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 43.

[20] Lou Charnon-Deutsch, Fictions of the Feminine in the Nineteenth Century Spanish Press (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 133.

[21] Geraldine M. Scanlon, La polémica feminista en la España contemporánea, 18681974 (Madrid: Akal, 1986), 84. See also endnote 6 in this article. The wages of dressmakers varied across Spain. According to historian Geraldine Scanlon, in 1920 the different types of dressmakers (for example, those specialized in making ties or those who worked in a tailor’s shop) could earn from one to three pesetas for a day’s work. Scanlon contextualizes these earnings with the 1920 weekly minimum expenditures per person of 16.48 pesetas (84).

[22] Juan de Gredos, “Lo que piensan las modistillas de sus amigos los estudiantes,” Estampa, January 31, 1928, 33–34. The journalist presents the dressmakers as typical characters of Madrid, comparing them to the role that famous midinettes, or Belle Époque seamstresses and clothing-shop workers, played in France before World War I.

[23] Adela Núñez Orgaz, “‘Las modistillas’ de Madrid, tradición y realidad, 1884–1920,” in La sociedad madrileña durante la Restauración, 1876–1931, 2:435–50, 436. The stereotype is reprised in Antonio Casero’s book Estudiantes y modistillas (Madrid: Los Contemporáneos, 1926). The book was so popular that it was turned into a movie (directed by A. Cabero) of the same title in 1927. For an analysis of the reception of the film as exhibiting local Madrid culture, see Marta García Carrión, Por un cine patrio: Cultura cinematográfica y nacionalismo español (19261936) (València: Universitat de València, 2013), 190–91.

[24] See Anonymous, “El primer ‘bar’ americano: Pidoux,” La Esfera, September 30, 1922, n.p.; Anonymous, “El nuevo Madrid y su Gran Vía,” 18; Ramón Gómez de la Serna, “Nueva teoría de Madrid,” El Sol, February 23, 1928, 5.

[25] Rafael Marquina, “La tracción urbana, 1920–1935,” Diario de Madrid, 3.

[26] B. S., “De cómo van transformándose, pese a las lamentaciones de los últimos castizos, las grandes ciudades,” Nuevo Mundo, March 13, 1931, n.p.

[27] E. de A., “El tráfico en las calles de Madrid,” Crónica, May 18, 1930, n.p.

[28] A. Soto and Francisco Madrid, “¿Sabe usted andar por la calle?,” Ahora, diario gráfico, January 8, 1933, 15, 17–18. “Hace unos veinte años tenia una psicología de pueblo, pueblo grande, agradable, simpático, de vida apacible y acogedora, pero pueblo al fin. Ahora es una ciudad en toda la extensión de la palabra. Esto se advierte en la circulación más que en ningún otro aspecto de la vida ciudadana . . . es preciso educar a conductores y peatones” (15).

[29] See endnote 16.

[30] A. R., “El Madrid que se espiga; que se pone en puntillas á coger estrellas,” Crónica, February 23, 1930, n.p.

[31] “Edificios enormes, en fin, para los que la ciudad no tiene secretos, porque las calles se ofrecen íntegras.”

[32] For more on the Telefónica’s photographic propaganda project, see the exhibition catalog, Transformaciones, los años veinte en los archivos de la Telefónica, ed. Rafael Levenfeld and Valentín Vallhonrat (Madrid: Fundación Telefónica, 2005), exhibition catalog.

[33] Rubén Pallol Trigueros, “El Madrid moderno: Chamberí (el Ensanche Norte) símbolo de nacimiento de una nueva capital, 1860–1931” (PhD diss., Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2011), 57–63, 88–112.

[34] The parkways created during the nineteenth century played an important role in the development of the bourgeois class identity and culture. Because there were no labor laws until 1904, the working classes would rarely be found in these recreational spaces, marking these places as customarily reserved for use by the upper classes. See Jorge Uría, “Lugares para el ocio. Espacio público y espacios recreativos en la Restauración española,” Historia Social 41 (2001): 89–111, 91–92.

[35] Ilya Ehrenburg, España, república de trabajadores (1932; rpt., Madrid: Editorial Melusina, 2008), 18. “Es una avenida amplia y larga; sin embargo, a diestra y siniestra se abren unas rendijas sórdidas cuajadas de patios oscuros, donde resuenan maullidos estridentes de los gatos y de las criaturas.”

[36] Larson describes the continuation of tacit spatial rules in the 1930s in Madrid’s traditional promenade in her analysis of the novel Cinematógrafo. See Larson, Constructing and Resisting Modernity, 159–71.

[37] For examples of press coverage publicizing store displays, see “Comercios artísticos de Madrid,” Ciudad, January 16, 1935, n.p.; “Concurso de Escaparates Iluminados,” Ahora, diario gráfico, April 21, 1932.

[38] José Ortega y Gasset, La rebelión de las masas (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2005).

[39] Juan Manuel Bonet, “Un libro nuevo,” prologue to Fernando Castillo Cáceres, Capital aborrecida, la aversión hacia Madrid en la literatura y la sociedad del 98 a la posguerra (Madrid: Editorial Polifemo, 2010), 11–16, 15.

[40] De Foxá was part (and writes from the perspective) of the fascist Falange party of Spain. Literary scholar Wadda C. Ríos-Font aligns the novel’s genre to that of the roman à thèse because its didactic tone presents a particular ideology as true (Wadda C. Ríos-Font, The Canon and the Archive: Configuring Literature in Modern Spain [Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2004], 129).

[41] According to the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, a “checa” is a term derived from the Soviet secret police. Ríos-Font summarizes how de Foxá used the term in his novel to refer to “improvised popular courts where suspected nationalists were summarily and (according to Foxá) arbitrarily judged, imprisoned, and executed” during the Spanish Civil War (The Canon and the Archive, 131).

[42] Agustín de Foxá, Madrid de Corte a checa (1938; rpt., Madrid: Editorial Prensa Española, 1962), 23. “Aquella esquina era la costa norteamericana de la ciudad, batida ya por el jaleo indígena de los estudiantes y las modistillas de la calle de San Bernardo.” Students and dressmakers were frequently connected. In the previously cited Estampa interview with dressmakers (de Gredos, “Lo que piensan las modistillas de sus amigos los estudiantes”) the women are asked about how they feel about their student boyfriends. Another example is in the enormous critical work of 1925 of literary critic Rafael Cansinos-Asséns. The book analyzed contemporary writing to define the current schools of Spanish literature. When describing the Madrid school, Cansinos Asséns asserts that its writers are known for embracing references to the modernization of the capital, such as the Gran Vía location. Significantly, he also describes that this literary depiction of Madrid is one of provincial students and dressmakers who fall in love with each other (Rafael Cansinos-Asséns, La Nueva Literatura [Madrid: Editorial Paéz, 1925], 166).

[43] I have not found the exact numbers of textile workers for the 1920s or 1930s.

[44] Manuel Matoses, “La hora de las modistas,” in Madrid por dentro y por fuera, Guía de forasteros incautos, ed. Eusebio Blasco (Madrid, Impresora Julián de Peña, 1873), 339–48.

[45] Note that Blanco y Negro is in a different category than the other magazines examined in this essay. Blanco y Negro stood out as an early adopter of the illustrated model. It ran from 1891–1939 and, despite the technological advancements of the period, it remained more expensive than the other publications. In 1928 it cost one peseta, more than triple what Estampa cost. For more on Blanco y Negro, see Lou Charnon-Deutsch, Hold that Pose: Visual Culture in the Late-Nineteenth-Century Spanish Periodical (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008), 83–108.

[46] Virgilio de Pascua, “El tenorio y la modista o los hay que se pierden de vista,” Blanco y Negro, November 18, 1928, n.p.

[47] Verbenas originally took place in the center of the city but were moved to the outskirts by the twentieth century because of the need for space for the fair kiosks and dance halls. See Pilar Folguera Crespo, “Las mujeres de la Comunidad de Madrid de la de la invisibilidad a la evidencia,” in El Madrid de las mujeres, avances hacia la visibilidad (18331931), ed. Valentina Fernández Vargas (Madrid: Comunidad de Madrid, 1989), 2:201–41, 2:223.

[48] Modistillas were frequently searching for boyfriends or lovers according to various sources. In 1873, the writer Manuel Matoses described the women’s destiny as either well-off, thanks to an astute marriage, or going hungry. This stereotypical dressmaker persists in José Gutiérrez Solana’s 1923 book. Literary scholar Isabel Román Román also references Cansinos-Asséns’s descriptions of writers who were known to attend verbenas to meet modistillas to date. See Matoses, “La hora de las modistas,” 364–65; José Gutiérrez Solana, Madrid callejero (1923; rpt., Madrid: Comunidad de Madrid and Editorial Castalia, 1995), 63–66, 157–74; Isabel Román Román, “Regeneracionismo y costumbrismo: Los nuevos Españoles pintados por sí mismos del semanario España,” Anales de la Literatura Española 26 (2014): 421–49, 435.

[49] See Núñez Orgaz, “‘Las modistillas’ de Madrid,” 439–40; Juan Carlos Sierra Gómez, El Madrid de Larra (Madrid: Sílex, 2008), 155. In 1927, a survey was conducted of 200 prostitutes undergoing treatment for venereal diseases in the San Juan de Dios hospital of Madrid. The survey asked about education and family, as well as the women’s main occupation. The great majority (54 percent) of the prostitutes were servants and the second highest percentage (18 percent) were dressmakers. The survey—though drawn from a small number of respondents—further details the situation of Madrid’s dressmakers (Pilar Folguera, Vida cotidiana en Madrid: primer tercio del siglo a través de las fuentes orales [Madrid: Comunidad de Madrid, 1987], 147).

[50] According to studies, dressmakers’ work was done mostly in small workshops, which was problematic as this compartmentalization did not bolster class-consciousness or unionizing efforts (Pilar Díaz Sánchez, “Del taller de costura a la fábrica,” Cuaderonos de Historia Contemporánea 21 [1999]: 279–94, 280).

[51] The mantón de manila or manila shawl became a symbol for the Andalusian and Spanish dress during the mid-nineteenth century. Susannah Worth’s dissertation includes images of a series of Spanish regional costume plates of the 1880s that highlight the shawl as the primary feature of the costumes of the Andalusian cities of Cordoba, Granada, and Seville, and importantly for this discussion, Madrid. The shawl earned lower-class implications from the 1850s to the 1880s. However, an important turn exists in the twentieth century when the shawl was brought back and celebrated for its folkloric significance and its use during traditional festivities. My research corroborates Worth’s work. Newspapers repeatedly published photographs of the manila shawls contests that took place during Madrid’s various verbena celebrations. The contests awarded first place to the woman wearing the most outstanding mantón de manila (Susannah Worth, “Andalusian Dress and the Andalusian Image of Spain: 1759–1936” [PhD diss., The Ohio State University, 1990], 108–12). For more on mantones de manila, see: Francisco Calvo Serraller, et al., El mantón de Manila: Exhibición en el Museo de la Ciudad de Madrid (Madrid: Fundación Loewe, 1999), exhibition catalog.

[52] Scanlon references some of the difficulties in ascertaining the role of women in workers’ strikes and the labor movement. Specifically, she explains how women helped organize protests in Andalusia but rarely became official members of socialist centers or clubs. The histories of leftist labor activities are difficult to study because much material was destroyed and lost during and after the Spanish Civil War. See José-Carlos Mainer, La doma de la Quimera: Ensayos sobre nacionalismo y cultura en España (Madrid: Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2004), 23–25.