Dressing for the Running of the Bulls: San Fermin Fashion

February 5, 2013
Alpine Living | Courtney Davies

Alpine Living | Courtney Davies
Jessica Ruffin, a UA senior majoring in public relations, models an outfit typically worn by attendees of the nine-day Festival of San Fermin.



The “Encierro” or Running of the Bulls is undoubtedly the highlight of the annual San Fermin fiesta in Pamplona, Spain. The festivities begin promptly at 8 a.m. at the Church of San Cernin. As the clock chimes 8 a.m., two rockets explode into the sky, signaling a herd of 12 bulls to charge down the street chasing a throng of festival-goers as they literally run for their lives. The participants in the Running of the Bulls proudly boast outfits of red and white, traditional colors symbolizing the contrasting ideals of love, lust and battle and peace and purity, respectively. Their goal? To make it 825 meters, or approximately half of a mile from the starting point of the corral in Calle Santo Domingo to the finish line of the bullring.

Thankfully, would-be runners may learn that the chances of being hit or gored by a bull in the Pamplona Bull Run is “relatively small,” according to the Bull Run Frequently Asked Questions website on pamplonabalconies.com.The down side would be that being hit results in injuries ranging from bruises to goring (the bull’s horn piercing the body) and death, the site explains. However, only 15 deaths have occurred since 1910, including one man who suffocated to death under a pile-up of runners, which the site cautions is the biggest danger for participants. Being trampled to death is another hazard due to the nature of the festival. Despite any potential dangers, the site states that anyone can participate in the run as long as they are older than 18, are not drunk, do not wear high heels, do not carry electronics such as video cameras, and do not stand in front of the start line at the beginning of the run.

This unique ritual began as a practical need to get the bulls to make their way into the bullring from outside the city, according to the informational site for Festival San Fermin 2013. However, it has evolved as an emotional celebration as people from all over come to pay homage to San Fermin, patron saint of Navarra. Before the Running of the Bulls, and in following with tradition, festival-goers raise rolled newspapers and chant to an image of San Fermin, according to the informational site. The runners and onlookers alike often repeat the following words at least three times before the event begins: “A San Fermin pedimos, por ser nuestro patron, nos guie en el encierro dandonos su bendicion.” (We ask San Fermin, being our patron saint, to guide us in the bull run and give us his blessing).

This year, San Fermin will occur July 6 to July 14, and the crowd will again be decked out in ensembles of red and white throughout the duration of this nine-day festival. No one is certain when festival participants began wearing red scarves, known in Spanish as “panuelos,” but the origin is religious. If a saint died a martyr’s death, priests would wear red in respect for the deceased. Festival participants honor the festival’s namesake, San Fermin, by wearing red scarves. Fermin served as Pamplona’s first bishop. As legend tells it, he was beheaded in France around 300 AD, dying a martyr’s death for preaching the gospel. Even after his death, supposedly a sweet aroma arose from his grave, causing snow to melt, flowers to grow, the sick to be cured and trees to be inclined toward his grave.

All-white clothing, however, is a newer tradition. Miguel Javier Urmeneta, Pamplona’s mayor during the 1960s, encouraged citizens to wear white and the new tradition spread throughout the city.

“[The all-white outfit] is the perfect exercise in simplicity and adaptable to every budget,” said travelcookeat.com blogger Marti Buckley Kilpatrick in an email interview. Kilpatrick lives in San Sebastian, located about 45 minutes from Pamplona. She said that wearing all white shows off how much fun a person has had at San Fermin. Wine and dirt stains translate to the amount that people have enjoyed the festival; thus dirtier clothing equals a more spirited experience. Ripped clothing can also tell a story at San Fermin,

“There are the people who walk around the city after the Running of the Bulls with torn clothing like a badge of honor,” said Noelle Nocera, who studied abroad in Pamplona in 2010 through Ramapo College of New Jersey. “Everyone is looking at the guy whose pants are ripped from a bull’s horn, and he’s proud of it.”

It’s recommended that tourists who happen to be visiting Pamplona during the festival  participate  by wearing a red and white outfit as well. Travel blogger Nicole Blake, an American now living in Berlin, participated in San Fermin in 2012. She said that even infants wear red and white for the festival. While it has become custom for the younger crowd to wear white t-shirts, casual pants and tennis shoes, older participants still opt for more traditional clothing like button-down shirts and trousers. Kilpatrick wore a white top and white shorts, dressing down for the summer like many of the other festival goers. She noted that some people wore more dressed-up versions of the outfit, choosing white linen.

“Almost every store had some kind of outfits there, and it was so exciting to see them during the weeks before the festival,” said Auburn University senior Michael Richard who studied abroad in Pamplona in 2011.

Alpine Living | Courtney DaviesThe traditional colors worn to the Festival of San Fermin symbolize the contrasting ideals of love, lust and battle and peace and purity, respectively.

Alpine Living | Courtney Davies
The traditional colors worn to the Festival of San Fermin symbolize the contrasting ideals of love, lust and battle and peace and purity, respectively.

Maitane Onrubia, concierge at pamplonabalconies.com, recommends buying a cheap and comfortable white outfit. She suggests Zara, Bershka, Stradivarios, Blanco and H&M for finding inexpensive white tops and pants on this website. Because the crowds of people from all over the world flock to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls, it’s recommended that visitors purchase their solid white outfits before traveling to Spain.

“Whether you’re running with the bulls or just enjoying the festivities, there’s a high chance of your clothes getting dirty or damaged,” she says on the website. “If you’re participating in all nine days of San Fermin, you will need multiple white outfits.”

Onrubia wrote that she tries to reuse pants when she can, but she had to purchase five pairs of pants for the 2012 festival.

Though some festival-goers choose comfort, others prefer for their San Fermin outfits to reflect personal style. When Blake and her fellow blogger friends attended the festival, they chose more trendy options. Blake wore an off-the-shoulder white top paired with matching white cropped pants. One of her friends wore a strapless white sundress with a corset top and ruffled bottom.  However, don’t opt for anything too dressy or uncomfortable, she recommends. San Fermin is an adrenaline-rushed, action-packed festival filled with bulls, tradition and alcohol.

“Imagine an entire city where the people are drinking sangria in the streets at 10am,” Nocera said.

As for the scarves, it is recommended to buy them in Pamplona. Onrubia recommends shopping along the streets of Estafeta, Mercaderes and Chapitela. Scarves are also available around Taconera Park, the Bull Ring and Menindades Square.

Though it is traditional to tie the scarf around your neck, some participants experiment with different locations. Onrubia ties the scarf around her wrist so she doesn’t lose it, while Blake wore hers as a belt, cinching her shirt in at the waist.

Adding a bit of history and culture to an outfit can make it unique. Onrubia wears her mother’s red wristband every year, adding a familial touch to her ensemble.

“After many years of wearing the one passed down to me by my mother, I noticed that the color has faded to pink from red after years of festival use,” she wrote.

Vintage festival scarves are also a popular and quirky addition to a San Fermin outfit. They’re available on sites like eCrater, selling for as low as $20.

Not all scarves are red, though. Theresa Osinga, the blogger behind The Rain in Spain, said that clubs, called peñas, organize activities during San Fermin and at other times of the year, and they wear scarves with personalized logos. Some scarves use the traditional red, but others use blue or green, depending on the group.

No matter the outfit, be it a breezy sundress or a tank top paired with running shorts, a red and white San Fermin outfit will represent bravery and dedication during the days of the festival. And if a vacation happens to end before the start of the festival? Purchase an outfit and take it home with plans to return to Pamplona during the next annual event, as Richard did. Although his study abroad program ended before the festival, he still purchased a red scarf in hopes of returning one day and running with the bulls.