Facha: a Spanish person whose political views place them on the hard-right of the political spectrum.
Chaleco: a garment, usually without sleeves, which is buttoned up and covers the torso, being worn over a shirt.
Few words contain as much sartorial and political significance as the wonderful compound noun fachaleco. My favourite word of 2019, it has been bandied about over the last 12 months as a mild insult laced with humour and class warfare, but its importance should not be underestimated.
The piece of clothing in question is a quilted, padded, sleeveless coat. In the milder months of the spring and autumn it is worn as a stand-alone, usually with a collared shirt and waxed hair; in the colder months the fachaleco is less prominent, being squeezed beneath a sports jacket or blazer.
The general theory is that it reflects a certain socio-economic status on the part of the wearer, who is usually – but not always – male. The fachalequero tends to be either well-paid or of old money. Moreover, he tends to lean to the right. This garment has been around for some time, gradually making inroads in Spanish society for several years. But I would argue that its arrival, el momento fachaleco, if you will, was February 10th, 2019, in Plaza de Colón in Madrid. There, tens of thousands of well-insulated, right-leaning Spaniards gathered to hear the leaders of the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox denounce Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez as a separatist-loving traitor of Spain.
It’s surely no coincidence that the rise of the fachaleco has mirrored that of Vox, with each sitting comfortably on the shoulders of well-heeled misogyny and Trumpian xenophobia.
In an excellent appraisal of the Spanish fachaleco in which she assesses its long cultural journey, via Marty McFly and the Spice Girls, journalist Carmen Mañana wrote: “The downy waistcoat says: ‘I don’t have anything against immigrants as long as they are honest and come here to work’, ‘I’m not a feminist, I believe in equality’ [and] ‘I don’t read any newspaper because they all lie’.”
Many see this is as new, visible evidence of the troubling division in Spanish society between left and right. But amid all the political chaos and polarisation that last year brought, there were encouraging signs. Mañana reports sightings of Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader, wearing a fachaleco. Also, Gabriel Rufián, spokesman for the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and bête noir for many Spanish constitutionalists, was seen sporting one.
Some have blithely labelled such use of the garment as yet another example of cultural appropriation. Is no totem of identity safe, they ask, comparing the wearing of this garment by those who are not proud right-wingers as akin to white kids wearing dreadlocks.
But I share the more optimistic view, which is that perhaps the fachaleco could hold the key to healing some of the damaging rifts in Spain. What if the leaders of Podemos wore purple fachalec@s as they raised their fists and sang the Internationale? It could be a statesmanlike stretch across the political divide reminiscent of the transition.
Let’s go a bit further: what if Carles Puigdemont, in his Belgian exile, staged a skype address to his followers in which he put on and zipped up a (yellow) fachaleco. Could such an empathetic move melt some of the frost in unionist hearts?
But, as we enter 2020, I worry about the fachaleco’s future. Like any item of clothing that has enjoyed a meteoric rise, it will be vulnerable to the fickle currents of fashion and perhaps, within a few months, it will have lost its cache altogether. More importantly, it could, along with coastal cities and glaciers, become a casualty of global warming.
So, next time you see a man with tasselled shoes, unnaturally groomed hair, a somewhat entitled air and a quilted waistcoast getting into a double-parked SUV, don’t judge. Instead, ponder all the social and political baggage that is stitched therein and remember that it may not be around that much longer.
This article was amended to include tasselled shoes and a double-parked SUV.