Celebrating the Filipino heritage

A nation's pride

Celebrating the Filipino heritage

Any visitor to Philippines cannot miss the embroidered formal shirts the Filipino men wear. Called ‘Barong Tagalog’, these shirts are worn with pride by the locals on all formal occasions. It is even considered the national dress of this island nation. As with every other country, the national dress of Philippines is the result of the various cultural influences it has come under, predominantly that of the US, Spain and Japan, as also the lifestyle of its countrymen and the climatic conditions prevalent there.

 Designed out of thin, translucent fabric with heavy embroidery in traditional patterns, this long-sleeved garment looks like a shirt but is worn untucked over a regular shirt, generally a Chinese collarless shirt known as Camisa de Chino. While a Barong Tagalog, also known as Baro, can be designed out of various fabrics, the preferred ones are natural, mostly banana silk, also known as jusi fabric, banana fabric, and pina fabric, which is hand-woven from pineapple leaf fibres.

One distinctive feature of Barong Tagalog is that it can be worn by both men and women. While men pair it with trousers, women sport it with wrap-around skirts. According to locals, Barong Tagalog gained immense popularity when former president Ramon Magsaysay wore it for his swearing-in, as also to all the functions he attended. Even former president Cory Aquino, the first Filipino woman to hold that office, sported it on special occasions.

Today, not only is it worn on all special occasions, including weddings, but also as a formal wear in offices and educational institutions. This outfit owes its origin to the natives of Ma-I (as this island nation was known before the Spaniards rediscovered it), and to the Tagalogs who lived in the island of Luzon. Hence the name Barong Tagalog, which in Tagalog dialect only means a ‘Tagalog outfit’, or simply an outfit worn by people in the Tagalog region during the Spanish era.

In fact, the style of this outfit, and the accessories worn with it even indicated the social status of the person wearing it. Like, the well-to-do people wore it with leather shoes and bowler hats, while the rest wore it with ordinary shoes or slippers and hats. Over time, Barong Tagalog has undergone many changes in its style and design. Today, it is available in both long-sleeved and short-sleeved versions, while the designs of its embroidery range from geometric to floral to folk patterns. When it comes to embroidery too, several different versions are available.

The national costume of Filipino women is equally interesting. Known as Baro’t Saya, it is a nice combination of a long skirt and blouse, where the blouse is bell-sleeved, lacy, with rich embroidery. Tracing its history back to the Spanish era, this costume is worn by Filipino women for all special occasions.

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