Philippine Traditional Dress Biography
President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who wore the Barong Tagalog with such impeccable grace and searing devotion, underscored its prestige when he issued in 1975 a decree proclaiming Barong Tagalog Week (June 5-11) and more significantly, officially designating the Barong Tagalog as “the national attire”. The presidential act was meant to focus nationwide attention on the Filipino national dress to promote its wider use and enhance its export potential.
As it is, both the wide use and export potential of the Barong Tagalog have been explored, its full impact just a matter of time. What deserves another look is the manner the Filipino national costume has evolved and grown, picking up and shedding features fashion-related or otherwise, it its journey from pre-Hispanic native wear to national dress.
But first, a few things have to be straightened out. Barong Tagalog is properly referred to as the Baro ng Tagalog (dress of Tagalog) and it cannot be contracted to simply Barong, one realizes, means “dress of”. If one wishes to shorten the phrase, then it would be Baro or “dress”. Yes, the Barong Tagalog is a dress, a garment, a coat in itself. It is not a “shirt”. If it were, then it would need a coat or jacket over it to qualify as formal wear and would have to be worn tucked inside the trousers.
The Earliest Baro
The earliest known fact on the Baro ng Tagalog discloses that the native of Ma-i (the Philippines as it was called before the Spaniards re-discovered the archipelago), and in particular, the Tagalogs, who lived in the island of Luzon, wore baro. The Tagalog males wore a sleeve-doublet of rough cotton cloth called canga, reaching slightly below the waist, collarless and with the opening in front.
Depending on their social rank and badge of courage, the doublet was either red, black, blue or white (red for the chiefs and brave men, black or white for the ordinary citizens). Their loins were covered with a sort of colored pagne called bahague which hung between the legs to mid-thigh. The Tagalog women also wore a sleeve-dress of the same color as the men’s although their clothing was shorter than the men’s. too they wore a cotton pagne attached to the waist and reaching to the feet but a colored belt accented the grace and suppleness of their figures.
Other historical sources describe the personal attire of the Tagalog men, presumably those of the upper crust, as made of fine linen or Indian muslin which barely reached the waist. It was a short loose jacket (chamarreta) without collar and fitted with short sleeves. For breeches or pants, they wore “a richly colored cloth, which was generally edged with gold, about the waist and brought up between the legs, so that the legs were decently covered to the middle of the thigh from there down; feet and legs were bare. Called saluales, they were also worn loose and wide and made of linen. These were not open in front, but fastened on one side.
The Maria Clara gown is a traditional gown worn by women in the Philippines. This Filipino dress takes its name from María Clara, the mestiza protagonist of the national epic Noli Me Tangere, penned in 1890 by Filipino national hero José Rizal. It has been connected to the Maria Clara character because of her traits: delicate, feminine, self-assured, and with a sense of identity. The Maria Clara outfit is the only Philippine national attire that is named after a literary figure.
The Maria Clara dress originated from the conventional baro't saya of early Filipino women. The baro't saya consists of a loose, long-sleeved blouse, which is then worn over a wide, ankle-length skirt.
Maria Clara Wedding Gown,circa.1986 The attire is composed of four pieces, namely the camisa, the saya, the pañuelo (a scarf, also spelled panuelo), and the tapis. The camisa is a collarless chemise whose hem is at the waist, and is made from flimsy, translucent fabrics such as pineapple fiber and jusi. The sleeves of the camisa are similar to the so-called "angel wings", or shaped like bells that have cuffs. The pañuelo is a stiff covering for the neck, which acts as an accent piece because of embellishments added to it. The purpose of the pañuelo is related to modesty, used to cover the low-necked camisa'. The saya is a skirt shaped like a bubble with a length that begins from the waist reaching the floor. These are usually comprised either of single or double sheets, called "panels" or dos panos (lit. "two panels/layers"); some examples are made out of seven gores or siete cuchillos (lit. "seven knives"). The tapis is a knee-length over-skirt that hugs the hips. Tapis designs may be plain, and is usually made of opaque fabrics such as muslin and the madras cloth, and also is used for the purposes of modesty as it keeps the lower torso from showing due to the thinness of the saya.
A more modern version of this dress is referred to as a "terno".
During the July 8, 2008 State of the Nation Address of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, she wore a “modernized Maria Clara gown”. The adaptation donned by the president came was fuchsia-pink, designed by JC Buendia. Created in three weeks, the fabric used for the presidential gown was a blend of pineapple fibers and silk and was developed by the Philippine Research Institute, an agency of the Department of Science and Technology of the Philippines. The six-yard fabric costing ₱ 3,000 was produced in the province of Misamis Oriental, processed in Manila, and woven in the province of Aklan. The cloth was then colored with a dye from the sabang, a native plant.
The purpose of the gown was to project the theme of the president's speech that was “The world-class capacity of Filipinos”, in addition to the values of self-reliance, environmental protection, helping the underprivileged, and tapping into the Philippines' “potential for catapulting into First World status”.
According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, this is the first time in Philippine history that the media office of the Malacañan Palace revealed details about a Filipino president's evening outfit that would be worn for a State of the Nation Address, although the president herself talked about the attire she wore in June 2008 during the 50th anniversary of the Department of Science and Technology. The aforementioned outfit was an old-rose-colored dress from pineapple fibers and dyed with materials originating from coconut husks.