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 A Fine Filipino Tradition

Useful Information

History of Barong Tagalog

Pineapple fabric was discovered in the early 18th century. This fabric is use to make shirts being worn by rich businessmen and politicians during that time. This fabric is made from the leaf of a wild pineapple which can be found only in the western part of the Visayan Island, Philippines. Fibers are painstakingly extracted from the leaf and made into threads. These sensitive threads are then patiently hand woven into a fine cloth by middle aged women using handmade bamboo equipment. The fabric’s width is 26 to 28 inches. A yard of Pineapple cloth can be done in a week time, working ten hours a day.

If the fabric is properly taken cared it can last up to a hundred years. Thus, when made into a wedding gown it can be inherited by other members of a family in a heirloom process.

Banana fabric now commonly called “JUSI” was introduced by the Chinese traders during the early times. The early Jusi is made up of raw silk coming from the fibers of a butterfly’s cocoon. Later, when the fabric become well known and   demands were high, manufacturers were force to look for an alternative raw material because butterfly’s cocoon were very scarce and they discovered that the fiber of a banana  stalk is a perfect alternative. The width of a Jusi fabric is 36 inches and is now produce by the use of machines. The texture and natural color of the fabric is ideal for embroidery that can be made into formal wears, gown, and even gift novelty items. 

During the Spanish occupation of the Philippines (over 300 years from 1561-1889) the barong tagalog was required by the Spanish Government for Filipinos (indios) to be worn at most times to show the differences between the rich and the poor. He said that the poor who serve the rich must always be in uniform.

Take their chauffeurs, maids, employees as examples. They are in uniform to immediately distinguish them from the employers. When the Spaniards colonized the Filipinos, they had to make it abundantly clear who the boss was through in the imposition of a dress.

Men were not allowed to tuck their shirttails in. That was the mark of his inferior status. Second the cloth material should be transparent so that he could not conceal any weapon that could be used against the master. Third, as a precaution on thievery, pockets are not allowed on the shirt.

By the of the century a new middle class began to emerge among the Filipinos. These were known as the principalia. They have mastered Spanish laws and were able to obtain titles to lands. They became successful in business and agriculture and sent their sons to be educated abroad. They were privileged to build their houses in the poblacion around the plaza near the seats of power.

Only the member of the principalia could be addressed by the title DON, and only they were allowed to vote. They had all the trappings of power and status, but for one undeniable fact: they still had to wear their shirttails out, if only to remind them that they were still Indios.

What the Spanish authorities did not smother out was the Filipino's wil power and determination to psychological conquer their colonial masters, through improvisation and reinterpretation. The Filipino's stylistic bongga (flashy dresser) was a reaction against the overt discrimination and insensitive oppression of the Spaniards.

For example, Filipinos were forbidden to use import silk and fabric for their Barong, so they ingeniously used pineapple leaves to weave the pinya jusicloth of the barong, turning the outfit into such delicate material, of luminous silky rich mixture much finer silk. And to add insult to the injury, they hand - embroidered the front with such exquisite abandon: Calado and hand-work all over.

Palgrave, the ethnographer noted, "The Captain's shirt was the native barong, of fine and delicate fiber, embroidered and frilled; it was light and cool and not tucked in the trousers." (Corpuz, 74)

The Barong Tagalog gained its power, prestige, and status when President Quezon, the first Filipino president, declared it the National dress. The status of the lowly inferior Barong thus became another symbols of the Filipinos' resistance to colonization.

After World War II, Philippine presidents began wearing the Barong Tagalog at their installation into office and on every formal state occasion. In contemporary times the Barong Tagalog is the power dress. As an abogado de campanilla, you cannot afford not to wear the Barong Tagalog when arguing a case in the Philippine courts.

Today, every visitor and foreign dignitary invited to a Malacanang Palace state function must, by necessity, and dictated by protocol, be dressed to the nines in a Barong Tagalog. The invitations specifically say come in "Barong" instead of the traditional "Coat and Tie".

Thus, every one invited to dinner at the Presidential Palace and in many Filipino homes will knowingly and unwittingly have to experience directly, what it feels to have to wear his shirttails out, to suffer the indignity of having the material of his barong transparent so that he can not conceal any weapon; and horrors, to be accused directly of incipient thievery by having no pockets in his barong to put the silver.

So, when El Senor Spanish Ambassador is invited to a state dinner, you can say, "Ah, what sweet revenge!"

Like their menfolk, the female indigenes of the archipelago, gradually covered their upper torsos with short, sleeved collarless blouses called bare, through the four hundred years of colonization. And what was, since ancient times, an all-purpose brief wrap-around skirt--metamorphosed into the long skirts called saya. Interestingly the saya was generally fashioned out of opaque plaid or striped cotton and sinamay varieties, while the baro was rather stubbornly made quite persistently of sheer fabrics. This two-piece ensemble is the archetypal clothing of the india  of the Philippines.

The saya was to remain unelaborated until the period of intensified global trade. But to the baro was almost immediately devoted the most laborious artistry, expressed in embroidery and supplementary weft floats. The Spanish presence was echoed in the patterning of the baro: floriate, trellis-like, lace-like designs soon enough make for the standard ”look.”

This century’s two world wars book-ended, so to speak, a frenzied phase in Philippine history. The nation emerged from a colony, became part of a commonwealth and then moved on to become a  republic—all within AA span of forty years.

It was the peak moment of Americana in the Philippines: movies, musicals, magazines! And the Manila Carnival was the centerstage for that stunning Filipino costume creation of the new century, the traje de mestiza.

The silhouettes of Hollywood screen goddesses and the Gibson Girl cast a sleek and svelte shadow on the hitherto wide and bouffant shape of the Maria Clara, sculpting it to a closer-fitting style.

The traje de mestiza was in fact the “Maria Clara,: trimmed into a shapely modernity. The camisa became a clinging bodice, with the sleeves pushed up and cut shorter to be an abbreviated leg-o-mutton. The saya deflated to a slim column the burst out at the hem into a flare or train.

The traje de mestiza was jazzed up in the tune with the Jazz Age! The skirt took the spotlight, elongating at the back to form a saya de cola, the long train which was either pointed, oval, or square. Or it slithered  or swept the floor in a cut called serpentina.

In the postwar years, mention of the traje de mestiza would conjure a vision of splendor that was the Filipina beauty queen who reigned, in glitter and glamour, at every Carnival. It was an image that would live on with few subtle changes, until mid-century. 

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