16 Nov We’d Love to See Apec Leaders Wearing This
JUAN SAYS: Here is a little bit of history of the Barong Tagalog. We may see the Apec Leaders wear our National Costume for Men this coming week, through this post, may we be reminded of our humble beginnings and what the Barong Tagalog signifies. Filipinos are diligent. No amount of oppression can stop the Filipino spirit from rising. Watch the Barong Tagalog take center stage this week and be PROUD.
A post from Memories of Old Manila
Just in case you may not have already known how and why the barong tagalog became the national dress shirt of the Philippine male.
During the Spanish occupation of the Philippines from 1561-1899, the barong tagalog was required by the Spanish government of Filipino men (aka: Indios to the Spaniards) to be worn to show the difference between the rich and the poor, the ruler and the subjects. As customary in old European society, the poor [the household servants—the chauffeurs/horsemen, maids, and other employees] who served the rich, especially in royal houses and estates, wore some kind of uniform to distinguish them from their employers and masters.
When the Spaniards came to colonize the Philippines, the colonizers made it clear who the boss was by imposing a similar dress code. The Philippine men were not allowed to tuck in their shirttails, as a mark of inferior status.
Secondly, the cloth was transparent so that the person could not conceal any weapon which could be used against the master(s).
Thirdly, no pockets were allowed on the shirt as a precaution against theft.
By the start of the 17th century, a new middle class of Filipinos known as the principalia began to emerge. They had mastered Spanish laws and were able to obtain title to lands. They became successful in agriculture and business, and sent their sons to be educated abroad. They were also allowed to build their houses in the poblacion [the city/town center] around the plaza [the main city/town square] near the seats of power.
A member of the principalia further earned the privilege and right to 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 shirt-tails out, if only to remind them that they were still Indios and inferior to the Spaniards.
What the Spanish authorities underestimated was the Filipino will power and determination to psychological conquer their colonial masters. Through improvisation, the Filipino stylistic bongga — the Philippine term for flashy [dress] style — became the tacit reaction against the overt discrimination and insensitive oppression by the Spaniards.
For example, while Filipinos were forbidden to use imported silk and expensive fabrics for their barong, they ingeniously used jusi, a very delicate native cloth made out of fiber from pineapple leaves, which is very luminous and much finer than silk. And to make the barong even flashier, intricate hand-embroidered designs known as calado richly embellished the shirt, especially the shirt’s front.
According to the ethnographer, Palgrave, “The capitan’s [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 finally gained full power, prestige, and status when Manuel Quezon, the Philippine President in the 1930s when the Philippines was a Commonwealth of the United States, declared the barong as the official national dress shirt. Thus, the originally inferior and lowly status of the barong under the Spanish rule became the Filipinos’ symbol of resistance against colonization.
After World War II, Philippine presidents began wearing the barong tagalog at their inauguration and installation into office and on every formal state occasion. In contemporary times, the barong is the “power dress shirt”. As an abogado de campanilla [lawyer in high court], one must wear the barong when arguing a case in Philippine court.
Today, it is protocol for foreign male dignitaries and visitors to wear a barong tagalog to a state function in Malacanang [the Philippine presidential palace].
While the traditional coat-and-tie may not be taboo, invitations to state functions specifically indicate barong as the preferred attire for men. So, when the Spanish Ambassador to Philippines wears a barong to a state dinner, one can say, “Ah, what sweet revenge!”