The Origin of the Barong Tagalog
Nobody ever told me why the barong is the national dress of the Philippines. So I did my research, I'm sure most of you know
this but just in case.
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 difference between the rich and the poor. He said that
the poor who serve the rich must always be in uniform.
Take their chauffeurs, maids, and 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 the imposition of
a dress code.
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 masters.
Third, as a precaution on thievery, pockets are not allowed on the shirt.
By the turn 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 title 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 a 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 will 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 imported silk and fabrics for their barong, so they ingeniously used pineapple
leaves to weave the pinya jusi cloth of the barong, turning the outfit into such delicate material, of luminous silky rich
mixture much finer than silk. And to add insult to injury, they hand-embroidered the front with such exquisite abandon: Calado
and handwork all over.
Palgrave, the ethnographer noted, "The capitan'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 it 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 symbol of 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 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 unknowingly 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!"