The Barong Tagalog (or simply barong) is an embroidered formal garment of the Philippines. It is very lightweight and worn untucked (similar to a coat/dress shirt), over an undershirt. In Filipino culture it is a common wedding and formal attire, mostly for men but also for women. The term “Barong Tagalog” literally means “a Tagalog dress” in the Tagalog language; however, the word “Tagalog” in the garment’s name refers to the Tagalog region, not the region’s language of the same name.
The barong was popularized as formal wear by Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, who wore it to most official and personal affairs, including his inauguration as president.
A legend persists that the Spaniards made Filipinos wear their barong untucked to distinguish them from the ruling class; its translucent fabric allegedly helped the Spaniards to see that the wearer was not bearing a weapon underneath. Supposedly, the native Filipinos were also prohibited from tucking in their shirts, which served to designate their low rank as well as to distinguish them from the people of mixed descent, the mestizaje, and the islanders, or insulares.
Sociologists have argued against this theory, however, pointing out that untucked style was very common in pre-colonial southeast- and south-Asian countries, and that the use of thin, translucent fabric developed naturally given the heat and humidity of the Philippines. Historians, likewise, have noted the absence of a citation to the specific law in which the Spaniards supposedly prohibited the natives from tucking in their shirts. They also note that natives during the Spanish era wore their shirts untucked at times. A common example cited in support of this argument is José Rizal and his contemporaries, who were photographed in western clothing with their shirts tucked—although the era of the barong predated Rizal’s time.
Another disputed theory is whether the barong was a local adaptation or a precursor to the guayabera, a shirt popular in Latin-American communities. According to those who claim that the barong is the precursor of the guayabera, the guayabera shirt was originally called the “Filipina” during the era of Manila galleon trade ships when it was brought to Mexico from the Philippines.
The Barong Tagalog is mostly for men, but it is sometimes for women.
Type of cloth used
Piña fabric is hand-loomed from pineapple leaf fibers. Because piña weavers in the Philippines are dwindling, its scarcity makes the delicate piña cloth expensive and is thus used for very formal events.
Jusi fabric is mechanically woven and was once made from abacca or banana silk.
Banana fabric is another sheer fabric used in formal occasions. Made and hand woven from banana fiber, it usually comes with geometric design details. This fabric hails from the Visayas island of Negros.
Barong decorative details
- Hand embroidery
- Machine embroidery
- Computerized embroidery
- Hand painting
- Pinpricks (alforza)
- Polo barong refers to a short-sleeved version of the barong, often made with linen, ramie or cotton. This is the least formal version of the barong and is frequently used as office wear (akin to the suit and tie).
- “Gusot-Mayaman” (“gusot” means “wrinkled” and “mayaman” means “wealthy”) and Linen barong are barong that are not constructed with pina, jusi, or similarly delicate fabrics are generally considered less formal than the barong Tagalog. Both “gusot-mayaman” and linen barong are used for everyday office wear.
- Shirt-jack barong are cut in shirt-jack style usually in poly-cotton, linen-cotton and gusot-mayaman fabrics. Popularized by politicians and government officials and worn during campaigns or out-in-the-field assignments. This barong style gives the wearer a more casual look yet lends a more dressed-up appearance from the usual street worn casual wear.