Barong Tagalog is the official national garment in the Philippines. This male shirt (or rather garment for the upper body, as it’s not really a shirt) was originally made from pineapple fabric called “piña” (pineapple fibers are woven into cloth). This menswear has a centuries-old history and originates from the local aboriginal attire. Unlike many folk garments around the world, Barong Tagalog is still worn by the Filipino men in the 21st century. And the outlanders still fall in love with it because it’s not only pretty but also very comfy in the tropical climate.
The original garment that predated Barong Tagalog was called “canga”. It was a long-sleeved, collarless, just below-the-waist-length doublet or jacket. The color of canga (red, black, white, or blue) determined the social class of a man. Later, the aboriginal men started to wear garments called “baron mahaba” or “long baro” to religious and official ceremonies. This attire looked like a long and loose black smock, which then got shorter and transformed into the Barong Tagalog we know today.
Barong Tagalog is worn over an undershirt. That’s why it is actually considered more of outerwear than a shirt. This garment can be ornate and look very festive, especially when it is adorned with lace and embroidery. Partially, this explains why Barong Tagalog is worn tucked out, flowing freely over the pants. The men don’t want to hide beautiful ornamentation under the trousers or belts. But also, the locals say that this style of wearing the barong suits the hot and humid climate of the Philippines better. There is also another theory about the Barong Tagalog being tucked out – during the Spanish colonization, wealthy Filipino men were to wear their shirts over the pants and without pockets (unlike Spaniards). Such a rule served to humiliate or differentiate the locals from the colonizers.
In the past, Barong Tagalog was collarless, but the Spaniards brought their shirts with a stand-up collar and it influenced the Filipino traditional clothing. Under this influence, the Barong Tagalog gained a stand-up collar as well and became more embellished.
The modern Barong Tagalog serves as the ceremonial, national, and festive attire. It is worn to weddings, celebrations, official events, and even in day-to-day life. Of course, the amount of decorations vary according to the purpose. But the fabric is always thin and lightweight. Sometimes, it’s so sheer that it seems like the shirt is made from spiderwebs. And it’s easy to understand because the Philippines is a tropical/subtropical country.
Though, there are several different types of fabric used to make the Barong Tagalog: piña cloth (pineapple fibers), banana fabric, jusi fabric, organza, and jusilyn cloth. Some of them are natural, others are synthetic.
There are various styles and cuts of a Barong Tagalog as well. But the main features remain the same. This garment is sometimes called “shirt-jack”, as it is not really a shirt (we’ve already found that out earlier). But the popularity of this garment, no matter how you call it, in the Philippines is undying. The local men still wear it all the time, and the foreigners who visit this country often instantly fall in love with this very elegant and decorative piece of traditional clothing.