Barong Tagalog

Philippine "Indio" dressed in "Barong Tagalog", in a sepia photo. Eleuterio Dominador Lantocan. Circa 1870
President Magsaysay and his (eventual) successor, Vice-President Carlos P. García, at their Inauguration on 30 December 1953.

The Barong Tagalog, more commonly known as simply Barong (and occasionally called Baro), is an embroidered formal shirt which is considered the national dress of the Philippines. It is lightweight and worn untucked over an undershirt.

Today, in lowland Christian Filipino culture it is common formal attire, especially at weddings. Less formal variants are used also as uniform in schools, universities and offices. Through the years, it has occasionally been feminized and worn by women. This may be seen either as an egalitarian or haute couture fashion statement, or as a form of power dressing when worn by female politicians such as when Philippine President Corazon Aquino wore it at various times during her presidency.[1]

The Barong Tagalog was popularised as formal wear by President Ramón Magsaysay, who wore it to most private and state functions, including his own inauguration.


A barong Tagalog placed against the light, showing the translucency of the fabric.

The term "Barong Tagalog" is usually shortened in modern Filipino as "Barong", though grammatically, barong is not a word that can stand alone. It contains the suffix -ng, which indicates that it is an adjective or an adjective must directly follow.

The root word of barong is the Tagalog word baro meaning "outfit" or "clothing". "Barong Tagalog" literally means "Tagalog outfit". The term was originally used to describe what people, both men and women, typically wore in the Tagalog region during the Spanish era. In time, the term caught on for the shirt alone, and other styles of dresses got their own names (e.g. Maria Clara, baro't saya, magsasaka, kamisa de chino, and terno).


Pre-Colonial Era

Prior to the Spanish Era, the Tagalogs of Luzon already wore a garment that was a forerunner of the Barong Tagalog - the Baro.[2] Earliest reference to the Baro was in the Historical account of Ma-i (Pre-Colonial name for the Philippines) that the Filipinos wore a sleeve-doublet of rough cotton cloth called kanga, reaching slightly below the waist. It was collarless and had an opening in front. The doublets indicated the social status and badge of courage of a man, red was for the Chiefs and the Bravest, Black and White for the Ordinary Citizen. Their loins were covered with colored Bahague between legs to mid-thigh.

In contrast, the Visayans wore clothes similar to that of Indonesians and Malaysians. They wore a robe called Marlota or jacket called Baquero without a collar that reached the feet. The robes or jackets were brightly coloured. The Tagalogs and the Visayans bound their foreheads and temples with long, narrow strips of cloth called Putong. Necks were covered with gold necklaces, and wrists with golden armlets called Calombigas - these had intricate patterns. Others would wear precious stones.[3]

Spanish Colonial Era

Costume typical of a family belonging to the Principalía wearing barong tagalog and baro't saya.

A legend persists that the Spanish colonizers forced the Tagalogs to wear their baro with the shirt tails hanging out to distinguish them from the ruling class; its translucent fabric allegedly showed that wearer was not concealing a weapon underneath.[4] Supposedly, 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 colony-born pure Castillians or insulares. This is only a legend, as pre-Hispanic Filipinos already wore untucked shirts, something common in tropical climates where temperatures and humidity are high.

Moreover, sociologists have argued against this theory by pointing out that an untucked style was very common in pre-colonial South- and Southeast Asian countries, and that the use of thin, translucent fabric developed naturally given the heat and humidity of the Philippines. Historians have likewise noted the absence of citations to any specific law in which that bans the tucking in their shirts. They also note that natives during the colonial era wore their shirts tucked 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.

Like other cultural clothes, the style of the Barong Tagalog and the accessories worn with it spoke of the status of the person wearing it. The Mestizos would wear it with their leather shoes and bowler hat. The Ilustrados wore abaca-made Baro with plain collar, half open chest and pleated back design. The Ilustrados wore it with ordinary shoes, trousers and a hat - similar to that of Mestizos. The Baro was worn over a Camisa de Chino. The lower class wore coloured Camisa de Chino with loose pants and slippers which is still a practice in the countryside.[5]

Types of cloth used

The finest shirts are made from a variety of indigenous fabrics. They have a sheer appearance and the best are custom embroidered in delicate folk patterns :

Piña fabric is hand-loomed from pineapple leaf fibers. Traditional piña weavers in the country, however, are dwindling, making the delicate piña cloth expensive and highly prized. They are used only for very formal events.

Jusi fabric is mechanically woven and was once made from abacá or banana silk.

Banana fabric is another sheer fabric used in formal occasions. It comes from the Visayan island of Negros. Hand-woven from banana fibre, the embroidery on this type is usually of a geometric design.


The term Barong Tagalog is almost exclusively used to refer to the formal version of the barong; however, less formal versions also exist.

Decorative details

Barong are commonly embroidered along the front in a u-shape, with small spots placed everywhere else. This is usually produced by any of the following methods:

Relation to the guayabera

Another disputed theory is whether the Barong Tagalog was a local adaptation or a precursor to the guayabera, a shirt popular in Latin American communities. According to those who claim that the baro is the precursor of the guayabera, the guayabera shirt was originally called the "Filipina" since Manila-Acapulco Galleons brought the shirt to Mexico from the Philippines.[6]


At the 2007 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, Australia, a press release from the organising committee described the Barong Tagalog, as a "peasant shirt". The Government of the Philippines called for clarifications regarding the description, considering the potentially derogatory connotations of the term "peasant".


See also


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