Friday, June 14, 2024

Filipiniana Reimagined

By Sarah Madison Repollo | April 26, 2024

Maria Ressa, the award-winning CEO and president of Rappler was a featured speaker at Silliman University last August 2023. While discussing issues on press freedom, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate donned an elaborately embroidered barong tagalog, pairing it with simple black bottoms. Over the expected suits or formal dresses, she chose modernized cultural wear for this important forum.

In recent years, the appeal of traditional Filipino attire has grown immensely. Outside of cultural activities and school projects, citizens have begun to wear them at all types of formal occasions such as graduation ceremonies, weddings, school presentations, and many more. Even in casual settings, the younger generations have become fonder of traditional silhouettes incorporated into their everyday clothing.

With all this buzz surrounding the topic, it begs the question of why exactly traditional Filipino wear is trending. So, what is all the hype about?

Filipino wear throughout the years

With over 7,000 islands and a hundred tribes, the Philippine islands are home to various cultural wear. Among the bunch, the most popular clothing forms are the barong tagalog and baro’t saya. The barong tagalog is a loose-fitting, long-sleeve shirt designed for men. On the other hand, a collarless top and a long wrap-around skirt make up the famed baro’t saya.

Long before these two came to be, the pre-colonial Philippine fashion era was characterized by the various styles of the indigenous tribes. Upon colonization, garments swiftly shifted to adjust to Spanish styles, and it was during this time that the baro’t saya’s popularity rose. Nearing the 20th century, clothes again underwent a reinvention as war times came closer and more countries set foot on Philippine lands. Heavy Japanese and American styles influenced clothing during this period — this hold has even extended into today’s time, with many overseas fashion trends continuing to take fancy in the hearts and minds of Filipinos.

Despite all this outside influence, modernized traditional Filipino clothing continues to trend. At her nephew’s birthday party last year, Actress Bea Alonzo turned up in a chic modern barong paired with a skirt and loafers. On the more formal side, several celebrities, such as Nadine Lustre, Kathyrn Bernardo, and Ylona Garcia wore Maria Clara-sleeved ball gowns at the Filipiana-themed ABS-CBN ball a while back. Even at highly publicized political events such as last year’s State of the Nation Address, figures such as Vice President Sarah Duterte and Senator Loren Legarda were dressed to the nines in a Bangala dress and upcycled abaca dress, respectively.

Nowadays, these modern renditions of traditional Filipino attire feature more fitted silhouettes, lighter fabrics, and many more changes.

Colonialism stunting growth

During and after periods of colonization, clothing served as a means of displaying power and status. Amid Spanish rule in the Philippines, the caste system played a huge role in determining outfit choices — the lower the status, the less elaborate and closer to pre-colonial Filipino wear your clothing was. Further along in history, at the height of the world wars, Filipino clothing took a turn to deal with American influences and the shortage of dressmaking materials — resulting in the 1940s Western attire with its simpler fabrics replacing fancy Filipiniana garments.

Long after the wars ended and foreigners had long since left, overseas clothing influences did not leave the country, and this was largely due to a concept known as colonial mentality. Colonial mentality, defined as a type of internalized racial oppression brought about by colonialism, as well as the sense of ethnic and cultural inferiority, has weaved its way into just about every nook and cranny of Philippine culture. For instance, lighter skin and less conservative clothing reminiscent of Western standards are seen more often in Philippine media than the darker skin tones and elaborate traditional attire that Filipino culture is more closely associated with.

Even with the post-independence bursts of patriotism following the world wars, colonial mentality still greatly stunted the growth of traditional Filipino attire.

The future of Filipino clothing

Despite all the love for foreign cultures, Filipinos’ patriotism has grown day by day — and this has manifested itself most recently in the new blood of fashion designers. With local designers making a mark in the industry through their modernized clothing, just as Mak Tumang did with his gowns for Catriona Gray during the 2018 Miss Universe competition, it goes to show how Filipinos no longer look beyond their shores as often for fashion. Another example is the cover pages of Vogue Philippines. Instead of trendy Western clothing taking up the front page, Filipino culture has been front and center — Apo Whang-Od’s issue is a good case in point.

Pageants and magazines aside, through internet exposure and the modernization of the Philippines, citizens have slowly but surely begun to move past ancient mindsets that colonialism put into place. The younger generations are learning to love their culture, and that in turn has been one of the main factors in the trend of modernized Filipino cultural wear surfacing.


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