Barong Tagalog

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

The Barong Tagalog (or simply Barong) is an embroidered formal shirt from the Philippines. It is very lightweight and worn untucked (similar to a coat/dress shirt), over an undershirt. In lowland Christian Filipino culture it is common formal attire especially in weddings, and is mostly worn by men. The term "Barong Tagalog" literally means "a Tagalog dress" in the Tagalog language; the word "Tagalog" refers to the ethnic group's traditional homeland in central and southern Luzon, and not their language.

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


A Family Belonging to Principalia that wearing Barong tagalog and Baro't Saya.
President Magsaysay and his (eventual) successor, Vice-President Carlos P. García, at their Inauguration on 30 December 1953.

Even before the Spanish Era, the Tagalog people already wore a garment that can be seen as the forerunner of the Barong Tagalog. This dress reached slightly below the waist, was generally colourless, and had an opening in the front.[1]

A legend persists that the Spanish colonisers forced native Filipinos wear their barong 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.[2] 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 Filipinos already wore untucked shirts in the pre-Hispanic times, something common in tropical climates where temperatures and humidity are high.

Moreover, sociologists have argued against this theory by pointing out that tucked-o 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 in the Spanish Era wore their shirts tucked at times. A common example cited in support of this argument is Dr. 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.

Relation to the guayabera[edit]

A Barong Tagalog here being worn to a wedding and with a boutonniere attached.

Another disputed theory is whether the barong was a local adaptation or a precursor to the guayabera, a shirt popular in Latin American communities. [3] According to those who claim that the barong 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. [4]

While the Barong Tagalog is mostly worn by men, it has occasionally been feminised and worn by women as well. 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 President Corazon Aquino, who has worn it at various times during her rule.[5]

Types of cloth used[edit]

The finest Barongs 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.


Barong Tagalog
The barong Tagalog with a "Mandarin" or "Chinese" collar, sometimes worn by Filipino-Chinese.

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

  • 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 men's office wear (akin to the Western suit and tie).
  • Gusót-Mayaman (literally, "rich wrinkle") and Linen barong are any barong not made of piña, jusi, or similarly delicate fabrics. These are generally considered less formal than the barong Tagalog, and is also are reserved for everyday office wear.
  • Shirt-jack barong are cut in shirt-jack style usually made of polyester-cotton, linen-cotton and the typical gusót-mayaman fabrics. Popularised by politicians wearing it during campaigns or field assignments, this style gives the wearer a look between casual and dressed-up. This type is however considered inappropriate for very formal occasions such as weddings.

Decorative details[edit]

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:

  • Hand embroidery
  • Machine embroidery
  • Computerised embroidery
  • Hand painting
  • Pinpricks (alforza)
  • Lace-inserts/appliqué
  • Calado ("pierced", a type of drawn thread embroidery.[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". [7] The Government of the Philippines called for clarifications regarding the description, considering the potentially derogatory connotations of the term "peasant".


  1. ^ Barong Tagalog history
  2. ^ Barong Tagalog history
  3. ^ The authority on Barong Tagalog - "History has it that the Guayabera originated from Cuba and was made iconic in the Cuban culture but was inspired by the Philippines’ barong Tagalog"
  4. ^ CubaNet News: The Miami Herald. Torture suspect arrested., Jul. 03, 2004
  5. ^ Radio Television Malacañang. "Corazon C. Aquino, First State of the Nation Address, July 27, 1987" (Video) (in English). RTVM. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  6. ^ WikiPilipinas. Philippine_embroidery "Philippine Emboridery". Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  7. ^ ABS-CBN Interactive: RP cries foul as APEC tags natl costume as 'peasant shirt', 9/9/2007

See also[edit]