The Barong Tagalog, more commonly known as simply barong (and occasionally called baro), is an embroidered formal shirt and considered the national dress of the Philippines. It is lightweight and worn untucked over an undershirt. The Barong Tagalog was popularized as formal wear by President Ramón Magsaysay, who wore it to most private and state functions, including his own inauguration.
In Filipino culture it is a common formal attire, especially at weddings. Less formal variants are used in schools, universities and offices. Occasionally a feminized version is worn by women, either as an egalitarian or haute couture fashion statement, or as a form of power dressing when worn by female politicians such as Corazon Aquino during her presidency. Baro't saya is the feminine equivalent of barong with the Maria Clara gown being the most popular variant of baro't saya. Barong and baro't saya are traditionally made up of piña, although some experimental styles also exist.
The term "Barong Tagalog" is usually shortened in modern Filipino as "Barong", though grammatically, barong originally is not a word that can stand alone. It contains the enclitic suffix -ng which indicates that it is an adjective or an adjective must directly follow but the word has evolved to be a shortened title.
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, although it is not only worn in the Tagalog region in the Philippines. 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).
In the Classical Epoch (900-1521) of recorded history, the Tagalogs of Luzon wore a forerunner of the Barong Tagalog - the Baro. Earliest reference to the Baro was in the historical account of Ma-i, a pre-colonial ancient sovereign state in the Philippines believed to have been on the island of Mindoro (but recent scholarship suggest that historical descriptions better match Bay, Laguna) 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. Among the Visayan people, the barong mahaba was a robe worn by men of status, that reached the ankles, and was worn over a bahag.
Spanish Colonial Era
Like other traditional clothes, the style of the Barong Tagalog and the accessories worn with it spoke of the status of the person wearing it. Men of middle or upper class 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. Some wore it with ordinary shoes, trousers and a hat.
The Baro was originally worn alone. Later it became customary to wear it over a Camisa de Chino, a plain, short-sleeved white shirt. The lower class wore coloured Camisa de Chino with loose pants and slippers which is still a practice in the countryside.
There is an unsubstantiated legend that the Spanish colonizers forced the natives to wear their baro with the shirt tails hanging out to distinguish them from the ruling class; its translucent fabric allegedly showing that the wearer was not concealing a weapon underneath, though there is no historical basis for this. Historians have noted the absence of any specific law or decree which banned the tucking in of men's shirts. They also note that Pre-Hispanic Filipinos already wore untucked shirts, something common in tropical climates where temperatures and humidity are high. An untucked style of shirt was very common in South- and Southeast Asian countries, and the use of thin, translucent fabric developed naturally given the heat and humidity of the Philippines. Also, native Filipinos during the colonial era wore their shirts tucked at times, for example José Rizal and his contemporaries were often photographed in Western clothing with their shirts naturally tucked in.
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.
- Organza fabric is a synthetic fabric for more affordable barongs.
- Jusilyn fabric is another synthetic fabric for more affordable barongs.
- Banana fabric is another sheer fabric used in formal occasions. 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.
- 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).
- Gusot-mayaman (Tagalog, "Italian linen") 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 are also 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 this style during campaigns or field assignments, it gives the wearer a look that is somewhere between casual and dressed-up. This type of shirt is, however, considered inappropriate for very formal occasions such as weddings.
Barong are commonly embroidered along the front in a u-shape pattern, with small spots placed everywhere else. This effect is usually produced by one of the following methods:
- Hand-embroidered barong
- Machine-embroidered barong
- Computerised-embroidered barong
- Hand-painted barong
- Calado Barong ("pierced", a type of drawn thread embroidery.)
- Pinpricks (alforza)
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. 
Barong with salakot, and other traditional Filipino formal attire
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Barong Tagalog.|
- Radio Television Malacañang. "Corazon C. Aquino, First State of the Nation Address, July 27, 1987" (Video). RTVM. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Moreno, Jose "Pitoy". Costume at the Fin de Siecle - Maria Clara, Philippine Costume, koleksyon.com
- Barong Tagalog history
- Barong History
- Barong Tagalog history Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine