Back to Barong
by J. Anthony Lopez, taken from the Jul. 15, 2006 edition of "About Weddings,"
The Manila Bulletin's wedding supplement. Republished with permission.
Most women have always dreamed about getting married in a church ceremony. While very charming, the only drawback to this is that it requires a male presence in the church to get the party started.
Should you be the male, approach the event like you would your crowning moment – whether your definition of a crowning moment is an inauguration or a public execution. Either way, the barong tagalog is always the best choice for occasions like this.
Given the Philippines ' tempestuous climate, the barong tagalog will always be the formal outfit of choice, whether for a typical business day or attending a formal outdoor ceremony. Try wearing a coat and tie to work every day in the summer heat and you'll see what I mean. Likewise, try waiting for your bride outdoors decked out in a three-piece suit.
Of course, appealing to plain nationalism won't do the trick, as this is not a matter of picking one off the rack. To get married in a
barong tagalog (or to bear witness at a wedding) means that you have taken the great responsibility of looking good, Filipino-style.
A Short History
According to many historians, the design of the barong tagalog and the choice of the material were considered a means of subjugation by Spain during the colonial era. The barong tagalog was an offshoot of a Spanish mandate that Filipino businessmen wear a formal suit but of a lesser degree in quality to theirs, and that the same should be made of transparent material to ensure that the Indios (the term the Spaniards used to refer to the locals) wouldn't dream of hiding some weapons underneath. In addition, Filipinos of that era were allegedly instructed to keep their formal wear untucked to denote their lower status. Historically, keeping the shirt untucked is common sense for the warm Filipino weather. The designer of the barong, God bless his/her soul, wisely chose to consider this fact when he/she came up with the original design.
Of course, there is little evidence to back this particular theory, as we have yet to unearth an archive of dress codes from the Spanish era regarding the wearing of the barong tagalog. Besides, we can see old photos of our national heroes in western clothing—impeccably tucked and trousered.
Office or Occasion
Of course, when wearing barongs, there is a world of difference between the standard office barong and the formal event barong, so one should never wear one in lieu of the other. If you think wearing an office barong to a formal event is a fashion faux pas, think about your mates' reaction when you show up for work in a piña-jusi ensemble.
Office barongs tend to be made from polyester and other synthetic fibers and tend to be totally opaque instead of transparent. Embroidery is more or less limited to the office logo and a few token designs. Popular among executives is the wearing of barong tagalogs made from the material called "gusot-mayaman." Composed of linen, "gusot-mayaman" is the easiest way to look like you've had a busy day.
Grooming for the Groom
For the formal barongs, only jusi and piña cloth will do. Jusi used to be made from abaca or banana fiber, but silk organza is now the preferred material. Mechanically woven, jusi is stronger and more durable. Piña, however, is the last word for ultra-formal barongs. Woven from pineapple leaves to create superfine fibers,
piña cloth is thinner, softer, and much shinier than jusi. The embroidery of a piña barong is more impressive to look at.
Here is some advice for choosing a barong for your wedding:
• Always go for a custom-fitted barong. A ready-to-wear (RTW) version is the last resort of the hopeless. Men's bodies are an assorted lot, and it would be an extremely long shot for you to hope that you can get a barong tagalog that fits exactly right. Always look at the fit at the shoulders and the cuffs; these should be perfectly snug. Any difference, however slight, will be obvious and ugly.
• When deciding between piña and jusi, have the male entourage (never mind the godfathers—at their age, they're entitled to wear what they want) wear jusi, and reserve the piña version for the groom. This not only saves money, but creates a distinction for the groom. Since it's his day, it's only fitting - he deserves a spot above the rest. (After that, he'll have to learn to defer to the wife the rest of his married life.)
• When selecting the type of embroidery for your barong, try and restrain yourself from selecting overly intricate patterns. Apart from the conventional wisdom that anything in excess is bad, I have witnessed one too many scenes when the delicate
piña barong ripped prior to the ceremony due to the undulations of the anxious wearer. Too much needlework can speed up the half-life of this delicate clothing.
• Put on the barong only at the last moment, prior to getting married. Seatbelts, automatic doors, and drinks can invariably reduce the delicate barong to a mess, so covering it and placing it on a hanger in your car on the way to the church makes sense.
Plenty of haberdasheries and tailoring shops can be found all over the country, and the tailors will be more than happy to show you their cloth selection and take your measurements on the spot. In some cases, their services may be cheaper than buying an RTW barong.
Those abroad, while limited with their choices, almost always get their clothes from the internet. Sites like mybarong.com offer a plethora of choices and can deliver barongs for both infants and giants. Smart Pinoys can always ask their friends or relatives to ship them the cloth instead, or shop around during their next visit home. Surely a little
piña or jusi hunting will be worth the trip, and any professional tailor back home can create a masterpiece custom-fitted to their liking.
Weddings come once in a lifetime (in most cases), and since everybody has to defer the title of "most handsome guy" to you for a day, get a barong and make the most out of this privilege.