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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, 20th Century Philippines Part 1: President Manuel L. Quezon

Being the president gives you plenty of influence over the lives of the people, including sartorial matters. A question that many ask is: which president of the Philippines wore the Barong Tagalog first?

There are threshold questions, like whom do we consider presidents and what we count as wearing a barong. These issues will take us outside the scope and purpose of this post, so we will disregard them.

The quick and technical answer is Manuel Luis Quezon, who was president from 1935 to 1944 and is in all three pictures in this post.

Manuel Quezon wearing the “Commonwealth Barong Tagalog”
Manuel Quezon wearing the “Commonwealth Barong Tagalog”

The two photos above are of Quezon wearing the “Commonwealth Barong Tagalog”. The embroidery design, which features American and Philippine flags all over, is referred to as the Tydings McDuffie motif, named after the 1934 US federal law that established the process for the Philippines to become an independent country. This law, which Quezon lobbied the US Congress for, would provide for the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines, establishing it as an independent commonwealth with an elected president, of which Quezon was the first.

Quezon’s oath taking ceremony at his presidential inauguration on November 15, 1935

The photo above shows Quezon’s oath taking ceremony at his presidential inauguration on November 15, 1935. He is wearing a suit and tie. The first two pictures were taken some time after this.

After researching many images of President Quezon, the first two pictures of this post were the only two pictures found with him wearing a barong. We surmise this was not a habit of his, and it was probably more of a novelty. It seems he wore this barong just for these pictures and never wore it, or any other barongs, for any important occasions or functions.

Ultimately, Quezon was the first president to wear and be photographed in a barong while in office. But a subsequent president will actually value the Barong Tagalog enough to wear it to his inauguration and official presidential functions, causing a cultural shift in dress for millions of Filipinos.