As we’ve written in previous installments, the Barong Tagalog began as everyday wear from its inception and continued as this for centuries. Barongs were worn by all segments of society, ranging in styles from simple and utilitarian to fancy and opulent. Barongs were not widely considered special or formal in those times. They were just clothing everyone wore everyday. That is until the Barong Tagalog became widely regarded as formal wear with President Magsaysay being the first to wear it to his inauguration and important presidential functions from 1953 to 1957.
We define formal barongs by the features of Magsaysay’s barongs worn during his presidency. They were translucent; natural off-white color; made of piña, silk, abaca or blends of these traditional base fabrics; long enough to cover the upper half of the body; embroidered in the front torso area; with a buttoned front half opening, side slits or vents, sleeves and a collar.
Informal and casual barongs are not constrained by these features. Since the lower and working classes of the colonial and pre-colonial Philippines wore sturdier and durable barongs for work and activity, it’s only logical that informal barongs be brought back and adapted for modern work settings.
With a renewed sense of national pride and patriotism from President Magsaysay’s revival of the formal Barong Tagalog, people wanted to also wear barongs more often that were suited for their everyday life. Enter the polo barong of the 1960’s. They were shorter in body length, and the sleeves were short. They were opaque and made of cotton, polyester, linen, ramie or other blends of these fabrics that were able to withstand more active wears and washes. There was less, smaller and simpler front embroidery; and polo barongs came in either half open button down or full open button down styles.
Polo barongs were considered appropriate for blue and white collar work settings but inappropriate for formal settings like weddings and banquets. Later versions of these informal barongs would be called shirt jack barongs, gusot mayaman, office or work barongs.
Vincentian priest Teodoro Barquin wears a full button down polo barong at his office in the Marian Center. Likely circa 1960’s. From The Barong Tagalog: the Philippines’ National Wear by Visitacion R. de la Torre (1986).
Turing Calumba, master cutter of Tesoro’s, at work in a full button down polo barong. Likely circa 1960’s. From The Barong Tagalog: the Philippines’ National Wear by Visitacion R. de la Torre (1986).