13th & 14th century writers from China noted that the people of Ma-yi (or Ma’i, a.k.a. Luzon) were known for producing and wearing cotton garments. In 1349, Wang Tu-Yuan wrote about the wearing of blue cotton clothing in Ma-yi.
Visitacion R. de la Torre’s 1986 book The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines National Wear describes the earliest known barong in history worn by Tagalog men and women of Ma-yi. The men’s barong was a doublet (a men’s short, close-fitting jacket, common from 14th-17th centuries) made of rough cotton. It had sleeves and the bottom hit slightly below the waist. It had no collar, and there was an opening in the front.
The women’s barong was similar to the men’s, except theirs was shorter. Women wore the same color barongs as men. The colors worn were red, black, white or blue. The color worn was determined by social rank, whether the wearer was a warrior, performed acts of courage, and other factors bestowing status. Red was for “chiefs and brave men”. Black and white were for “ordinary citizens”. I would estimate that blue was for merchants, traders, business or working class because the foreign Chinese author Wang (above) that wrote about blue cotton clothing-wearing people in Ma-yi probably encountered or learned about them because of maritime trade or related matters.
To complete their ensemble, Tagalog men covered their bottom parts with cotton loincloths. These were draped between the legs and went down to mid-thigh. The women also wore cotton loincloths except theirs was attached to the waist and went all the way down to the feet. They also wore colored belts with their loincloths.
Exact illustrations or images of the earliest barongs and Tagalog outfits are virtually impossible to find. So the images below are from other ethnolinguistic or indigenous groups of the Philippines, and they are only used as an example of the shape and form of the Tagalog clothing described above. The clothing’s colors, patterns, jewelry and accessories shown are particular to the subject’s group. No claim is made that these are from the Tagalog people.
From the 2014 exhibit “Art and the Order of Nature in Indigenous Philippine Textiles” at the Ayala Museum in Makati City. Illustrates the shape and form of earliest woman’s baro and loincloth/skirt.
Woman form the Ignet tribe of Northern Luzon circa 1910. Illustrates the shape and form of the woman’s baro and belt worn with loincloth/skirt.
Young Bagobo male warrior of Southern Philippines circa 1920’s. Illustrates the shape and form of the earliest baro.
Bagobo chief in 1904. Illustrates the shape and form of the earliest baro.
Indigenous man from the Cordillera region circa 2000’s. Illustrates the early Tagalog men’s loincloth.