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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Preface Part 1: What is the Barong Tagalog?

We’re about to embark on a long journey, the journey of the Barong Tagalog. We’re going to go back through time and retrace the steps of the garment that is the raison d’être of our company. Before we depart, we will define terms and determine what the Barong Tagalog is and is not.

The term Barong Tagalog is a less formal version of Baro ng Tagalog, which is the proper term. Baro means garment, or more specifically, a clothing top. Ng means of. Tagalog refers to the ethnolinguistic group of people on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. For brevity and ease of understanding for English speakers, we’ll refer to the garments even more informally as “barongs”.

The Barong Tagalog is the “national attire” of the Philippines, which was declared so in 1975 by decree by President Ferdinand Marcos.

Chris M wearing a hand embroidered piña silk Barong Tagalog in Grand Central Terminal, New York City

Barongs can be classified in two categories: formal and informal. When we talk about the “national attire” and the usual idea and image of the barong, we think of the beige, ecru or off white translucent garments we post about every day. These are formal barongs, and we will get into why later on in this series. Keep in mind this version of barongs did not become widely considered formalwear until about 1954 -1957. Prior to these years, barong looks varied widely and were everyday wear worn by all types and classes of people.

Photo portrait of a native Filipino man wearing a color dyed striped and embroidered Barong Tagalog in the late 1800's

The picture in this post is from the late 1800’s, and it shows a native Filipino man wearing a color-dyed, striped and embroidered top. This is also a Barong Tagalog. Is it formal? Probably to him and his social circles. Our best estimations say this is an upper class man because he is being photographed for a portrait, which was new technology at the time. This is also probably not his only barong. To be clear, while this may be one of the wearer’s fancier and more formal barongs, we do not consider this a formal barong because it is dyed, and it doesn’t fit our formal barong/national garment description above. The vast majority of barong wearers at this time wore less fancy versions as workwear.

We’ll continue to define the Barong Tagalog and get into the history.