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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Preface Part 2: What the Barong Tagalog is not

Yesterday, we started to define what a barong is, and we distinguished between formal and informal. As fancy and formal as the barong in the pic from yesterday (below) may look, that color dye stripe pattern with scattered embroidery was actually a common everyday look at that time. So, it is an informal barong. We’ll revisit the 1800’s in more detail.

Native Filipino Man wearing color dyed striped and embroidered Barong Tagalog in late 1800's Philippines

Throughout this series, we will build our definition of a barong. It is also important to state what a barong is not.

Barongs were not a tool of oppression used by the Spanish to humiliate, control, and discriminate against native Filipinos. The theory that Spanish colonizers gave the barong to native Filipinos and forced them to wear it is untrue. The story of the Spanish government wanting to differentiate the native “indios” as the poor, subservient subjects by requiring a dress code of barongs that were untucked as a sign of inferiority is just that - a story, a myth. The explanation that barongs were translucent and without pockets to prevent concealing weapons and stealing is inaccurate. None of this is supported by historical evidence. The journey of the barong does not start with Spain. Filipinos created the barong and wore them hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived in the Philippines.

A barong is also not a shirt. “Shirt” originally described men’s undergarments, and over time, became a catch-all term for various garments and undergarments for the torso. They were historically meant to be covered or worn with other garments as part of an ensemble. Regarding western formalwear, shirts are just a component that need to be worn with a jacket and tie and tucked into trousers to be considered complete and formal. This is all completely contrary to the essence of barongs and how they were worn. The barong is the outfit, is worn on its own, and should be the uncovered focal point. It does not require other particular garments to be considered complete or formal. It is inappropriate to call barongs shirts and to wear them with jackets, ties or other clothes or coverings, like in this illustration from the 1800’s (below).


Illustration from the 1800's of an important Filipino man wearing a long Barong Tagalog like a shirt with a coat, tie, trousers, top hat and dress shoes. He is holding a cane in his right hand.