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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Spanish Colonial Philippines Part 12: the Camisa de Chino

The camisa de chino is a collarless shirt with a two or three button opening at the front of the neck and sleeves without cuffs. It is attributed to the Chinese sailors, traders and laborers in the Philippines. The camisa de chino is often confused with the Barong Tagalog, which is a distinct and separate garment, but these garments are connected.

 

Some writers surmise that the camisa de chino was the precursor to the Barong Tagalog or inspired it. While more evidence is needed to confirm that, there is no denying that both the camisa de chino and the barong were preferred everyday wear for people of many classes, especially the working class and commoners. In paintings, drawings, photographs and folk dances, the camisa de chino is often worn by men, especially during activity.

 

The camisa de chino was worn in different colors and even with vertical stripes, much like the barong, and they were often made of the same materials. Though the most important distinction is the camisa de chino is a shirt to be worn next to the skin and was often used historically as an undergarment to the barong. The same cannot be said about the barong. Even though it has been dressed up and made more fancy, the camisa de chino is not formal and has always been considered less formal than the barong. The ilustrado class (the educated middle to upper class) preferred to wear camisa de chino as everyday casual wear and the barong on formal occasions and ceremonial functions. To this day, the traditional barong undershirt is the camisa de chino.

Native males at cock fight, likely circa 19th century, wear camisa de chino. Illustration from Visitacion R. de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines’ National Wear (1986).

Native males at cock fight, likely circa 19th century, wear camisa de chino, pants, European hats and pointed slippers with no stockings. Illustration from Visitacion R. de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines’ National Wear (1986).

Native male vendor wears a striped camisa de chino, salawal (loose pants) rolled up for work, and putong (cloth head wrap) on his head. Illustration from de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog. Likely circa 18th/19th century

Native male vendor wears a striped camisa de chino, salawal (loose pants) rolled up for work, and putong (cloth head wrap) on his head. Illustration from de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog. Likely circa 18th/19th century

Photo of native male vendor wearing a camisa de chino, striped salawal and a salakot (helmet-like native hat) on his head. Likely from 19th century. From de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog

Photo of native male vendor wearing a camisa de chino, striped salawal and a salakot (helmet-like native hat) on his head. Likely from 19th century. From de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog

Illustration of native cocheros (carriage drivers), likely from 19th century, wearing camisa de chino, salawal and European hats. From de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog
Illustration of native cocheros (carriage drivers), likely from 19th century, wearing camisa de chino, salawal and European hats. From de la Torre’s The Barong Tagalog