Embroidered fabric predates the Spanish arriving in the Philippines. When the Spanish first encountered upper class native Filipinos, they were already wearing embroidered clothing and using furniture adorned with embroidery. It is highly likely that Filipinos acquired embroidered products and learned embroidery from trade with Chinese, Indian, Persian and Arab people as they frequented the Philippines long before Spain arrived.
As we’ve mentioned previously, Spain kept the native population occupied and profited off them by imposing a tax, payable in fabric, embroidered goods and other things of value. They encouraged the learning of native weaving and embroidery traditions, thereby creating the garment industry of the Philippines.
Since Spain was already converting natives to Christianity and educating them through religious schools, they used these same schools to also teach European embroidery techniques so Filipino embroidered goods could compete with the best Europe offered. Filipino embroidered piña successfully competed in international exhibitions and gained worldwide admiration.
In the 19th century, the Barong Tagalog went through a lot of changes. According to Visitacion R. de la Torre, in her book The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines’ National Wear (1986), “Modification to the baro quickened in the 19th century as the natives brushed elbows with the Europeans more frequently and around 1859, the baro acquired the romantic look. It was embroidered all over whereas embroidery had previously been confined to the chest alone.”
The image in this post is a portrait painting of Domingo Jimenez from the late 19th century. The artist is unknown. It’s safe to say this man is of the upper class since he has commissioned a portrait of himself. Also, just from looking at his all over embroidered Barong Tagalog, it is obvious he spent a lot of money on it. It is likely made of piña with silk vertical strips, embroidered lace on the collar and cuffs, brass or gold buttons and hand embroidery all over. This barong is quite the opulent garment as it probably took multiple months to produce.