The last time I wore something close to the traditional Philippine costume was in 2015 in college for our Rizal class. Since Colegio de San Juan de Letran was near Fort Santiago, the Rizal classes held a Rizal Walk in honor of the national hero.
It was a white baro and a purple saya with a hemline that fell to my feet. All I remember was I felt comfortable and didn’t mind wearing it under the heat of the sun.
In fact, it was really airy.
While it isn’t how our ancestors wore the dress, it shows that the Filipiniana has come a long way.
As Philippine Independence Day draws near, here’s a refresher on the baro’t saya and an update on how it has evolved these past few years.
Filipino culture underwent transformations through periods of occupation by Spain, the United States and Japan. The fashion styles in these countries were adapted into Filipino traditional clothing.
Spanish colonization was anchored on the power and influence of the Church, whose clergy dictated women should dress modestly, exposing little skin.
And so, the baro’t saya became the traditional dress. It was composed of a blouse with butterfly sleeves or the baro; a long, elaborate skirt made of cotton, the saya; a shawl-like piece called the pañuelo; and the overskirt or tapis — somehow inspired by the outfit of the Virgin Mary.
The Maria Clara brought an already elaborate baro’t saya and upgraded to an even more extravagant blouse called the “camisa” and a more lavish saya. More details were added to the pañuelo using brooches and pins while the tapis is created with a sheer fabric.
It took its name from the famous character in Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere.
The Traje de Mestiza — “traje” meaning dress, and “mestiza,” a woman of mixed heritage — was a refined yet ostentatious version of the Maria Clara, with its camisa more fitted to the torso and the saya exaggerated with an added train.
With American rule, local traditional clothing evolved with a modern, continental style. Western influence in Philippine fashion could be seen even after the country was granted independence — especially when Hollywood celebrities strutted their stuff.
More Filipiniana versions
One of the most common versions of the Filipiniana is the terno (“to match” in Spanish). It is often worn during the Santacruzan or the annual Maytime feasts, and other formal events.
Finally, there is the more contemporary version of the Filipiniana.
While most Filipino women have adapted well to contemporary fashion, others are advocating for the continued wearing of traditional clothing.
Local designers and brands continue to reimagine the Filipiniana and promote it as casual wear.