During the Spanish
occupation of the Philippines (over 300 years from
1561-1889) the Barong Tagalog was required by the
Spanish government for Filipinos (indios) to be worn at
most times to show the difference between the rich and
the poor. It was said that the poor who served the rich
must always be in uniform.
Take their chauffeurs, maids, and employees as examples.
They are in uniform to immediately distinguish them from
their employers. When the Spaniards colonized the
Filipinos, they had to make it abundantly clear who the
boss was through the imposition of a dress code. Men
were not allowed to tuck their shirttails in. That was
the mark of his inferior status.
Second, the cloth material should be transparent so that
he could not
conceal any weapon that could be used against the
masters. Third, as a
precaution on thievery, pockets are not allowed on the
By the turn of the century a new middle class began to
emerge among the
Filipinos. These were known as the principalia. They
have mastered Spanish
laws and were able to obtain title to lands. They
became successful in business and agriculture and sent
their sons to be educated abroad.
They were privileged to build their houses in the
poblacion around the plaza
near the seats of power. Only a member of the
principalia could be addressed
by the title DON, and only they were allowed to vote.
They had all the trappings of power and status, but for
one undeniable fact: they still had to wear their
shirttails out, if only to remind them that they were
What the Spanish authorities did not smother out was the
power and determination to psychologically conquer
their colonial masters,
through improvisation and reinterpretation.
The Filipino's stylistic bongga
(flashy dresser) was a reaction against the overt
insensitive oppression of the Spaniards.
For example, Filipinos were forbidden to use imported
silk and fabrics for their Barong, so they ingeniously used pineapple leaves
to weave the pinya,
jusi cloth of the barong, turning the outfit into
such delicate material, of
luminous silky rich mixture much finer than silk. And
to add insult to
injury, they hand- embroidered the front with such
exquisite abandon: Calado and hand- work all over.
Palgrave, the ethnographer noted, "The capitan's shirt
was the native
barong, of fine and delicate fiber, embroidered and
frilled; it was light and
cool and not tucked in the trousers".
The Barong Tagalog gained in power, prestige, and status
Manuel Quezon, the first Filipino president, declared it
the National dress.
The status of the lowly inferior Barong thus became
another symbol of Filipinos' resistance to
After World War II, Philippine presidents began wearing
the Barong Tagalog at their installation into office
and on every formal state occasion. In contemporary
times the Barong Tagalog is the power dress. As an
Abogado de Campanilla, one cannot afford not to wear
the Barong Tagalog when arguing a case in Philippine
Today, every visitor and foreign dignitary invited to a
state function must, by necessity, and dictated by
protocol, be dressed to
the nines in a Barong Tagalog. The invitations
specifically say come in "Barong" instead of the
traditional "Coat and Tie".
Thus, every one invited to dinner at the Presidential
Palace and in many
Filipino homes will unknowingly and unwittingly have to
experience directly, what it feels to have to wear
his shirttails out, to suffer the indignity of
having the material of his barong transparent so that he
can not conceal any weapon; and horrors, to be accused
directly of incipient thievery by having no
pockets in his barong to put the silver.