If Alternative Formalwear is Barong, I Don’t Want to be Ba-Right

For my wedding, I considered going with the basic “monkey suit”

option…for approximately twenty seconds. I thought I’d go with

something that was both traditional and unusual (at least in this

corner of the world) and wear the traiditonal Filipino formal wear, a Barong Tagalog, which is often shortened to “barong”. When I told Dad that I wanted

to wear one, he suggested that the men in the wedding party wear

barongs also. September 24th just became Barongapalooza!

Photo: DeVilla family -- with the men in barongs -- in Manila, before my cousin Rowena's wedding, April 2000.

Family photo taken in Manila in April 2000 before my

cousin Rowena’s wedding. From left to right: My brother-in-law Richard,

Yours Truly, my sister Eileen, Mom, and in the centre, Dad.

Originally called the “baro ng Tagalog” — “dress of the Tagalog” —

and condensed to just two words, the Barong Tagalog is considered to be

just as formal as a suit or even black tie, but is considerably more

comfortable, especially in a hot and humid climate.

Photo: Me on my aunt's paino in a Barong.

Ray Charles would’ve looked good in a barong.

A barong is an embroidered shirt made of a sheer material called pina, which is woven from fibers extracted from pineapple leaves. Some barongs are made of pina blended with jusi

(Chinese silk). Barongs are cut larger than your typical dress shirt

and are worn untucked, over the pants. I’m surprised hip-hop artists

haven’t caught onto them yet.

Photo: Me, Eileen and Richard, Manila 2000.

Me, my sister Eileen and brother-in-law Richard.

The barong is co-opted fashion. The Spanish colonials who took over the

Philippines 400 years ago demanded that the natives wear the precursor

to the modern barong. Its sheerness made it impossible to hide weapons

(knife-fighting is a Filipino martial art), its lack of pockets made

thievery impossible, and wearing it untucked separated the natives from

the Spaniards, who were the only people allowed to wear their shirts

tucked in.

Photo: Joey playing accordion in a barong.

Playing the wedding march at my friends Thaba and Phet’s

wedding, September 2000. “Hey fellas! What’s cooler than being cool!

Barong Tagalog and accordion — ICE COLD!

Even under colonization, some natives prospered. While still required to

wear the barong to mark themselves as inferior to the Spanish colonials, they began adding designs and embroidery to

the barong. A modern equivalent to this sort of co-opting can be seen

in today’s baggy and oversized hip-hop clothing worn by rap artists:

the look is derived from ill-fitting prison clothes.

We “Flips” be tha

original bad-asses, yo.

Photo: Freddie Leelin.

My main rival in the quest for the title of “Biggest clown in the deVilla clan”: my cousin Freddie.

It would not be until the 20th century that the Barong Tagalog would

gain prestige. That was when president Manuel Quezon declared it “The

National Dress”. It would take a few more decades and presidents for the barong to

rise in stature, as the strong American influence in the Philippines

made the suit — particularly the sharkskin suit the preferred dress outfit. (Dad was married in

one; he looked so “Goodfellas”!)  President Magsaysay would later elevate it to formalwear.

However, it was President Ferdinand Marcos who would really popularize

it; first by enlisting the help of Pierre Cardin to modernize it, then

by requiring government employees to wear barongs and finally, by

declaring an offical “Barong Tagalog Week” in 1975.

Photo: DeVilla clan in barongs.

Aunts, uncles and parents. From left to right: (Rear) my

aunt Beth deVilla, Mom, uncle Ravenal “Baby” Santos. (Front) Dad, aunt

Thelma Leelin, uncle Fred Leelin.

The barong also went less formal. A short-sleeved variant appeared in

the 70s and can be considered business attire. In the 1990s, an even

more casual cotton version would start appearing in surf and skateboard

shops and later in my  own wardrobe.

My brother-in-law Richard demonstrates the upside of

globalization: when else in history could a Korean guy from Canada

enjoy an icy Tiazzo at the Starbucks in Forbes Park, Manila while

wearing a barong?

Like the tuxedo, some designers have gone wild and made the barong in

all sorts of colours, but the classic barong simply uses the natural

colour of the pina or jusi fibres, ranging from off-white to ecru. It’s traditionally worn over the traditional undershirt, the camisa de chino, but often a thin white t-shirt will do. Button it up all the way to the top, add black dress pants (remember to not tuck the barong in) and dress shoes, and you’re stylin’ and ready to go!

Photo: My cousin Manny and me in barongs, Manila, April 2000.

Manny and I did the readings at Rowena’s wedding.

The invitees from the deVilla side were surprised to hear that the male

members of the wedding party and I would be wearing barongs. The

assumption is that in North America, even a Filipino groom would typically

wear a suit. Howver, since this wedding is going to be an unusual blend

of Jewish and Filipino customs, why not go all out? Upon hearing that I

was going to wear a barong, many of my relatives announced that they

too would wear them. Combined with yarmulkes, we’ll be creating a whole

new look in formalwear.

(If the barong-and-yarmulke fashion catches on, remember: you read it here first!)

If you’re attending the wedding and looking for something a little

different to wear, a barong is an acceptable option. Apparently you can

even order one online —

does same-day shipping to anywhere in the continental U.S.. I have no

idea of the quality of their goods, but if you’re really interested in

getting a barong, contact me and I’ll see about getting one made in the

Philippines for you.

And now, a very special notice for the best man, George Tudor Scriban: Get off your tuchus, stop being such a yutz and get me those measurements already!

Graphic: Barong measurements

Some Barong Reading:

14 replies on “If Alternative Formalwear is Barong, I Don’t Want to be Ba-Right”

Not only was that a cool post and I learned tons… but now I want one. Nice one joey.

It looks a bit like the tropical “guayabera”, used in Cuba and Veracruz and Yucatan in Mexico (places that are relatively close to Cuba). The difference is that it’s not that see-through, and most of the guayaberas are short sleeved. They have also had a comeback lately and been seen in daytime or beach weddings in Mexico.

What an excellent tutorial on the Barong Tagalog! I learned a great deal and will now be further able to explain the garments to friends and family who are very interested. I loved the pictures! It was fun for me to see future relatives of whom I have heard great things. I knew already that Eileen is beautiful. It should come as no surprise to anyone that her mother is beautiful, too.

I can hardly wait to meet Freddie. Where is my picture of Auntie Regina? This is going to be some amazing wedding. The combination of yarmulkes and barong seems like a natural to me.

Hey, Accordion-dude.

Check out Indian formalwear.

As formal as a suit, but wears like a pair of pajamas.

“And now, a very special notice for the best man, George Tudor Scriban: Get off your tuchus, stop being such a yutz and get me those measurements already!”


“Jerry: And then he asked the assistant for a schtickle of flouride.

Elaine: Why are you so concerned about this?

Jerry: I’ll tell you why. Because I believe Whatley converted to Judaism just for the jokes.”

True: the kurta pajama is where we derive the English term “pajamas” from.

Other gifts to the English language from India: thug, ketchup, pundit, shampoo.

I am such a fan of the barong Tagalog! I think an “International Barong Tagalog Society” should be formed to support the Filipino industry and to promote its use in the world!

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