Late 19th century barong tagalog made from piña with both pechera ("shirt front") and sabog ("scattered") embroidery, from the Honolulu Museum of Art

The barong tagalog, more commonly known simply as barong (and occasionally baro), is an embroidered long-sleeved formal shirt for men and a national dress of the Philippines. Barong tagalog combines elements from both the precolonial native Filipino and colonial Spanish clothing styles. It is traditionally made with sheer textiles (nipis) woven from piña or abacá; although in modern times, cheaper materials like organza silk, ramie or polyester are also used.

It is a common formal or semi-formal attire in Filipino culture, and is worn untucked over an undershirt with belted trousers and dress shoes. Baro't saya is the feminine equivalent of barong tagalog, with the Maria Clara gown being the formal variant of the latter.[1] Barong tagalog was also known as camisa fuera ("outer shirt") in Philippine Spanish.[2]


The term "barong tagalog" is usually shortened in modern Filipino to "barong"; however, it is grammatically incorrect, as barong is not a word that can stand alone. It contains the enclitic suffix -ng, which indicates that it is modified by or modifies the next word. The root word of barong is the Tagalog word baro, meaning "outfit" or "clothing".[3][4][5] The term is usually not capitalized.[6]

Though "barong tagalog" literally translates to "Tagalog outfit", the "tagalog" in the name does not mean that it was a form of dress exclusive to the Tagalog people, as opposed to other Philippine ethnic groups. Barong tagalog (and baro't saya) were worn universally among Christianized lowlanders throughout the Philippines in the Spanish colonial period. Rather, the name was coined to distinguish the dress as native (hence "tagalog", i.e. Indio), as opposed to the styles of dress of Europeans and other foreign cultures.[7]


Barong tagalog worn with a salakot. The woman is wearing a terno.

Barong tagalog is a formal shirt usually made of sheer lightweight but stiff fabric known as nipis (usually woven from piña or abacá fibers). When using sheer fabrics, it is worn over an undershirt known as the camisón or camiseta, which can have short or long sleeves. The term camisa de chino is also used for collar-less and cuff-less shirts, named after its resemblance to shirts worn by Chinese laborers. It is worn with belted trousers and dress shoes. Headgear, when worn, is either a salakot or a buntal hat (and historically also top hats or bowler hats). The ensemble mixes elements of both native and Spanish traditions.[8][9][10]

Dancers in barong tagalog (with a buntal hat) and traje de mestiza performing Jota Cagayana

Barong tagalog can vary considerably in terms of design and material used, but they share common characteristics of having long sleeves, embroidery, being buttoned (halfway or straight down the chest), and the absence of pockets. They are also worn loosely and have slits on both sides. Historically, the material used for barong tagalog depended on the social class of the wearer and the formality of the occasion. Barong tagalog made of fine, sheer material like nipis were worn largely by the upper classes or were used for festive occasions; while barong tagalog made of cheaper opaque materials like cotton or sinamay were used by lower classes or for daily wear. The quality of the material and the intricacy of the embroidery were often signs of the status and wealth of the wearer.[7]

The embroidery of the barong tagalog are commonly placed on a rectangular section on the front of the chest (known as pechera, "shirt front", from Spanish pecho, "chest"), and/or over the entire shirt (sabog, from Tagalog for "scattered"). They feature various embroidery techniques, including calado and doble calado ("pierced" and "double-pierced", types of openwork drawn thread embroidery), encajes de bolilio (Venetian lace), and sombrado (shadow embroidery). They can also have other kinds of ornamentation, like alforza (pleats), suksuk (weft floats), and even hand-painted designs.[7][10]

Occasionally feminized versions are worn by women, either as an egalitarian or haute couture fashion statement; or as a form of power dressing when worn by female politicians (such as Corazon Aquino during her presidency).[11] However, the direct female counterpart of the barong tagalog is the baro't saya (or more formal versions of it like the traje de mestiza and the terno), and both share the same precolonial origins.[12][13]


Pre-colonial era

Tagalog maginoo (nobility) wearing baro in the Boxer Codex (c.1590)

The barong tagalog originated from the Tagalog baro (literally "shirt" or "clothing", also known as barú or bayú in other Philippine languages), a simple collar-less shirt or jacket with close-fitting long sleeves worn by both men and women in most ethnic groups in the pre-colonial Philippines. These were made from rough linen-like cloth woven from native abacá fiber, or from imported fabrics woven from silk, cotton, and kapok, among others.[7][14] This type of shirt was known by the Spanish as the canga or chamerreta. Among Tagalog men, they were commonly paired with a rectangle of richly decorated cloth known as the salaual or salawal worn knee-length and drawn up in the middle (like an Indian dhoti or Thai and Cambodian sompot chong kben); while in women they were paired with a wraparound skirt known as the tapis.[7][4][14][3]

The baro usually extend to just slightly below the waist. However, in the Visayas, aside from similar baro (which had shorter sleeves) and salaual combinations, men also wore colorful robe-like and coat-like variants that could extend to well below the knees (known as the marlota and baquero in Spanish, respectively). These were sometimes belted at the waist. Among Tagalogs, red dyes and gold trimmings were indicative of being a member of nobility (maginoo) or the warrior caste (maharlika).[7][15] The design of the original baro was influenced by trade and contact with neighboring regions, the most notable influence being the South Asian kurta.[16]

Spanish colonial era

Full traditional Tagalog attire for working-class commoners during the Spanish colonial era, with barong tagalog, esclavina (rain capes), and salakot headwear (c.1855)

Early records of clothing in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era from the 16th to the 18th centuries were limited, thus the exact evolution of the precolonial baro to the modern barong tagalog can not be established with precision. Based on illustrations and written accounts, however, baro were still largely only worn by commoners during this period. They were mostly identical to precolonial baro and were made from opaque linen-like abacá textiles, and thus lacked the collars, buttons, and embroidery of later baro styles. The couturier Jose "Pitoy" Moreno has hypothesized that this transitional style of shirt was the camisa de chino of later centuries, which makes it a precursor to the barong tagalog. Depictions of members of the principalia upper classes (including natives and mestizos) in the 18th century showed that they invariably wore European-style clothing.[7][10]

Barong mahaba with a ruff collar depicted in El Mestiso by Justiniano Asuncion (c.1841)

The first baro precursor to gain favor among the local and mestizo elites was the barong mahaba (literally "long baro") which became prominent starting from the 1820s. These were much longer than the modern barong tagalog, reaching down to slightly above the knees. They were also commonly striped with bold colors like blue, red, or green. However, they already displayed hallmarks of the modern barong tagalog, including being made of sheer nipis material, embroidery, long sleeves, and a loose silhouette with slits on both sides. However, they lacked buttons. Early examples of barong mahaba usually had high-standing collars or even Elizabethan-style ruffs with narrow cravats. Barong mahaba were generally worn with colorful straight-cut trousers with stripes, checkers, or plaid-like patterns (generally made from imported cambaya, rayadillo, and guingón fabrics), top hats (sombrero de copa), and a type of embroidered velvet or leather slip-on shoes known as corchos. While barong mahaba were generally worn loose, they were sometimes fastened by silk strings through three openings around the waist, either over or under the shirt. The sheer fabric used by barong mahaba also necessitated the wearing of an undershirt, known as camisón or camiseta, which was also worn on its own by commoners.[7][17]

By the 1840s, barong mahaba largely fell out of fashion. In this period, it evolved into the modern "classic" barong tagalog, being much shorter with less ostentatious folded collars, while still retaining the sheer fabric and other baro characteristics. They were also worn with smaller hats like bowler hats (sombrero hongo) or native buntal hats. They were initially paired with looser trousers, though they gradually assumed the dimensions of modern trousers by the end of the 19th century. The colors of the barong tagalog also became more muted and monochromatic, in contrast to the colorful barong mahaba ensembles of earlier decades. Barong tagalog ensembles from the mid-19th century onwards were usually combinations of black and white, blue and white, or all-white. Baro worn by commoners also favored darker colors like brown or blue, usually paired with white silk pants.[7]

A native Filipino in a late 19th-century dark-colored barong tagalog, from the collections of the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid (c.1870)

This type of barong tagalog were common among government workers and businessmen, who usually wore them underneath jackets (chaqueta). Sheer baro were also worn by natives and mestizos for fiestas, leisure activities like dancing, or for church. However, western-style suits became more popular among students of the burgeoning ilustrado educated class.[7]

A notable variant of the barong tagalog during this period was the baro cerrada (literally "closed baro"). Its name is derived from its closed-neck collar. It was made from opaque material (which can be white or darker colors) and was paired with white pants. This style of baro remained popular up until the early 1900s.[7]

A commonly repeated but false belief is that the Spanish colonizers made the natives wear their barong tagalog with the shirt tails hanging out to distinguish them from the ruling class; its translucent fabric allegedly showing that the wearer was not concealing a weapon underneath. There are no historical records of this anytime from the 16th to the late 19th century. No regulations mandated the use of sheer material or banned the tucking in of men's shirts. Baro were always worn untucked, even in the precolonial period; and up until the 19th century, they were not made from translucent nipis fabric.[7][4]

While the style and textiles worn by different classes did vary over the Spanish colonial period, this was due to fashion, wealth, and class distinction, rather than law. Most commoners throughout the colonial period wore baro made from cheaper and more durable opaque textiles, while expensive nipis fabrics were worn mostly by the upper classes. Natives (indios descended from precolonial nobility) and mestizos (both mestizos de Español and mestizos de sangley) were also part of the aristocratic upper classes (principalia) and it wasn't restricted to Europeans.[7][4]

Indios and mestizos, regardless of class, wore barong tagalog and European-style clothing depending on what they can afford and which were fashionable at the time. The wearing of barong tagalog did have racial connotations however, since most people of unmixed European descent (the insulares, criollos, and peninsulares) retained their own dress styles and largely ignored native fashions.[7][4]

American colonial era

Emilio Aguinaldo, in a baro cerrada, with his son (1906)

The popularity of barong tagalog further waned during the American colonial period. It was replaced by suits (known as Americana in the Philippines) and tuxedos in most formal functions. In contrast, women persisted in wearing the native terno (a modernized and unified version of the baro't saya), which was then associated with suffragists. Barro cerrada remained popular as informal leisure clothing, however.[7][10][4][18]

A notable barong tagalog during this period was the "Commonwealth Barong Tagalog" worn by President Manuel L. Quezon, which featured embroidery of the flags of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and the United States. However, other than this, Quezon mostly wore American-style formal wear and did not promote the barong tagalog.[10][4][18]

Modern era

Ramon Magsaysay and his (eventual) successor, Vice-President Carlos P. García, at their inauguration on December 30, 1953

After the Philippines independence on July 4, 1946, Americana or a suit and tie continued to be the dominant formal wear, worn by presidents Manuel Roxas and Elpidio Quirino.[10] In 1953, however, President Ramón Magsaysay won the election by being "a man of the masses". He deliberately wore a barong tagalog at his inauguration. The press played up the symbolism of Magsaysay in a barong tagalog and the outgoing Quirino in a western-style suit as symbolic of the "break" between the independent Philippines and its colonial past. He also wore barong tagalog in most public and private state functions. Magsaysay's use of the barong tagalog as formal attire was unprecedented in modern times. His example was followed by other Philippine presidents, and by the time of Diosdado Macapagal's term in the 1960s, it had regained its status as formal wear. Ferdinand Marcos, in particular, wore barong tagalog at almost every occasion. In 1975, Marcos issued a decree for the barong tagalog, along with the baro't saya, to become the official national attire. June 5 to 11 was also declared as the "Barong Tagalog Week".[10][3][4][18]

Following Marcos' decree, barong tagalog became widely mandated as office wear for both employees of the government and private companies, as well as school uniforms. In the 1970s to the 1980s, companies like the Philippine Airlines, Ayala Corporation, and the Allied Bank were prescribing barong tagalog as their uniforms. Various semi-formal and informal versions of the barong tagalog developed during this period, including the short-sleeved polo barong and the linen barong.[10] In 1998, Supreme Court Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. mandated the wearing of barong tagalog for all employees of the Judiciary of the Philippines.[19]

While the barong tagalog was now regarded as formal wear, it did not gain popularity as a wedding attire for grooms in the early post-war Philippines. Most weddings featured a groom in a western suit and a bride in a terno. However, by the 1990s, the situations had reversed. Grooms now almost always wear barong tagalog, while women favored western-style bridal gowns.[10]

Types of material used

Detail of the fabric and embroidery on a barong tagalog
Typical organza barong tagalog worn at a wedding

The finest barong tagalog are made from a variety of indigenous sheer fabrics (nipis). The most common traditional materials used are listed below. The fabrics used can also be composites of two different materials (like cotton and jusi or silk and piña). Additionally, more informal barongs can also utilize common opaque textiles like cotton, linen, polyester, or ramie.[20][21]


The term barong tagalog is almost exclusively used to refer to the formal version of the barong. Named variants of the barong tagalog include the following:


Ferdinand Marcos (in a Pierre Cardin barong tagalog) with Imelda Marcos (in a terno) during the 1979 Clark Air Force Base turnover ceremonies


Relation to the guayabera

The barong tagalog is a possible precursor to the guayabera, a shirt popular in Latin American communities since the late 19th century. It may have been introduced first to Mexico via the Manila-Acapulco Galleons and were adapted to use local fabrics in the absence of piña or abacá. A variant of the guayabera traditionally worn in Yucatan is still called "filipina."[7][32]


See also


  1. ^ Moreno, Jose "Pitoy" (n.d.). "Costume at the Fin de Siecle – Maria Clara". Archived from the original on July 13, 2011.
  2. ^ Garnett, Lucy M. J. (1898). "The Philippine Islanders". The Fortnightly Review. Vol. 64, no. July to December. pp. 83–84.
  3. ^ a b c "Barong Tagalog". SEAsite. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Beltran, Sam (June 27, 2019). "The Weird and Wonderful History of the Barong Tagalog". Esquire. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  5. ^ Quismundo, Tarra (June 26, 2015). "LIST: 40 Filipino-Coined Words Added in Oxford Dictionary". Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  6. ^ "barong tagalog". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Coo, Stéphanie Marie R. (2014). Clothing and the Colonial Culture of Appearances in Nineteenth Century Spanish Philippines (1820–1896) (PhD thesis). Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.
  8. ^ a b Ong, Vincent (January 23, 2018). "What You Need to Know Before Buying a Barong". Esquire. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  9. ^ Skerston, Sabrina; McKinney, Ellen C. (2014). "Barong Tagalog". In Lynch, Annette; Strauss, Mitchell D. (eds.). Ethnic Dress in the United States: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 19–21. ISBN 978-0-7591-2150-8.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Roces, Mina (2008). "Gender, Nation, and the Politics of Dress in Twentieth-Century Philippines". In Roces, Mina; Edwards, Louise (eds.). The Politics of Dress in Asia and the Americas. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. pp. 19–42.
  11. ^ Radio Television Malacañang. "Corazon C. Aquino, First State of the Nation Address, July 27, 1987" (Video). RTVM. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  12. ^ "A Guide to the Philippines' National Costume". Philippine Primer. May 13, 2013. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  13. ^ "Baro't Saya". Philippine Folklife Museum Foundation. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Ramos, Marlene Flores (2016). The Filipina Bordadoras and the Emergence of Fine European-Style Embroidery Tradition in Colonial Philippines, 19th to early-20th Centuries (MA thesis). Mount Saint Vincent University. hdl:10587/1788. S2CID 194439772.
  15. ^ "The Rich and Interesting History of the Barong Tagalog". Vinta Gallery. September 25, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  16. ^ Saran, Shyam, ed. (2018). Cultural and Civilisational Links Between India and Southeast Asia: Historical and Contemporary Dimensions. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 102. ISBN 978-981-10-7317-5.
  17. ^ a b "History of the Barong Tagalog". MyBarong. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  18. ^ a b c "History of Barong Tagalog". BarongsRus. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  19. ^ Administrative Circular No. 10-99 – via ChanRobles Virtual Law Library.
  20. ^ a b c d "Get to Know Barong Tagalog Fabrics – Organza, Jusi, Pina, and More". Barong Warehouse. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  21. ^ "Fabric Selection" (PDF). Heritage Barong. May 24, 2019. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  22. ^ a b c Olives, Monchet (September 15, 2019). "Your Burning Questions on Wearing Barongs Answered—From When to Wear It to What Goes Best with It". ANCX. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  23. ^ a b "Fabric Selection". Heritage Barong. Archived from the original on February 29, 2020. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  24. ^ a b Sarmiento, Bong S. (September 16, 2011). "AGHAM Rep: Beware of Fake Pina Barong". MindaNews. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  25. ^ a b "What Are the Differences Among Common Barong Fabrics: Polyester Organza Jusi Fabric Piña Fabric?". MyBarong. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  26. ^ Karthik, T.; Rathinamoorthy, R.; Ganesan, P. (2015). "Sustainable Luxury Natural Fibers-Production, Properties and Prospects". In Gardetti, Miguel Angel; Muthu, Subramanian Senthilkannan (eds.). Handbook of Sustainable Luxury Textiles and Fashion. Vol. 1. Springer. pp. 89–91. ISBN 978-981-287-633-1.
  27. ^ a b Barcia, Rhaydz B. (October 5, 2019). "Albay Designer Uses 'Pinukpok' to Promote Bicol Culture". Rappler. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  28. ^ Cruz, Eric V. (1992). The Barong Tagalog: Its Development and Identity as the Filipino Men's National Costume. CHE Monographs, No. 2. Quezon City: University of the Philippines. p. 11.
  29. ^ Blain, Marc (November 26, 2015). "There Are Hundreds of Years of History in the "Silly Shirts" World Leaders Are Wearing at the APEC Summit". Quartz. Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  30. ^ De Leon, J. P. (September 18, 2013). "Power Dressing and the Office Barong: Everything You Need to Know". The Manila Survival Guide. Archived from the original on February 17, 2020. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  31. ^ Tan, Michael L. (October 25, 2017). "Weaving a Nation". Pinoy Kasi. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  32. ^ Romero, Robert Chao (2012). "Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions". In Herrera-Sobek, María (ed.). Asian Contribution to Chicano/Latino Folklore. Vol. 1: A-D. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-313-34340-7.