From left: Ramon Magsaysay, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ferdinand Marcos. Photograph from Wikimedia Commons and Edgar Su, Reuters (Justin Trudeau).
Style Necessary Style

Your burning questions on wearing barongs answered—from when to wear it to what goes best with it

Anyone can wear a barong, but how to do it right and look impeccable while at it? Monchet Olives' answers will guide us to the right path
Monchet Olives | Sep 15 2019

1. When is it okay to wear a barong to a formal occasion instead of a formal suit? 

Every invite dictates the type of attire to be worn. Given how fluid the term “formal” has been of late, here is a simple tip: Business attire is either a suit and tie or a linen barong. A formal invite calls for darker suits—or a piña jusi barong, worn with black trousers and lace up shoes. If the affair calls for tuxedo formal, a piña jusi barong worn with tuxedo pants and patent slippers is what you’re expected to turn up in. This is appropriate wear to a state dinner or a strictly formal event.

2. Is there a barong for evening and a barong for day? 

The event dictates the type of barong to be worn. A morning wedding, or event, will call for a formal barong as described in #1: a day barong is a well-tailored linen barong, worn with cufflinks and either dark grey. Black should not be worn during the day unless it is a formal event like a wedding, state event or dictated by the invite.

3. What is your opinion on hand painted barongs? 

There’s always a fine line between class and crass. Who knows, if you wear a hand painted one with a certain aplomb, it could land you on an Instagram feed—hopefully tagged a style rebel than a “What were you thinking?” moment. The painted barong is a matter of choice. To a classic stylist like myself, it would never be an option. 

4. Where do I go for the best off the rack formal barongs? 

Jeannie Goulbourn at New World Hotel has a good selection, and she has been the go-to for dressing up visiting world leaders. Tesoro’s in Pasay Road, Makati is another choice for quality barongs. I am not a fan of designer barongs yet, although they have been the go-to for presidents, CEOs and members of government. I prefer a tailor. Choice of fabrics can be had from La Herminia, which stock very intricate hand embroidered material, and head off to a good tailor like Tino Suits or Sarto. The barong is a dress shirt, and needs a good fit so it does not balloon (although wrong choice of fabric can bring this about too). 

5. What is the Pierre Cardin-style barong and can I still wear it now? 

Photograph from Wikimedia Commons

Pierre Cardin opened in Manila during the Marcos years, and introduced the dress shirt style barong. Being the 70s, the cut was closer to the body, and had point collars and sleeves with a placket covering the buttons. The tailor Giovanni Sanna was responsible for this look. It was also very flattering to the then President Marcos who was not very tall but had an athletic physique. Embroidery was as expected more mod, with sarimanoks and, yes, hand painting. The style was very much part of the disco period. Worn with flared pants, it modernized the illustrado look that began with Magsaysay who was the first President to wear a barong to his inaugural.The style was half open in the pitchera, or chest, with embroidery around the same area. Can you wear it today? Of course you can—if you have the balls for it, because it will stand out. Also if you find someone who can do it for you, because the tailor, I imagine would already have to be in his 70s. But with enough pegs and images, someone from maybe Cornell’s in Kalayaan you could give a try. 

6. Who do I go to for bespoke barongs? 

Paul Cabral is a favorite of many. But I prefer choosing good fabric and working with tailors. The barong — either half open or dress shirt style should have French cuffs. To bring it a notch higher, thehalf open style can be made with studs that will mimic a tuxedo shirt. It is cumbersome to wear, and will likely be harder to put on. Patis Tesoro will make you look like an ilustrado.

7. What are the important details to look out for in barongs? 

It should fall nicely. The armholes should be comfortable enough and not too tight. The barong’s hem should land just at the tip of your finger. It should not appear too big. French cuffs are advised.  Use tuxedo pants and patent shoes. The inner shirt is usually a camisa chino, but other tailors and designers provide a long sleeve inner shirt as well.

8. Can you wear a barong more than once? How do you wash it? 

Barongs are made of very delicate fabric and may loosen. It can be worn many times over as long as you steam it. If needed to be washed, it has to be done by hand with Woolite and then laid out to dry.

9. What is your opinion on colored barongs? 

The colored barong is more fashion than style. I would not even recommend it to anyone unless he will escort in a sagala. 

10. What completes a barong-based outfit?

A camisa chino in beige for an undershirt. Black tuxedo pants. For accessories to complete the look, there are cufflinks, and long dress socks that reach the knee—so when legs are crossed no skin is  shown. Patent leather shoes or slippers as the are of the the tuxedo, but a well shined lace up will just be as awesome. 

11. Are there different types of barong material? 

According to Tesoro’s, “the santana, normally used for uniform of drivers and security guards, thus machine embroidered, costs P1199. The ramie linen (or gusot mayaman) costs P2899. The hand-embroidered jusi can set you back P3299. The jusi-piña, normally machine embroidered, costs P4299. The piña silk ranges from P9699-P10,599. Pure piña should range from P12,699-14,499. The more expensive the material, the more we hand embroider. Above prices are for fabric only.”

These are fabric options as described by Tesoros. Pure piña is the most formal of all materials, and is also the most delicate and prone to snagging. At the recent Artefino, Iloilo based La Herminia was selling a hand embroidered piña fabric for a barong at about P20k. The daily wear barong in ramie linen can be hand emroidered, and is meant for day to cocktails as an alternative to a blazer.

Piña silk is a viable choice and is more robust in wear and tear as opposed to piña.

A piña barong is good investment, but requires a lot of care. Worn with a pair of tuxedo pants, this is a far more comfortable and elegant option than a tuxedo—and this is from someone who has been wearing suits most of this life, ehem ehem.

 

Monchet Olives is the man behind Arte Fino’s men’s section called The Barracks. He writes style stories for ANCX.ph