Apr 23
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Experts’ guide to wearing the Filipiniana

Author: Deni Rose M. Afinidad
Column: Life

If you were invited to the President’s inauguration or State of the Nation Address (Sona), what would you wear? Of course, the obvious answer is a Filipiniana. But what kind of Filipiniana and how should you wear it?

Fashion stalwarts Rajo Laurel, Mich Dulce, Tessa Prieto-Valdes, Robby Carmona and Romina Urra-Gonzalez recently gathered as panelists at the second leg of HSBC Coffee Talk in Makati Shangri-La Hotel to give tips and tricks on how you can pick the right traditional garb and rock it in a fine balance of good taste and nationalistic gusto.

Barong Tagalog basics

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino might have banned the wang-wang (alarm signal), but the fashion police has held up its own wang-wang against the way His Excellency wore and carried the barong Tagalog on his inauguration.

The barong Tagalog, a traditional Filipino men’s wear usually made of piña or jusi and stylized with an elaborate embroidery on the chest, was first worn in an inauguration by then President Ramon Magsaysay, followed by former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada.

“It’s great that (President Aquino) wore a barong because it’s good to wear what Filipinos wear rather than wearing a suit,” observed fashion designer Mich Dulce. “But as president, he should be aware of how a barong is properly worn. A barong should be buttoned up. He marched around without buttoning up his barong.”

“I think President Noynoy looked okay. His (JC Buendia-designed) barong Tagalog is well-fitted and has great proportions. He was groomed well, just like how Obama was styled, except that he should work on his posture. He should project that fierceness, the proper posture of a fierce Filipino,” commented Robby Carmona, who added that as a fashion show director, posture is one of the first things he always notices.

“For very important people like the President and Vice President, I would stay traditional and not try to design barongs that are overly creative,” suggested Rajo Laurel. “Especially for events like the inauguration, we have to be very true to form and authentic to what the barong Tagalog is. Now if it was another occasion, maybe I would be more creative. Perhaps introduce another kind of collar or cuff, and maybe even a subtle variation in the fabric.”

Traditional Filipino men’s wear, according to the popular fashion designer, is about subtle or “invisible” details like a tux pin or black onyx buttons. So, should a designer wish to be creative, he could play on these minute elements rather than on embellishment or fabric color and choice. For socialite and fashion iconoclast Tessa Prieto-Valdes, bright yellow is an example of a wrong fabric color for a barong Tagalog.

As a general rule, a collared barong Tagalog is informal and not okay for inauguration, Rajo said. A full-pitchera barong, or one that has buttons from the bottom, is informal, while a half-pitchera, or one whose buttons start on the chest, is the formal type. A barong that comes in black is informal, while one that shows no space between neckline and neck is a formal one. A long-sleeve, not short-sleeve, camiso de chino (undershirt) is formal; so is an off-white, not bright white, camiso de chino.

Full attention should also be given to proportions, he added. “Your barong Tagalog should begin where your thumbs end, that’s the origin of the idiom ‘rule of thumb.’”

The shoulder and the collar are what makes the barong, Rajo noted. To make sure that the collar is in right proportion, he advised measuring the neckline, dividing it into eight, and making the quotient the width of the collar. “This should give you a collar that’s not gaping and lying perfectly on your neck,” he assured.

Rajo believes men can look taller and more dignified by enhancing their vertical lines like pairing slimmer pants with barong.

Work that terno

A terno, which means “matching” in Spanish for its top and bottom made of the same textile, is characterized by its iconic butterfly sleeves and usually piña or jusi fabric. “Many women choose the terno for a Filipiniana because it brings focus to the face and neckline,” noted Romina Urra-Gonzalez, a magazine editor and image counselor.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos might be the definitive dame of the terno, but Romina guaranteed anyone who has an eye for good proportions can pull off this national dress.

“Watch the sleeves. Make sure they aren’t too big to eat your face,” she warned.

“When... your best asset is your decolletage, ... you shouldn’t wear a V-neckline that’s up to three inches low to overemphasize your asset. It’ll be overwhelming,” pointed out Rajo.

Also, the designer raised an eyebrow against plus-size or petite women who wear something that has too much going on. “Excessive texture or details would make you look larger. It doesn’t flatter,” he said.

Just the right decolletage, covered arms and accentuated waistline are what would make a terno flattering for the plus-sized, suggested Dulce. For the petite, vertical lines and arrows that point upward would provide the illusion of height. Horizontal lines would only cut a petite’s figure all the more.

“Rajo taught me that if you’re wearing a formal gown, you should never show your shoes. The dress should be long enough to cover your feet when you’re standing,” added Tessa.

Donning a Maria Clara or a Balintawak is a good way to stand out from a sea of ternos, but again, Tessa warned that other Filipiniana variations are not as figure-flattering as the terno. “Since the others come as separates, they tend to be baggy,” she reasoned.

In choosing a brocade dress, make sure the design doesn’t look like your sofa’s upholstery, cautioned Romina. A black dress, said Tessa, is like going to a wake and inappropriate for a supposedly festive inauguration or Sona. Laurel also discouraged wearing something too shiny or embellished for a morning affair. Generally, it pays to be discerning in fabric choice. “Don’t go for cheap ones like polyester. They only don’t look awful. They’ll also be too uncomfortable in a hot venue like the Quezon Memorial Circle,” said Urra-Gonzalez.

In accessorizing the Filipiniana, Rajo advised against wearing a wristwatch with a formal gown, especially one with a black leather strap. “No to purses in the same fabric as your dress unless you’re 15 and going to a prom,” he added. Romina prefers a hairstyle more formal than the homely ponytail, while Tessa goes for a knockout statement piece like a bangle, cuff, cocktail ring, bib necklace or a string of pearls. “Platform shoes are great. You can walk on them the whole day while giving you the height you need,” she noted.

In the end, Rajo emphasized that fashion is all about being appropriate no matter what the occasion is — may it be the Sona or the FAMAS. After all, in the Philippines, show biz and politics are one and the same, and in this marriage, fashion should not be the third wheel.

Source: The Daily Tribune