History of Philippine Fashion

Table of Content

During the colonial period, Spain, Japan, and America exerted a strong influence on the Philippines, greatly impacting its culture, lifestyle, customs, and fashion sense. As a result of these foreign influences, the Philippines’ identity was primarily shaped by external forces. Prior to colonization, however, the country did not have its own distinct identity. The teachings and traditions brought by the colonizers played a vital role in transforming the Philippines into a nation influenced by foreign powers.

The Filipino people tried to create their own distinct Filipino identity, but it was shaped by the foreign characteristics they had acquired during centuries of colonization by foreign powers. The Spanish Colonial Era, which lasted for a significant amount of time, greatly impacted the Philippines and resulted in the assimilation of various Spanish influences. Spain’s three hundred years of rule brought about changes and progress in the Filipino way of life. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, fashion among Filipinos in the sixteenth century was predominantly simple yet functional.

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During the Pre-Spanish colonization, the Filipino people wore collarless shirts called “canga” and wraps called “bahag” for their bottoms. However, when the Spaniards arrived in the country, changes were made to the Filipino fashion. The Barong Tagalog we know today is a result of the evolution of the “canga”. The simple collarless shirt was embellished with laces, trimmings, adornments, and collars. Embroidery and buttons were also added to the “canga”. The traditional “bahag” was replaced by trousers. This change also extended to the female costume counterpart of the Barong Tagalog, known as Baro’t Saya.

The influence of the Spanish on the Baro’t Saya is evident in the intricately embroidered designs and patterns. Additionally, during the Spanish colonial Era, hats and shoes became popular fashion staples in Filipino style between the 1500s and 1800s. Following the Spanish colonization, the Americans played a significant role in shaping the true Filipino fashion. In response to the impracticality of wearing Barong Tagalog and Baro’t Saya in a tropical country like the Philippines, Filipinos adopted a more comfortable American style, moving away from the glamorous and voluminous silhouette of the Spanish. Layers and embroidery were minimized, and fabrics like pure cotton were preferred for their comfort (Te, 2007). As a result of these colonizations, the authentic Filipino fashion style ceased to exist. Presently, Filipino people continue to struggle in establishing their own fashion identity as foreign influences dominate the fashion world. Similarly, pioneers of the Philippine fashion industry are also subjected to these international influences.

There is no distinct Filipino fashion style as our fashion industry is largely influenced by foreign trends. This influence extends to the pioneers of Philippine fashion who are also subject to international styles. However, Filipinos have a long history of innovation and creativity in clothing. Before European colonization, early settlers wore bahag, a loincloth commonly used by Filipino men. Indigenous tribes in the mountains, particularly in the Cordillera Mountain, continue to use this traditional garment.

The Barong Tagalog and Baro’t Saya, which are made of well-chosen materials and woven in intricate designs, are not looked down upon as lowly garments. Each individual wearing them has a unique design. The barong, worn by men during official and special personal occasions, is made of fabrics like pina fabric, jusi, and banana fabric. Moreover, modern versions of the barong include the polo barong, “gusot-mayaman” (meaning “wrinkled wealthy”), linen barongs, and shirt-jack barongs. On the other hand, the baro’t saya is the national dress for women.

The fashion in the Philippines is characterized by the presence of a large panuelo or shawl worn around the shoulders and the terno, which features butterfly sleeves made famous by former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Local fashion in the Philippines has been influenced by both Western and Eastern styles over time, resulting in an eclectic fashion scene. Today, popular Filipino fashion designers include Mich Dulce, Rafe Totengco, and Monique Lhuillier. Recent Filipino fashion trends show that there is no singular style representing the Philippines as the Filipino people have never established a distinct fashion identity.

Spanish colonization, lasting for more than 300 years, greatly impacted the culture of the Philippines. This influence is evident in multiple facets of life encompassing language, lifestyle, behavior, clothing, and food. Despite gaining independence from Spain, Western culture—particularly that of America—remains dominant in the country. Moreover, neighboring countries like China and India as well as trade engagements with Arab cultures have also influenced the Philippines.

Before colonization, the Filipino people had already incorporated aspects of foreign culture into their daily lives. In this section, we will explore how notable figures in the Philippine fashion industry draw inspiration from various cultures or countries. The designers discussed include Jun Escario, Rajo Laurel, Patrice Ramos-Diaz, Inno Sotto, Paul Cabral, and Lulu Tan Gan.

Design Inspirations

  • Jun Escario

  • Rajo Laurel

  • Patrice Ramos – Diaz

  • Inno Sotto

  • Paul Cabral

  • Lulu Tan Gan

Foreign Influences on Philippine Fashion. The history of the Philippines says a lot about the culture of the Filipinos today.

The impact of Spain and America on our culture has resulted in a strong Western influence in various aspects of our society, including language, food, music, customs, traditions, and fashion. Our fashion choices have been greatly influenced by our colonizers and can even be seen in our traditional clothing like the terno which is inspired by Spanish styles. Paul Rodell (2002) explains that the modern terno emerged as a fusion between the European-style skirt called saya and the tapis. Furthermore, during the 19th century, upper-class Filipinos widely adopted Spanish dress styles. This suggests that our ancestors did not have their own distinct clothing style but rather embraced European fashion trends.

Since we did not have a distinct fashion identity from the beginning, our current identity is still not well-defined compared to other countries. Moreover, the influence of European fashion is highly noticeable in the silhouettes of our clothing and in the impact of popular designers. It’s not just the Spanish, but also other European countries that influence us. Filipinos dress elegantly, although in a more subdued manner. Our local designers, similar to their European counterparts, create garments with defined silhouettes and meticulous detailing. For instance, Patrice Ramos Diaz incorporated intricate draping in her collection.

Some of them also include embroidery and lace in their clothes, similar to Jun Escario’s use of these elements in his tops and dresses. In one of his collections, he used laces, sheer fabric with embroidery, feathers, or rosettes. Additionally, the use of lighter fabrics is a key aspect of the French Style. Given that the Philippines is a tropical country, we incorporate this style to adapt to the hot weather. This influence demonstrates that the Philippines lacks a distinct fashion identity.

Although designers occasionally use local textiles and incorporate Maria Clara and Barong Tagalog in their works, there is still not a distinct look that can be labeled as Philippine fashion. The fashion trends are determined by Western countries, and Filipinos simply follow these trends and add a touch of their own. As researchers, we have a deep understanding and appreciation for Philippine fashion, as we have been exposed to both European and American influences in our approach to design, marketing, and overall presentation.

Sometimes, or most of the time, our focus on western countries leads us away from our goal of establishing a Filipino Identity. We are faced with a choice of either imitating everything the western countries do or creating our own unique fashion identity. This essay aims to challenge our thinking and encourage us to eventually develop our own style. Just as London’s new generation of designers have revitalized streetwear and traditional English tailoring to produce modern classics, we wonder what the new generation of Philippine fashion designers will bring to the table. What will be our equivalent?

In regards to the ideas of terno or Maria Clara, we need to consider whether we still want to promote them or if they should be reserved solely as a national costume for special occasions. We feel that we may have underestimated the possibilities for modernizing the terno. Perhaps we can experiment with different textures, layering techniques, and refining the silhouette. We can even exaggerate shapes and introduce fluidity to counteract the traditional stiffness. It is important for new ideas to emerge, evolve, and spread. We firmly believe that young Filipino designers have the potential to draw creatively from our past in order to create a new image for the future. They can capture conflicting fears and desires within the young Filipino consumer through their designs.

We believe that it is possible to investigate the complexities of modern life through fashion. Filipino Clothing in Retrospect. http://www.philippine-travel-guide.com/filipino-clothing.html Philippine Fashion and Its Influences Bianca Huang Christine Rodriguez Jaqueline Therese Romasanta Austin Trinidad November 13, 2009 Table of Contents Introduction Thesis Statement Define the Filipino style Identifying the Filipino Fashion Designers Inspiration for their collection and works Foreign influences on Filipino fashion Conclusion Bibliography and Works Cited

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History of Philippine Fashion. (2018, Feb 21). Retrieved from


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