FASHION SENSE: THE BARONG TAGALOG

NEWSBREAK. The Chinese didn't blink at Scarborough shoal. Singkit lang sila.

Filipinas should envy Indian women with their six-meter long sarees - a boon to the textile industry. Pinays have stopped using the balintawak or any traditional dress to work. But they would sport the latest Paris or New York fashion.

At least our menfolks retain a traditional haberdashery, and even improve on it. The Barong Tagalog or just the ''Barong'' is the male Filipino dress. The shirt originated from Philippine colonial history.

When we were a colony of Spain, the natives or Indios were obliged to wear shirts without pockets (so that they could not steal). The shirt was also to be made of diaphanous material (so that they could not conceal weapons). And the natives were also to wear their shirt-tails out, to distinguish them from their betters - ''insulares'' and ''peninsulares'' - who tucked in their shirts.

The dress code was clearly a position of servitude. But the Indio gave the shirt to his wife, who embellished it with her needlework; and, rather than being a mark of shame, the shirt is worn today with national pride. This was the Filipino's cultural jujitsu on his oppressor.

When I told this little anecdote to Fr. Paul, a Catholic priest from Kerala, he recalled that there is a similar fashion in Christianity. He said that the cross was an ending for the worst of criminals...and became the sign of Christian salvation.

Material: The barong material may be in any organic fabric: piña (from pineapple fiber), jusi (from banana fiber), ramie (from abaca fiber), or cotton. The first two fabrics are diaphanous and used for formal wear. The gusot mayaman looks like Detective Colombo slept in it.

Manner of wear: Piña and jusi are worn with a kamisa tsino undershirt with sleeves and buttons on the front, to give flexibility whether the shirt is to be worn with open or closed collar. (Gibo Teodoro may have lost some votes for wearing a crewneck T-shirt which showed under the collar. And, under pain of anathema, never, never wear a tank shirt (sando) underneath.

On formal occasions, the barong is worn with the neck collar buttoned up; French cuffs; studs may be used; dark trousers. For informal occasions, the collar is left open; light-colored trousers. (A casual version is the short-sleeved polo barong).

Decorations: The Philippine honors code prescribes that a rosette, if worn, should be placed at the third buttonhole (from the neckline). From the Book, Bababa, ba? Anecdotes of a foreign service officer.

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