What You Need To Know Before Buying A Barong
Picking out a proper barong Tagalog can be daunting. There are many options, yet so many of them don't seem quite right. Consider this a guide that will help you figure out if the barong you're about to purchase ticks all the right boxes. As with any menswear item, fit is key. Take note, too, of color, fabric, and collar. Let's begin.
1| Color and fabric
All shades of beige, ecru, cream, sand and off-white are fair game. These are the natural colors of piña after all. Jusi, a fabric woven from banana or abaca fibers, is also acceptable, not to mention more affordable.
Stray from these and you might enter tacky territory. If you need any more convincing, ask yourself: When was the last time you saw a man wearing a shiny royal blue organza barong and thought he looked respectable?
How to tell if it's piña or jusi? The fabric should be a bit coarse and might have burrs in the weave. Organza is just really shiny; you'd be able to tell right away. Even when it's ghostly white, don't.
Think Lagerfeld. A crisp, structured collar with tabs is a good way to go. Make sure it doesn't flay outward and that it is snug without causing (fat) folds when closed. Nothing is more of a dead giveaway of bad fit than a too-loose collar. You won't be able to hide this even when you're just seated at church.
You would be wise to keep embellishments at the minimum. We've all seen those Gucci shirts with a tiger running across the collar and know just how distracting they can be. Now does not seem to be the place for such peacocking.
Though the Mandarin collar has been making a trendy appearance as of late, it's best to reserve the style for guys who have long, lean necks. That means it's not an option for most.
3| Pattern and embellishment
Patterns that slant diagonally toward the center draw the eye inward, giving the illusion of a slimmer torso. But more than just tricking the eye, patterns also serve as real estate for our nation's traditions.
The barong is our national dress after all. Though called the barong Tagalog, designer Randy Ortiz brings our attention to designs from other regions. “The most common embroideries, which showcase traditional patterns, are those from Lumban and Batangas—which are handmade. Recently, there has been an increasing demand for handwoven embroidery from Aklan, which is called suksok. [And] being a Mindanaon myself—where craftsmen are still so into the weaving of the ethnic tinalak—it inspires me to advocate the development of Mindanao’s very own signature embroidery,” he writes in an e-mail interview.
Embroidery from Aklan and Batangas (rightmost)
As with other big-ticket fashion items, mother-of-pearl and horn are the best bets. A number of shank buttons are also options, but always remember good taste before choosing something too outlandish. It's a fine line that separates a showpiece detail from being baduy.
5| Cut and body
Trimmer styles have emerged since the Italian fashion designer Giovanni Sanna, noted for his tenure at Pierre Cardin Manille, introduced them to Manila high society in the '80s.
Take advantage of this fit. It should be structured close to the body and end a little longer than the cuffs, just around your crotch. Go too long and the barong will wear you; too short and everyone will wonder why you have a doll's dress on. However, the former is a problem your neighborhood tailor can solve.
As for shoulders, it should be common sense by now that their seams should end where your shoulders actually end. Nothing but the right size will look smart.
Designer Arnold Galang also advises going with a popover instead of a button-down to help conceal a belly.
6| Sleeves and cuffs
The cuff should echo the collar: Patterned or not, it should stand stiff and tall. There should be no bunching on the sleeves, which may taper gently toward the cuff. Breaks near the cuff might be mendable by a tailor, but bunching around the armhole is not. The cuff should sit clean on your wrist.
7| Putting it all together
While a camisa de chino is standard, this writer prefers a white long-sleeve crewneck Airism undershirt from Uniqlo. It's discreet and doesn't break the line of the look, unlike a short-sleeve T-shirt. Ortiz even advises you take it a step further and have one made bespoke, along with your barong.
Tuck it into belted trousers, and no garish buckles please. Everyone knows the alphabet, and no one needs a refresher by looking at your waist. Finish it off with polished dress shoes. Needless to say, wear them with dress socks; you are not Michael Jackson.
8| Designer hacks
There's a way around all of this meticulous checklist and that's by getting the services of a reputable tailor or letting a designer create a barong for you. They know all the tricks to rig the proportions game. Arnold prices his from P5,000 to P20,000, while Randy's start at P25,000. It's safe to give at least a month's time for fittings and hand embroidery.
Randy Ortiz is at 48 K6 Kamias Road, Quezon City. Arnold Galang is at +63 917 8035688.