The Barong Tagalog

Three US Presidents in Barong Tagalog shirts.

The leaders' collared, ivory-hued button-downs are Barong Tagalogs. The top is a traditional Filipino men's shirt fashioned from lightweight natural fibers indigenous to the Philippines, like pineapples or bananas. The Barong's history can be traced back to the 15th century, the early days of the Spanish colonial era. Back then, the Spaniards forced indigenous Filipinos to wear the blousy shirts untucked, so as not to be confused with the ruling class.

In the 1950s, former Filipino President Ramón Magsaysay made the shirts fashionable when he wore one to his inauguration and to his subsequent private and public events. These days, Barongs are worn to very special occasions.

Photo : The Textile Atlas
Barong Tagalog is traditionally made with sheer textiles (nipis) woven from piña or abacá; although in modern times, cheaper materials like silk, ramie, or polyester are also used.

“Piña” fiber is extracted from the leaves of a pineapple plant. The fibers are ivory-white in color and naturally glossy. The cloth is translucent, soft and fine with high luster. Piña fiber is often blended with cotton, abaca, silk, or polyester to create wonderful light, breezy fabrics. Since piña fabric is hand loomed by only a few weavers, it is very precious and scarce, which also makes it expensive.

Photo : The Textile Atlas

Since piña is from a leaf, the leaf is cut first from the plant. Then the fiber is pulled or split away from the leaf. Most leaf fibers are long and somewhat stiff. Each strand of the Piña fiber is hand scraped and is knotted one by one to form a continuous filament to be hand-woven and then made into a Piña cloth. 

Piña Visayan Weavers. Photo: Philippine Folklife Museum.

Fiber from Pineapple leaves for long has been used by Philippine handicraft artisans to produce cloth. Pineapple fibre is considered to be more delicate in texture than any other vegetal fibre. 

Photo: The Textile Atlas

A kilo of leaves may provide up to 15-18 pieces of white, creamy and lustrous as silk fibre about 60 cm long and it easily retains dyes.

Currently, the main limitation lies in the piña fabric supply. Since piña fiber extraction and weaving employs complex, time-consuming techniques, it can take a weaver a whole day to produce a mere quarter meter of the fabric. As a consequence of low supply, piña textiles remain expensive.

Photo: Berkeley

Piña fibers can also be blended with cotton, abaca (banana leaf fiber), or silk for greater strength and durability. Blending piña with silk results in piña seda, and blending with abaca results in piña-jusi. Finally, piña cloth can be decorated with a traditional style of hand-embroidery, a technique called calado.


Barong is actually short for Barong Tagalog, which describes the formal men’s wear of the Philippines. It is properly referred to as the ‘Baro ng Tagalog’ (dress of the Tagalog). Contracting the first two words produces ‘Barong,’ which literally means ‘dress of.’ 

31st ASEAN summit, Manila 2017. Photo: The Philadelphia Inquirer

31st ASEAN summit, Manila 2017.  Photo: Rappler