The traditional clothing of a nation represents its culture, identity and heritage, and symbolizes its unique history and unique sense of self.
A return to traditional styles that are better suited for our climate and carry our sense of identity is something we should seriously consider, and here are some points why.
First, for comfort.
Our bodies change throughout the years, and for many of us, middle-aged spread is often the outcome.
We find ourselves having “thin” and “fat” pants, skirts, and blouses, and at some point we must’ve thought to ourselves, this is costing too much money and trouble.
We also need to consider our tropical climate.
So I looked to pre-Hispanic clothing styles.
Our clothing then reflected the culture of the region and in my mind hearkens back to the Hindu influence we received via the Srivijaya and Majapahit thalassocratic empires.
Women wore tight-fitting tops. Men and women alike wore fabrics wrapped around their waist.
An early Spanish historian I came across wrote that they were “unstitched fabrics.” The malong, tapis, patadyong, and the like are generally described as tubes of fabric tied around the waist.
The unisex malong is the perfect nether garment because it is infinitely adjustable to the wearer’s waistline — whether we gain or lose weight, or we just had too much to eat, the malong can be retied to fit just right.
It’s also soft and cool, it lets air circulate around our legs, unlike jeans and trousers.
Refer to the Arab robes, abayas – same hot climate, same principle of loose clothing that does not constrict.
The baro was a short cotton blouse, the original cropped top.
It had long sleeves that could be folded back, and a square or round neckline.
Women wore the tapis only at first, then Spanish influence came up with the saya (skirt) for modesty, but the tapis was retained as an overskirt.
The baro and tapis combination may be recognized as a modification of the Indian sari, with its tight top and draped skirt. It’s a look seen all across Southeast Asia.
My second point for wearing indigenous and traditional clothing styles is to assert a decolonized identity.
Philippine fabrics and styles of clothing are deeply steeped in centuries of culture and tradition.
Wearing them is not only a fashion statement, but also a way to honor and appreciate the long history and culture of the Filipino people.
By wearing these garments and supporting the local artisans that create them, we demonstrate solidarity with their communities and spread awareness of their culture and creativity.
We become culture bearers as well.
Third, we should economically support artisans such as weavers and embroiderers.
It’s great to see entrepreneurs working with weavers of inabel, kantarines, inaul, and other fabrics to create modern wearable piece such as jackets, boleros, and blazers.
Supporting local artisans that create these one-of-a-kind handwoven textiles is essential in order to continue their cultural practices and help them with their livelihoods.
For me, wearing malong is not only a visual representation of my ancestry, but also a statement of pride in my culture and identity, and a demonstration of respect and appreciation for traditional crafts and support for those who create them.
So I decided to incorporate baro and malong into my everyday wear and, drawing inspiration from my Maguindanaon heritage, searched for inaul (“woven”) fabric.
I found some on the “Malong Maguindanaon-Filipino Indigenous Handwoven Fabrics Malong” FB page run by Janessa Sulaik, 23.
This young entrepreneur, who is taking Tourism Management at the University of Mindanao-Matina, started selling inaul only last year.
With her sister’s kalilang (“wedding”) approaching, she wanted to wear something special. “I was tired of wearing the same formal attire available in malls or local shops and needed some uniqueness,” she said.
She wore inaul to the occasion and got her family to do the same. Now, her main purpose for her shop is to “keep our culture alive.”
Her inaul, which she sources from local weavers, is bought mostly by older clients, many of them based abroad. She has many customers in the U.S. and Canada.
Among the younger set, though, she believes “there is potential” but “it’ll be a long road” for inaul to be in popular use among them.
Janessa says it is rare for young people in her area to wear traditional attire, because they see it as impractical and expensive.
Inaul, she adds, was once only accessible to those of datu and bai status and is still out of reach of many students today because their price reflects their handmade origin.
She hopes to someday launch a streetwear line that incorporates inaul into modern fashions.
There are laws and policies that advocate the use of traditional fabrics, such as Republic Act. 9242 or the Philippine Tropical Fabrics law that prescribes their use by government officials and employees.
The law was authored by Sen. Loren Legarda, who has consistently promoted the use of traditional fabric and clothing. But the cost of such fabrics make the implementation of such laws difficult.
Janessa calls on the national and local government to support inaul weaving and the promotion of its use.
“[Sana] maging kasing-uso ng inaul ang piña,” she says. “Kapag Pinoy kasi, Filipiniana using piña ang unang naiisip. Inshallah, masali ang inaul.” She suggests that the government streamline and cut down processes and paperwork that add to the cost of creating and trading inaul.
As an advocate of local fabrics and their industries, I believe we can be of support by adopting traditional fashion in our daily garb. One suggestion is to start by wearing malong.
There are versions for every budget, such as the cotton batik ones that go for less than P200.
What’s important is for us to begin normalizing wearing such clothing in public (again) and revive their regular use.
* * * Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO / Email: [email protected]