Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Women's Filipino National Costume of the early 1800's

 Hello All, 

Today I would like to continue talking about the Filipino National Costume of the early 19th cent. by focusing on the women. For general introductory remarks about the Philippines, see my last article. 

The Filipino National costume for women is called the baro’t saya, literally, blouse and skirt. It had, and to this day, mostly still has, four parts, as can be seen in the following drawing. This form of the outfit is rarely seen today, so I will mostly be relying on old illustrations. 

In this early period, the Spanish influence is not yet greatly apparent.
The attire of the lowland peoples of the Philippines before the Spanish arrived consisted of a blouse, a shoulder cloth and a wrap around skirt. We can see this in some early drawings. Here are some from the Boxer Codex.

While some of the details may be suspect, we can clearly see the three parts of dress. Here are some later ones by a different artist. 

The first figure, here executed by two different artists, is from the Visayas, the second from Pampanga on Luzon. The Spanish, when they arrived, found the wrap skirts to be too revealing, I'm not sure why, and pressured the native women to wear European style skirts. The saya is sometimes seen in these old drawings worn by itself. 

But mostly, the women began to wear the saya [Spanish skirt] under the tapis [Native wrap skirt]. This style continues to the present day along with some more modern versions. 


Looking at these images we see that the old sayas were mostly plaid, although occasionally striped. Many of the women are wearing a large scapular. We can also see that the shoulder cloth, alampay, today also called pañuelo, was worn in many different ways. Most commonly it was worn over one shoulder, either folded, or just as is. It was also sometimes thrown over the head, to shelter from the sun or as padding under a basket or other container carried on the head. Later, the shoulder shawl became a huge fad in the mid 1800's in Europe, and under this influence the alampay was folded diagonally and wrapped around both shoulders. 

Here are a couple examples from the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands. These early shoulder cloths seem to have mostly been plaid, as we see in the drawings. These specimens also have white edging and embroidery in the corners. 


Later on, these began to be woven of sheer Abacá [fibrous wild banana] or Piña [pineapple leaf fiber] cloth. These were elaborately embroidered, as in these examples.

The blouse, or top, is called baro. As you can see in many of the above illustrations, it was made of plain cloth for work or everyday occasions. Some of the blue ones shown above show simple white embroidery around the neck. Here is the basic cut. 

The neck was either round or square, and the body was relatively short. Like the mens' shirts, it hung loose and was not tucked into the lower body garments. The sleeve ends were open, without cuffs, and in this period they were relatively narrow, mostly being cut straight, or occasionally tapering towards the cuff. It was only later that they were widened into the famous 'butterfly sleeves'.

For festive dress, the baro was often woven with silk stripes alternating with gauzy areas that had designs woven into them. The result, while very attractive, resulted in a somewhat sheer garment that scandalized the Spanish. As a result, modesty panels were sewn to the front.

Here are a few specimens from the Rijksmuseum again. Unfortunately the closeups were photographed against a light background, so the openwork is not very visible. Embroidery was often executed around the cuff. 

The tapis was generally woven in cotton, with stripes, which in the old drawings were always horizontal. Here are two specimens from the Rijksmuseum, which, exceptionally are embroidered, which is probably why they were preserved. 

I have found no examples of sayas preserved in museums, so we will have to be content with examining the drawings. They undoubtedly had waistbands, and I suspect were constructed much like the wide sayasaya pants which I covered in my last article. Here are a few more illustrations of the old baro’t saya. 

Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. I think that this older form of dress deserves to be revived. 

Roman K. 

email: rkozakand@aol.com