Shopping for the perfect wedding dress is exciting, but it can often be overwhelming. Brides looking for a dress that also reflects their cultural roots can increase those feelings tenfold. For brides with Filipino heritage, growing up in North America could mean breaking away from their own cultural practices. However, this does not mean that the eagerness to incorporate her roots into her wedding – especially her wedding dress – is wearing off in any way.
Enter the Filipiniana, an umbrella term for everything that is traditionally Filipino. The wonderfully sheer Barong Tagalog and the chic Terno with his elegant butterfly sleeves immediately come to mind, but there is much more to consider when choosing a Filipino wedding dress, and certainly many more options to explore.
A Brief History of the Filipiniana
The best-known form of Filipiniana is the slim, figure-hugging Terno with butterfly sleeves. But at its core Filipiniana is the Baro’t Saya, which translates as “shirt / blouse and skirt”, which was worn by women in the pre-Hispanic era and by women in non-Christianized societies in the Philippines. The Baro’t Saya consists of a hip-length blouse (Baro or Camisa), a long skirt (Saya or Falda), a shorter overskirt (Tapis or Patadyong) and a headscarf or scarf (Pañuelo or Alampay) shoulders.
The Baro’t Saya produced many variants over the years. The aristocratic Traje de Mestiza is one of the most famous with its pagoda sleeves and luxurious lace details and embroidery. the Balintawak, the recreational variant used in rural areas; the kimona, which was more commonly worn in Visayas, with the Patadyong tube overskirt; and the terno, which saw the union of blouse and skirt in the late 1940s and is still the most famous form of Filipiniana today.
What you should know about the Filipiniana
“The challenge with Filipiniana is the fit,” says Filipiniana fashion designer Caroline Mangosing of the challenges of formal Filipiniana. “Size is usually the problem – it’s very small and the sleeves are short.”
Meet the expert
Caroline Mangosing is the founder and owner of Toronto-based VINTA Gallery, a sustainable fashion brand specializing in bespoke and ready-to-use modern Filipiniana fashion ethically made in the Philippines.
The fabric traditionally used with high quality Filipiniana also presents its own challenges. The classic quality and silky texture of Filipiniana is achieved through the use of piña, a natural fiber made from indigenous Filipino red pineapple leaves, or jusi made from Abacá or Manila hemp. While both fabrics are ideal for humidity in the Philippine tropics, they tend to become brittle and easily damaged in the dry North American climate. The delicate nature of these fabrics, coupled with their rarity and extensive hand-weaving process, increases their price. This leads to the use of polyester organza in many of the cheap but visibly inferior Filipiniana ready-to-wear fashions that are most easily accessible to brides outside of the Philippines.
But these traditional fabrics aren’t exactly what a Filipino wedding dress is all about. Mangosing explains that one of these three things really sets the shape of any Filipiniana outfit: sheer fabric, embroidery, and structure – especially the butterfly sleeves. Since Mangosing does not recommend a pure piña to its customers in North America, she has implemented traditional methods innovatively: “I only use silk organza and jusi as well as cotton silk from Korea. It’s translucent but feels very silky. ”
Filipiniana pineapple fabric
With its silky sheen and luxurious softness, Piña is considered the queen of all Filipino fabrics. While it is often bypassed by cheaper and more accessible fabrics like cotton, the piña weaving industry remains in small enclaves in the Philippines. Due to its low weight, it can be easily mixed with other fabrics. “Weber in [Panay Island] mix piña with cotton, ”says Mangosing. “It’s nice, but super expensive.” Piña Seda, a mixture of piña and silk, is also becoming increasingly popular. Piña jusi is also another popular mix.
Lots of people often confuse other fabrics with it, but Mangosing tells us that there is only one way to tell if a fabric is really piña: “Silk organza is an imitation of piña, where you can see the lattice of threads, but real Piña you can only see the horizontal threads. “
Although Filipiniana started out with sloping pagoda sleeves and is usually covered by scarves, the butterfly style began to move around the 1920s. At the time the 1940s rolled around, the butterfly sleeve was here to stay. “But there is a difference between a modern puff sleeve that you find at Zara and a butterfly sleeve,” explains Mangosing. “A butterfly sleeve that is Filipino has the edge at the top of the sleeve and is kind of flat.”
To reach the arch, each sleeve is constructed with a certain number of folds and lined with cañamaso – a stiff mesh fabric – to maintain its upright structure. This type of structuring makes traditional butterfly sleeves very delicate – therefore they are usually detachable from the dress and difficult to move. “It doesn’t recover, once it’s squeezed, all you have is that strange crease in your hard sleeve. ”
Mangosing found a modern solution that arose out of the need for their North American clientele to put coats over their Filipiniana dresses. “I use hard ballerina tulle for the lining so that it bends and folds under a jacket and pops up again.” She also adds topstitching around the edge of the sleeve so it can be easily flattened. Many brides who choose the Filipiniana route for their weddings in the Philippines also choose to weave the traditional butterfly sleeves separately to match sleeveless wedding dresses instead.
One thing Mangosing recommends for brides when it comes to Filipino wedding dresses is going for ensemble pieces. Not only does the bespoke Filipiniana cost a lot of money, but it also serves as a tangible, wearable piece of culture / heritage. Therefore, it only makes sense to wear them several times. Mangosing’s couture brides usually request ensemble pieces where they can swap out the bottoms for more comfortable pants or skirts to wear for the reception.