Thursday, February 11, 2016

Stuck in that Silhouette

4:48 AM

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It's high time for our national costume to get a much-needed upgrade.

There is at least one season at any given point in a designer’s career where they reinvent the Filipiniana. Monique Lhuillier for Kelly Osbourne at the Golden Globes 2012, Joey Samson’s caged terno on Heart Evangelista for SONA 2014, and even that cake terno everyone hated by Alfredo Barraza for Binibining Pilipinas 2015. 

Many have showcased their variations of the national costume on runways, red carpets, and editorials, almost as if it’s an unspoken rule to have at least one Filipiniana collection per cycle. I don’t know about you guys, (and I’m probably going to be assassinated by Pitoy Moreno for saying this) but I’m really tired of it.

The talk is always about “modernizing” traditional clothing, where designers take a vintage idea, throw some glitter on it, and say this is how we marry the past and future. It honors our history while “re-innovating” it, they say.

But reinvention is not equivalent to innovation: it only disguises a tired idea as something new. The reinvention of the terno specifically, as I’ve enumerated, is most common to this misconception. Innovation is the realization of an original idea, born as an answer to a problem, not the constant recycling of what we believe is an infallible concept even when it’s clear that it is no longer representative of contemporary times.

The terno is a stiff two-piece dress made of a single fabric, giving the illusion of one garment. Its defining feature is the “butterfly” sleeves: two flattened bell shapes crowning a straight neckline that traditionally hits a cut above the floor.

The style emerged somewhere in the 1930s, then fell out of fashion before being revived by Imelda Marcos in the 1970s. It’s often worn to political events as an indication of nationalism and adherence to tradition without sacrificing the era’s idea of modernity. It was also a form of protest against Americanization, embracing the colonial Spanish culture as the true “site of ‘Filipinaness’”, as told by Priscelina Patajo-Legasto. 

Despite that claim, the terno itself is a transformation of the baro’t saya through the Maria Clara over the period of a century wherein the layers of the baro’t saya had been reduced, the sleeves altered, and eventually given a rigid body line as opposed to the original sweeping silhouette.

It’s been roughly forty years since this costume revision, and yet no one has thought of conceptualizing a new figure to fit the current era: one that accurately represents contemporary ideals, instead of another ridiculous version of the worn-out terno every other season.

I want to see something truly new, a new tradition, a new classic that represents our era. Bring forth even those ugly aspects: our oversensitivity, laziness, and irresponsibility. Translate it into a garment, and give it a solution as well.

We are romantics and idealists to a fault. Because of this, we often try ignore the impending future and are caught unprepared for it. Now we must face the consequences of our inaction. Stitch a silhouette that flows, then stops abruptly and cleanly because that is what it feels like to have a cold dose of reality.

We are terribly impractical people, choosing to walk in the noontime sun with thick blazers and starched shirts that show large sweat stains. Search for new material and weave breezy fabrics that feel like cool water on the skin in response to the increasing humidity and heat of our tropical country.

Poverty and affluence are saddled together side by side, emphasizing each other’s differences as starkly as black and white. Combine two opposing fabrics that contrast each other strongly. Have those two fabrics merge together, eventually becoming one, because if we are always speaking on how to alleviate poverty, then that entails the equal distribution of wealth.

Take all those prompts: what do you visualize? Laser-cut gashes and lines at liberal lengths? A soft, transparent garbage-derived chemically-modified fiber, covering nothing in rebellion to our conservative culture? An optical illusion of a dress that shifts and transforms each time the wearer turns?

We carry with us the precarious burden of being what has been and what will be. Yet we must accept this, because we are the embodiment of this moment in time. We lay our claim on this era, and we indicate the new tradition. We have been educated in our history, always reminded of our nation’s mistakes and failures. Now, it’s time we resolved it through our own ideals and capabilities.

  • Patajo-Legasto, P. (2008). Philippine studies: Have we gone beyond St. Louis?Diliman, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.
  • The Filipiniana: Pride of Philippine fashion. (2011, August 11). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from

Article by Nikki
Art by Jao
Nikki is a girl that sometimes feels like a boy, and is also an all-around art enthusiast and a linguist that likes the mysterious sounds words make. She likes wearing round spectacles of any sort, playing with her makeup when she’s bored, and envisioning outfits for various kinds of occasions. She has a style diary here and maintains a twitter that experiences extreme lows and highs of activity. 
Jao is a 16-year-old aesthetically driven visual artist, fashion student, & french fry enthusiast from Manila. He started his visual folio in summer 2015 known as "Cool Girl (The Label)" ~ironic~. In his time of idle, he enjoys listening to alternative/indie music often psychedelic or acoustic & binge watching tv series such as "Girls", "HIMYM" and the like. View his label at & his tweets @jaosanpedro.


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