Shopping for the perfect wedding dress is thrilling but can oftentimes be overwhelming. For brides looking for a gown that is also reflective of their cultural roots, those feelings can be multiplied tenfold. But if you're a bride with Filipino heritage, Filipiniana dress is an ideal way to honor culture as you walk down the aisle—and we're taking the stress out of the search.
What Is Filipiniana?
Filipiniana refers to traditional, formal Filipino outfits for women.
Wearing Filipiniana, however, doesn't mean you are necessarily sacrificing modern fashion trends for the sake of your ancestors. Rather, the Filipiniana dress has evolved and designers like Caroline Mangosing are pushing the boundaries of Filipiniana fashion, challenging traditions, and adapting the Filipiniana to their respective wearers and environments.
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-wear modern Filipiniana fashion ethically produced in the Philippines.
Ahead, Mangosing explains the types of gowns to consider, the key components of true Filipiniana fashion, and what to know before you shop.
Types of Filipiniana Wedding Dresses
The most traditional Filipiniana look is the baro't saya, which translates to blouse (baro) and skirt (saya), and was worn by women during the pre-Hispanic era and in non-Christianized societies in the Philippines. In addition to the waist-length blouse and long skirt, the baro't saya also boasts a short overskirt (tapis) and a kerchief or shawl (pañuelo or alampay) worn over the shoulders.
But the classic baro't saya has evolved over time, producing several different variants favored by women in different regions and periods of times. In addition to the baro't saya, the five most common types of Filipiniana gowns today are:
- Traje de Mestiza: An aristocratic variant, the traje de mestiza is among the most recognizable with its pagoda sleeves and luxurious lace detailing and embroidery.
- Balintawak: The balintawak is a more casual version of the baro't saya. Because of this, it is most commonly worn in rural areas.
- Kimona: Featuring a tube-like wraparound skirt, called a patadyong, the kimona is widely worn in Visayas, an archipelago of the Phillippines.
- Barong Tagalog: The barong tagalog is a men's formal dress shirt, but has recently become fashionable among women. It is favored by brides searching for a minimalist look.
- Terno: The most recognizable form of Filipiinia fashion is the terno, which was first designed in the late 1940s. Unlike other dress types, ternos boast matching blouses and skirts.
Characteristics of a Filipiniana Wedding Dress
Mangosing claims that two details truly dictate the form of any Filipiniana outfit: fabric and structure.
The classic sheer quality and silky texture of a Filipiniana gown is achieved by using Piña, a natural fiber sourced from native Philippine red pineapple leaves; or Jusi, which is sourced from abacá. Piña is considered the queen of all Philippine fabrics, with its signature silky gloss and luxurious softness. Mangosing reveals its lightweight nature also makes it easy to blend with other fabrics, saying “Weavers in [Panay Island] are mixing Piña with cotton. It’s beautiful but super expensive.”
To determine whether or not fabric is truly Piña, look at the threads. With Piña, you will only see horizontal threads, while silk organza displays both vertical and horizontal threads.
While ideal for the humidity in the Philippine tropics, Piña however, tends to become brittle and is easily damaged in the dry, North American climate. The delicate nature of this fabric paired with its rarity and extensive hand-weaving process all lead to a hefty price tag. Now, many brides use polyester organza for ready-to-wear Filipininana fashion as it is the easiest to access outside of the Phillippines and inexpensive. Blended fabrics like Piña-Seda (a mixture of Piña and silk) Piña-Jusi have become popular.
Mangosing adds, “I only use silk organza and Jusi, a cotton silk from Korea" for her North American clients. "It’s translucent, but feels really silky.”
Aside from fabric, the other most notable feature of Filipiniana bridal fashion is gown structure—particularly, sleeves. Although the style began with sloping pagoda sleeves obscured by shawls, butterfly sleeves came into the scene in the 1920s. Two decades later, the distinct characteristic was a mainstay in fashion and continues to be popular today.
“But there’s a difference between a modern puffed sleeve that you can find at Zara, and a butterfly sleeve,” Mangosing clarifies. “A butterfly sleeve that is Filipino has the edge on the top of the sleeve and is kind of flat.” To achieve the special arch, each sleeve is constructed with a specific number of pleats, and lined with cañamaso (a stiff netting fabric) to retain its upright structure. This kind of structuring makes traditional butterfly sleeves very delicate.
Some brides opt to get the traditional butterfly sleeves woven separately to match ready-to-wear sleeveless wedding gowns. The advantage here is two-fold: A custom piece of bridalwear at a fraction of the cost of a real gown and the detachable sleeves can be easily removed to prevent damage.
But Mangosing also warns of the challenges brides might face when it comes to sizing. “The challenge with Filipiniana is the fit. The sizing is usually the problem—it runs very small and the sleeves run short.” Still, your Filipiana serves as a tangible, wearable piece of your culture and heritage, so it only makes sense to buy something you'll love, cherish and wear long after you tie the knot.