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Classical Ladies' Fashion Design and The Society Changing (6): Philippine Terno

Updated on March 11, 2014
Baro't saya
Baro't saya | Source
Baro't saya
Baro't saya | Source

Philippine Terno

Philippine national costume for women is called "terno", a word from Spanish meaning "for matching" or "to match". It is a long one-piece dress with upper bodice and lower skirt stitched together at waist. One distinctive feature is the appearance of the short sleeves. The sleeves are upright, a little high out of and flat against the shoulders, looking like butterfly wings, so the terno is also called "butterfly costume". Besides, the low neckline contours the bosom, appearing ladies' charm.

Since the long-term colonial history of Philippines by western countries, terno is actually an international integration of women clothings of many western countries, especially Spain. During the Spanish colonial period (1521-1898), traditional Philippine women clothing was known as Hispanized clothing, which was an ensemble called "baro't saya". The saya consisted of four parts: the camisa (a short blouse with sleeves), the alampay or panuelo (a type of shawl or overcoat worn over the camisa), the saya (a long skirt) and the tapis (a short overskirt wrapped around the saya). As Spanish missionaries spreaded the Christianity, women's clothing was reduced to conservatism. For example, a veil became necessary when women went to church, while certain parts of the body like foot or leg were never supposed to be showed off.

According to Fr. Joaquin Martinez de Zuñiga, the terno had acquired certain modern features by the early 19th century. The current Augustinian missionary and historian first observed some changes in baro't saya of Tagalog women (on Philippine Luson Island) in 1803. He wrote these words, "a kind of little shift, which scarcely reaches the navel". He noticed that Tagalog women did not wear the alampay regularly, but loosely like a handkerchief (For my knowledge, alampay was originally supposed to be worn officially, not just a shawl on common sense.), and the saya skirt like a "white linen cloth (which) encircle the body and is fastened by a button at the waist." In his record, Tagalog women had already thrown over the tapis.

A Seven-Layer Terno
A Seven-Layer Terno

In the American colonial era (1902-1946), the sleeves began to become shorter, and evolved from bell-shape to butterfly design. With this change, the alampay was found not to match and finally discarded. The tapis also began to disappear to fully show the gracefulness and variant fashion sense in the skirt. Eventually, the blouse was joined to the skirt to form one-piece long dress of the same material. So far, modern terno was formed. Some historians believe that the terno was born influenced by American evening gown. It was also recorded that the terno was characteristic of 7 layers to create the beauty of the skirt in the turn of last century (1900s). However, it came to be a point because that graceful design obviously did not match with the tropical climate in Philippines.

Edgar San Diego
Edgar San Diego
Imelda Marcos
Imelda Marcos | Source

After 1930s, the terno had gradually become less fashionable as Americanization increased. However, the previous First Lady, Imelda Marcos, popularised it again in 1970s. She was known as the most powerful woman in the Philippines. She was almost always in a terno in front of the public, and terno became an important part of the First Lady's agenda to fashion herself as a legendary character on political stage. Therefore, she was given an epithet "the Iron Butterfly", while her diplomatic activity was called "Butterfly Diplomacy".

Imelda is a real fashion woman, beautiful, graceful and noble, even though she was from a poor family. It was her who pulled on the tyle, the culture and the grace of the terno, and thus promoted this Oriental traditional costume world-known. Now, Imelda terno has become the basic form of the terno, i.e. low neckline, short sleeves, tight in the waist through the hips, and broad in the tail, which still has heavy Spanish feelings.


Newly Developed Terno

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    • Hui (蕙) profile imageAUTHOR

      Hui (蕙) 

      7 years ago

      Thanks, kerlynb, so much.

    • kerlynb profile image


      7 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      I love your hubs! I'm now a fan :) I also like your motto "Life Motto: If you do not start off, you will never arrive!" How true!

    • Hui (蕙) profile imageAUTHOR

      Hui (蕙) 

      7 years ago

      Thanks, fashion. Glad you enjoy it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is very informative and beautiful hub.


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