The malong and other fragments of Philippine culture

Red malong, style 2

One of the good things about Canada is that I can wear funky ethnic
outfits. I invariably get complimented whether I’m at a geek
get-together or a fashion boutique. I stand out in a crowd. It gives
people something to talk to me about, which has led to quite a few
interesting conversations. This is great when I’m among strangers, as
I don’t have to chat people up – people come to me!

My favorite ethnic outfit is the malong, a tubular piece of cloth
frequently embellished with batik designs or embroidery. I love it for
its versatility. Not only can it go from casual to formal and back
again, but I can also make it a skirt or a dress or a bag with just
the strategic repositioning of safety pins.

This malong:

  1. Slip into the malong’s tube and hold it so that the extra part is to your right.
  2. Loop the extra part behind and over your right arm.
  3. Fasten the part to both sides of the tube using a safety pin.
  4. Pin the fold to the opposite side.

Granted, I’m making things up as I go along. I don’t even have the
vocabulary to describe what I’m doing. <laugh> I’ll just have to
record a video sometime.

I’ve seen only one other person wear a malong regularly, and she was
one of the hippest dressers in Ateneo de Manila University. I have
three full malongs and two skirt-type malongs, which could probably
double as short dresses in a pinch. I want more!

Promoting traditional Filipino costumes is one of my little crusades.
I think we don’t give our culture enough credit, and we don’t have
nearly as much fun wearing traditional outfits as we could. I love
wearing my terno, and wish I had a more casual version that I could
wear during summer. I’d wear a Maria Clara if I had one, full skirt
and all. I would love to wear the Ifugao belt with the cute pompoms
and the tapis with intricate weaving. And I want to discover all the
other costumes that have sprung out of the multifaceted culture of an
archipelago.

I’d also love to have suits with ethnic accents, whether it’s in terms
of materials (I miss my barong dress!) or embellishments such as
weaving or embroidery. Does anyone know a fashion designer in touch
with the Filipina soul? I can’t afford an entire wardrobe of
custom-made suits, but I don’t mind slowly accumulating pieces of
quality. (Very slowly, given my graduate student budget!) I want to
promote Philippine culture, and this will be a lifelong endeavor.

I’m Filipina, and I want people to know it. I want people to think of
Filipinas as not just domestic helpers or nurses or potential wives. I
want them to think of Philippine culture as not just Western-aping
blandness but rather something richly textured. My body is my
billboard, and I want to be a walking advertisement for what is
beautiful about my home.

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