Here in the Philippines, the word “lawyer” is usually associated with an old man wearing a Barong Tagalog. Although I truly believe that the “old guy” part is a misconception (as majority of the practicing trial lawyers I have encountered these days are below 40 years old), the “Barong Tagalog” portion clearly has basis. Despite the fact that there are two accepted court outfits for male lawyers in this country — the Barong Tagalog and the suit — most guys wear barongs not just when going to court but also as their everyday getup.

What is a Barong Tagalog?

Every Filipino knows what a Barong Tagalog is. Simply called “Barong”, it is derived from the words “Baro ng Tagalog”, which literally translates to “Dress of the Filipinos”. Obviously, the Barong is the traditional formal dress for Filipino men. It is a collared, usually long-sleeved, semi-transparent shirt with u-shaped embroidered patterns at the front. The barong is worn untucked over a plain undershirt. Although the outfit comes in all kinds of colors, the traditional and its most common color is white.

There are different kinds of barongs, based on the fabric used:

  • THE “PINA” BARONG is the most expensive kind as they are made from the pineapple or pina It is very thin and, therefore, transparent. Thus, unless you are going to a bachelor’s party or you want people to see your nipples sticking out, an undershirt must be worn over this kind of barong.
  • THE “JUSI” BARONG is made from mechanically woven silk. It looks very similar to the pina Personally, except for the fact that the jusi is a little whiter than the pina, I cannot really tell the difference between the two.
  • GUSOT MAYAMAN is the kind of barong most commonly used as an everyday getup. The word “gusot” means “crumpled” while “mayaman” means “wealthy”. So what does gusot mayaman translate to? Crumpled wealthy? Wealthily crumpled? Crumpled and wealthy? I really don’t know. However, I do know why it is named so. This kind of Barong is made from linen, which is easily crumpled. I believe that the person who coined the term “gusot mayaman” did so as a defense mechanism. Imagine walking around in a terribly crumpled shirt. The first thing people would say is that you are so poor that you don’t even have money to buy a better outfit. Well, all you have to say is that you are wearing “gusot mayaman”. My barong may be crumpled, but I am wealthy.

Of the three types of barongs, the gusot mayaman is most commonly worn by lawyers in court. Every now and then, you will come across a lawyer wearing a jusi or even a pina barong. However, this is very rare and these lawyers are usually teased and asked if they are about to get married. This is because pina and jusi barong is more commonly worn during weddings.

Why Lawyers Choose the Barong over the Suit

As mentioned, most lawyers prefer wearing the Barong Tagalog when attending court hearings rather than the suit. I guess the main reason is because of tradition. The Barong, after all, is very Filipino. Moreover, it is very easy to wear. It’s just like wearing a shirt. You just have to put it on and you’re done.

Call me unpatriotic or whatever. But for me, I prefer the suit over the barong. I, however, am clearly the exception rather than the rule. About ninety percent of the lawyers I talked to not only dislike wearing a suit in court, they despise it. I asked them why and these are the reasons they gave me:

  • An expensive everyday wear – A good Barong, especially the gusot mayaman type, would cost about a thousand pesos. The cheapest suit, on the other hand, would cost around five thousand. Obviously, the suit is five times more expensive than the barong. On top of this, the barong can be hand or machine washed while the suit has to be dry-cleaned. Hence, the suit is not only expensive to acquire, it is also expensive to maintain. And, consider that you need at least five suits to get you thru the week. Do the math. No wonder most people use the suit only for special occasions.
  • An insane outfit for a tropical country – When I say tropical, I mean hot. As in really hot. Here, the average day is about 28 to 32 degrees Celsius.   A short walk from the office parking lot to the building usually turns in a sweaty hike. In this kind of heat, putting on a coat over a long-sleeved shirt with a tie around the neck definitely seems crazy.
  • A longer dressing time – While it takes the barong about two minutes to wear, the suit takes longer. A lot longer. The ordeal starts in the choosing of the right color combination. Bear in mind that, in putting on the suit, you also need to put on a polo shirt that goes with it. The decision of choosing the perfect color combination usually takes around 10 minutes. After choosing the right shirt, you then have to choose the right tie. This could take another 10 minutes. Then you have to wear the shirt and put on the tie, which, depending on your skills, could take around 3 to 5 minutes. You have to tuck your shirt in properly, arrange the sleeves properly. Put on accessories such as cufflinks, pocket squares and pins. If you are fast, you would probably be done in around and hour.
  • An aura of arrogance – The main reason why most lawyers abhor the suit is because of the aura of arrogance the wearer displays. Most lawyers in suits are seen as conceited sons-of-a-bitches who try to appear important by displaying an expensive set of clothes.

Why I Love Wearing a Suit

All the above-stated reasons are valid and true. The suit is very expensive. It’s crazy hot. It takes a decade to wear. And, it makes you look self-centered and arrogant. But come on! All lawyers are self-centered and arrogant, whatever they may be wearing. Thus, I love wearing the suit. I wear a suit every day for work. In fact, sometimes, I wear a suit when going shopping, travelling or even partying. There was even one time when I wore a suit to the beach. And these are the reasons why I love the suit so much:

  • It looks really damn good – Just look at my picture above. Nuff said!!!
  • An aura of respect – One thing I realized is that when you are wearing a suit, people are nicer to you. It’s as if people respect you more. One time, I fell in line to get a permit in City Hall. I was maybe seventh in line. But when the guy at the counter saw me in my suit, he told his companion to open another window just to accommodate me. This happens all the time. Traffic cops just let me beat red lights. Security guards help me with my stuff. And more importantly, judges tend to think I am always making the right arguments in court. Believe me, power-dressing works.
  • A Cut Above the Rest – In a courtroom full of white, barong-wearing lawyers, a person in a dark, shiny suit definitely stands out. And imagine how I stand out in a mall or in a movie house. Wearing a suit will definitely make you unique. You will surely catch people’s attention. And what can I say? I love attention. Don’t you?

With these reasons alone, I can simply ignore all other disadvantages the suit may bring. For me, it is definitely worth wearing a suit not only in court but for my everyday office wear.

A Matter of Preference

I am not saying the suit is superior to the barong.  It is really just a matter of choice.  No matter what you wear, whether it’s a barong or a suit, as long as you wear it properly and proudly, you will look good in it. As we usually say, “nasa nagdadala yan”.

Photos by Lian Cayco and Carlo Ybanez

8 thoughts on “The Suit vs. The Barong

  1. While I agree that it’s a matter of preference, there’s a reason why even veteran lawyers choose to wear barongs over suits. I’m a lawyer as well, and I laugh at those who choose to wear suits to court. If you don’t have a case in the SC or Sandiganbayan, scrap the suits. You would look like an idiot wearing a suit in the MTC / RTC. What’s your practice? I’ll bet you’re a junior associate who frequents an MTC.

    1. It is a matter of preference. And i do believe that you are entitled to laugh at those in suits. And i do get that all the time. Im a Partner for the law firm of Chavez Miranda and Asoeche. I guess one of the reasons I am so comfortable with the suit is because my partner, the late and great Frank Chavez, always insisted that we look good in court, whether its the RTC or the CA or the SC.

  2. 1 thing i do not prefer suits over barong, is that you look like a salesman. Photo above looks like you are about to sell me some perfume. Pants arent sharp, maybe the pose is not good…spreading legs, wringkled pants,etc…Keep it up though, and good luck on your career.

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