No, seriously, they are.
Made of light, translucent embroidered material- usually of hand-loomed fiber from pineapple leaves, abaca, silk organza or banana- the traditional barong tagalog is worn untucked, like a coat dress of sorts, over a light undershirt.
So in a warm and humid tropical country like the Philippines, the ingenious design of the barong tagalog makes it the attire of choice for most formal Filipino gatherings. As in this case, my brother’s long-awaited wedding. That’s me with my uncles and cousins hamming it up for the camera to the right- and yes, we all look smashing in our barongs.
I’m inclined to get myself an couple more of these to take with me back to Los Angeles.
The best barongs are, as mentioned, made of either piña (pineapple) fibers, jusi (from hemp, or silk organza), banana fibers, or an innovative mix pineapple and hemp known as piña-jusi. The piña variety of barongs are the most expensive, since pineapple fiber is getting rarer nowadays (exactly how many weavers specializing in pineapple fiber do you know anyway?).
Gaining more popularity is the piña-jusi variety of barong- which has pretty much the same sheerness of piña, but with the improved sturdiness of jusi– so you can still wear these on formal occasions, and it doesn’t have to cost as much.
Barongs used for more everyday functions- like office-wear, for example- are made of more common, but still lightweight fabrics- linen, cotton, ramie, etc. Called gusot-mayaman (“gusot” meaning “wrinkled”, and “mayaman” meaning “wealthy”), these barongs are probably the equivalent of a suit and tie- definitely a step above casual wear, and just formal enough to attend certain functions.
More enterprising barong-makers have also come up with more funkier, more colorful designs- still formal just enough, but a little bit more fun than the usual traditional fare. One of our uncles changed barongs right before the reception- a blue-green number, and upon checking it out, my cousin wanted to get similar designs for himself- something of an olive/military green, brown or black variety.
Barongs of all kinds are usually available in most major shopping centers and specialty stores in and around Metro Manila, and sometimes, you can even commission a custom-designed piece from a tailor who works in barongs.