by Jonquil Dun

Philippines is a home to ultra- friendly, hospitable, joyful and fashion- oriented, very sociable people who loves to dress up for every occasions. Trends can easily sell among Filipino consumers due to their ability to adapt changes and blend with the world. Perhaps the successive invasions that started in the 1500’s until 1900’s allowed the Filipinos to accommodate the influences from the cultures introduced to them, if not for their convivial nature that let them do so.

Modest fashion resurrected as a movement not so long ago; perhaps a decade or two in the West, when immigrants and the new generations of Muslims increased. The difficulty to be socially- accepted and the need for identity pushed forward the idea that modesty, particularly the hijab, had to be proudly worn in public. The movement started in small circles among hijab enthusiasts but as the popularity of Instagram among users grew, these movement made use of its platform which give way for the likes of Dina Torkia, Melanie Elturk, Noor Tagouri and other hijabi to gain momentum, until big brands like Dolce and Gabbana, H&M, Fendi and few more had started dedicating a modest fashion pieces in the runways. Just this year, modest fashion made its way to become a mainstream trend.

While all these are happening outside; in Paris, London, Milan, New York, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Amsterdam, Canada, Australia, Turkey, South Africa, and other places more, modest fashion in the Philippines did not quite toll a bell albeit Filipinos attitude towards fashion trends are so sound. Perhaps, its history as a nation had deeply replaced the cultural value that once was forcibly grabbed away by the invasions.

When invasions took place in any nation, the rich cultural past is always replaced with the culture of whoever is taking over. Name any nation of the past and present that were colonized. We can then compare the changes that had taken place before and after. In the Biblical times for example, when the Romans conquered Palestine, Judaism was banned. The Romans saw that the only way they can rule over a nation is to change its way of life and its culture. The Jews were persecuted. One method they used to identify a Jew was pork. Whoever wants to be saved from death will have to eat pork. The Jews who were not able to flee from the Romans had to deal with the way of life enforced upon them by the Romans; who introduced wine, gambling, prostitution and the mode of dressing. They were not allowed to practice their religion, and whoever claims to be a Prophet will be tortured severely and executed.

Another example is America. When the Europeans came and took over, the natives were forced to give up their way of life. Europeans introduced their culture, language, mode of dressing and transformed the whole continent as their own. Today, you will not think of the American culture as that of a Cherooke or Sioux or Apache, but of the colonialist who took it from them.

Girl in baro’t saya outfit (getty images)

Philippines is no difference. Cultural imperialism took place when the Spanish came and Filipinos were forced to accept Christianity. Those who didn’t, were fought fiercely. They employed religion to motivate Filipinos to fight against their fellows. They also introduced a new culture, language and way of life. Filipino people suddenly faced a tragic modification when the colonizers altered their culture.

Filipino natives already had a rich culture of modesty especially among the Muslims which comprised 60%-70% of the whole archipelago at that time, as opposed to what is commonly claimed by some historians. The Spanish rule did not necessarily introduce the modest culture by fashioning the length of the skirt to the ankles and had women wore a full and wide- sleeved top. This may be true in other parts where Islam is not present, such as in the tribes of the animists and atheists or among the Hindus, where they dressed in a different fashion. But this is not to discredit that the pre- colonial Filipinos were uncivilized people. They already had their own political system, traditions and they have a high regard towards maintaining the basic units of their society. The mode of dressing may not be as what we consider modest in our basic terms today but people were respecting each other’s boundaries and the idea of lengths was introduced later on. The Spanish colonialists introduced the wear of baro’t saya.

In the Muslim- ruled territories, women wore turbans on top of long skirts or pants and full- sleeved jackets, and malong (a tubular skirt) that are usually tied around the waist. The clothes are mostly made of printed cotton for daily wear and silk for special occasions.

When Americans came, it was the beginning of the Industrial Age in the West, and they brought new fashion, religion and culture. Shorter and slimmer skirts and sleeves were employed, and pants and jeans were introduced. As a reaction from the three- century Spanish rule, the Filipinos embraced the values introduced to them by the Americans. Pop culture, modern music, arts, literature, fashion and lifestyle; the modest culture of the Filipino people was slowly replaced with liberal values that Americans came with and the worship of modernity and capitalism became the new religion. The mostly- conservative Filipinos started adapting a secular way of life.

Fashion show in Manila (photo from Mega magazine)

Industrialisation, globalization and modernity became a tool of Western cultural imperialism. It encouraged women to start leaving for work and take roles as men. As more and more women becoming independent, the number of single- parents, early pregnancies, drug addiction, vices, separation and divorce became rampant. Women felt more courage to experiment with life and the responsibilities that are biologically assigned to them left abandoned and as a result, while the responsibilities are not filled up, the new generations became lost. The minds of people became liberal.

Societies were transformed into a modern culture which abhors modesty. As modernity swept across every household, the churches are losing its power and authority; bibles were replaced by television, sermons by entertainment; the modern Filipino became blinded towards vulgar mode of dressing and often mistaken trends as comfort. Modest dressing is  considered outdated and distasteful, and the wearer often looked down upon as a sign of ignorance.

The western ideals, especially towards fashion will always dominate in this side of the world where the western culture had already cemented itself. But until the majority of the west, especially America, embraces modest fashion and accept religious diversity and culture, Filipinos will always be oblivious towards modest fashion.

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