In general, us guys are very simple creatures. Especially when it comes to clothes, any standard wear goes into the washer. As for anything fancy, well, we’re off to the dry cleaners then. But while there are plenty of great commercial and professional services out there who can take care of our Barong Tagalogs (and with most having that translucent look, we are hard pressed to see them as nothing else but delicate fabrics), it also pays off to know a little bit more about what it takes to properly maintain a barong. After all, proper cleaning is only one aspect of having good maintenance.
Wear It On Without Wearing It Out
The first step of taking care of a Barong? Make sure it fits. Yes, the first step of maintenance begins upon purchasing your barong. When buying off the shelf, make sure you pick the size that is closest to yours and if needed, have it adjusted for that perfect fit. Naturally, going for custom-made is best, as the cut and fit will literally be tailored to your needs. This will prevent the seams from being over stressed and help keep the Barong great looking for a long time.
It does not stop here however. The Filipinos are a hardy race, and so is the barong. Behind that fragile looking fabric is a formal wear designed to last for years -and while the cut will certainly stay the same, us ever-changing humans certainly do not. Maybe we’ll finish working on our quads and start having more upper body days -or maybe something else. Regardless of the cause, the human body changes, and with that comes the need to occasionally make sure that our Barongs changes and evolves with us. This goes double if you have a favorite, make sure to have it fitted and adjusted as needed so that it is always ready.
Keep it Clean
Just bring it to the cleaners and you’re done -easy!
Just kidding. Sure, dry cleaners are a great option when you’re strapped for time. But keeping a barong clean is not as hard as it seems. Sure, it takes time and effort, but all you will need is some laundry soap or detergent, water, and just a little bit of elbow grease.
1. Mix soap and water. If your Barong has some visible dirt, use warm water.
2. By “a little bit of elbow grease” we meant it literally – scrubbing is a big no. Washing the Barong is simply done by soaking it in the water and gently splashing it around (lift the barong up and down and let the soapy water do its thing). For barongs made of jusi, you could opt to use a soft brush to deal with stains. For any other material you can apply more soap and water to troublesome spots and have at it.
3. Once you’re done, rinse the barong with clean water. As with washing, do not squeeze or twist the fabric, simply let the water run off the barong.
4. Finally, hang the barong to dry (protip: sunlight also helps kill bacteria). Use a clothes hanger that has rounded ends to preserve the shape of the shoulders. Thanks to the material used in barongs, a dry place with good airflow and lighting will suffice. It does not take much to dry a barong’s fabric, so if you do have the luxury of being able to leave it out in the sun, remember to bring it under the shade after the fabric has become relatively dry to the touch.
Alternatively, if you have a good steamer and your barong has not been exposed to a lot of dirt or sweat after use (and you’re planning on using it the next day), then it really helps if you have a steamer. Simply put the barong on a hanger with rounded ends then set the steam for at the highest level as you briskly work through the few odd wrinkles that a barong is likely to have after some use. Make sure the entire barong gets the steam treatment (not just the creases as the steam helps kill bacteria and will eliminate any lingering smells the fabric absorbed). Once you’re done, make sure to let the barong air out properly before storing it.
Ironing Things Out
The alternate term that Filipinos use for barong is gusot-mayaman. That contextually translates to “something a rich person would wear” (hence, something nice to wear on important occasions), though the other (very literal) way to translate the term “gusot” is with “wrinkle”. So yes, just because we call it gusot-mayaman, that does not mean it should have plenty of gusot. No formalwear looks good when overly wrinkled, and the same applies to the Barong. You can have a slight crease or two, but nothing that would make the wearer look like they care nothing for the upkeep of such good clothes. Besides, caring for the barong is not hard at all.
Ironing a barong is not a straightforward affair. You cannot let the fabric of the barong touch the hot metal plate of an iron directly. These days, there are protective meshes, silicone covers, and all sorts of other materials that can be used to go between your barong and the iron. A much older, but still effective practice (in case the abovementioned items are not available) is to use a piece of damp cloth (like a thin towel) to serve as a fabric protector. This is primarily done to protect the embroidery -in the worst scenario, you could iron the barong inside out.
Of course, an ironing board is a must-have. Once you are ready, set the iron to low heat and slowly work your way up the temp in order to see which setting is suited to your barong (we recommend trying to iron a corner of the sleeves to see which setting is best -there is no one-setting-for-all tip in this regard as different brands will have different temperatures.
How to Keep Your Barong
Caring for the barong matters even when you are not currently wearing it -this means knowing how to put a barong in storage.
First basic rule applies to all clothes: make sure its dry before keeping it. The last thing you will want is stray bits of moisture causing problems when kept in the dark. So make sure that your barong has well and fully dried before putting it in the closet.
Next: rounded-ends matter! For hangers that is. The good news is that most hangers in general have rounded ends a most clothes benefit from it. Also, never use clothespins or similar clamping devices. This means that a good hanger would not only have rounded-ends, but are also just the right length to support the barong without overstretching it (especially when in the process of removing the hanger).
If you are living in a part of the world where winter is a thing (the barong’s place of origin, the Philippines, is subject only to dry or rainy climates -so the barong is traditionally kept as-is in the closet), then a plastic suit cover should be a consideration. Either way, make sure the barong has ample space where it is not cramped by other clothes in order to preserve its form.
Of course, “keeping” does not always mean a closet. For those of you doing a bit of travelling to an event, you may have to pack the barong as well. The easiest thing would be to keep the barong on a hanger and in a suit protector (if travelling by plane, remember that some airlines have closets for passengers -mostly on business or first class). But if you really need to “pack it in” and your suitcase has no provisions for hanging clothes as some do, then fold the Barong as you would with a dress shirt. If you have no access to an iron at the destination, use an iron when you do the folding to help create straight even creases. On the other hand, if your destination has some provisions for you to do some quick ironing, simply flatten out any travel-caused wrinkles following the ironing tips mentioned above.