La Traje de Mestiza

A scarf has to be the most beautiful thing ever invented to wear. — Sonia Rykiel


Maria Clara
by John Angelo Sergio

The modista (modiste) profession took off in the 1930s. In the years that followed, women who boasted about their dresses as their own creations have lost their edge in society. Bordaderas took vocation and bled their fingers over sequins, pearls, beads, feathers, and so on. This new autocratic rule was the decline and fall of the tapis, which was sometimes revived with a peplum or the first tier of a layered skirt. The tradition became the movie, Gone With the Wind, with Scarlett O’Hara’s body-hugging gown.

And so, the pañuelo’s death pangs began. The deconstruction ended and the variants finally faded away in the 1940s for this European scarf, with National Artist for Fashion Design, Ramon Valera at the helm, calling it quits for the now, limpy alampay. With the pañuelo gone in the ensemble, the focus shifted to the skirt for the couturiers—creating drama where they thought it should be: on hemline lengths and shoes.

Lo and behold, another adventure on the Terno blossomed. What also arrived was Feminism as defined by the movements of the West, which eclipsed awareness on matriarchal societies that were already in place way before in pre-colonial Philippines. The journey of the Baro’t Saya on the history-catwalk for centuries, was long and as arduous perhaps, as the many battles waged by its ancestors—peoples of a varied race, themselves, searching for new horizons. Decades have gone by, yet the Traje de Mestiza still seduces us. Bearing the spirit of our past upon the airy lightness of its pagoda-bell-butterfly sleeves, it gave us reason to take flight.

The Maria Clara donning the Traje de Mestiza, who eternally comes to us through the Noli Me Tangere plays and books, is herself, a pañuelo: an endearing icon of love that is never ever gone—in the wind.