Friday, May 8, 2009

Dressing Traditionally

About a month ago, my dad left for vacation to the Philippines. Before he left, I asked him to buy me an “Imelda dress.” “What is that, and why?” my dad asked. I explained to him that I wanted to be Imelda Marcos (former first lady of the Philippines who is worldly renowned for having over 2,000 pairs of shoes) for Halloween this year. I had the shoes, and I almost have the hairstyle down. But in order for me to complete the look, I needed a dress with the distinct butterfly sleeves on them. My dad said okay and that he would buy me one. In addition, he corrected me and said that the dress was called a terno.

When my dad came back to the United States, he handed me the terno he bought. I have to admit that when I first saw the dress, I was not as pleased as I thought I would be. The terno that he bought was nice; but it was nowhere similar to any of the dresses I have seen Imelda wear. It wasn’t elegant looking nor did it have any special designs/details. I then asked my dad how much it had cost him. “About forty bucks,” he said. When I heard how much he spent, I complained to him that the price was too expensive for something that resembled a counterfeit. My dad said, “You didn’t buy the one here (in the United States) because you said it was too expensive. Now you complain. Why come you didn’t make one yourself then? Plus the woman who sold it to me asked me if I could add a special bonus to the price of the dress because she rarely got customers. I said yes because I wanted to help out.”

Now that I realize it, my dad was right. Who am I to complain about the price? I don’t know how to make a terno. Heck, I don’t know how to sew! The only way for me to obviously get one was to buy one.

My dad later told me that the woman who sold him the dress worked at a sweatshop where she helped sewed ternos. She did not make enough money at her job; as result, she decided to make her own dresses and sell them as a sideline. The dresses that she made at home were the same as the ones she made at the sweatshop. The only difference was that she used cheaper fabric.

In Ann Marie Leshkowich’s article, “The Ao Dai Goes Global: How International Influences and Female Entrepreneurs Have Shaped Vietnam’s ‘National Costume,’” she explains that Vietnam was under an economic crisis in the 1980s (93). In order to help boost the economy and prevent people from starving, the government opened its textile industry. Although they are not exactly the same scenario, I feel that the opening of the textile industry in Vietnam as a means to help its people is somewhat similar to my dad’s willingness to pay more for the terno. Instead of buying a dress from a place that is popular such as Nike, he bought a terno from someone who labored hard on the dress. (Government officials are corrupt; it’s not like they would do anything about the treatment of workers at a sweatshop. Something major has to happen in order for them to act.)In "Santa's Sweatshop...," tips are given on how to be a better shopper. One of the tips is "to see wear things are made" (8). I don't know how my dad ended hearing about her life story; but by talking to her, he was able to see where the item he was purchasing was made.

On another note, looking at my terno reminded me of “Women, Citizenship and the Politics of Dress in Twentieth-Century Philippines” by Mina Roces. I don’t have much to say about this article. But what I find interesting is that her point about women being “bearers of tradition” still exists today. For instance, in the latest Manny Pacquiao fight, singer Martin Nievera sang the Philippine national anthem. For his life performance, he wore a blazer, slacks, and a black shirt with the Philippine sun and stars on it. Have you seen any other Manny Pacquiao fights?

Here are videos of Nievera as well as others who have sung the national anthem at Pacquiao fights.

Others: Link 1, Link 2, and Link 3

Nievera is the first man to sing the national anthem at a Pacquiao fight. All of the others who have sung the national anthem have been women. What I have noticed after reading Roces’s article is that all of the women who have sung the national anthem have worn a terno. My question is why come when Nievera sang he didn’t wear a barong Tagalog or something else that is traditional? Why is that he had chosen to wear Westernized clothing at an event where others before him have worn traditional clothing? Is this because he is a man and wanted to be seen as “powerful,” or is it because the outfit was something he just really wanted to wear?


Re-Orienting Fashion The Globalization of Asian Dress (Dress, Body, Culture). New
York: Berg, 2003.

Roces, Mina. "Women, Citizenship and the Politics of Dress in Twentieth-Century
Philippines." NIASnytt (2004): 8.

Holster, William J., Timothy M. Ito Brian Palmer, and Shahid Ur-Rehman."Santa's
Sweatshop in a Global economy, It's Hard to know who made you gift--- and under
what conditions." (1999).

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