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Wearing our culture

By MARGIE MORAN FLOIRENDO, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 19, 2023 5:00 am

After the recently concluded Ternocon 3, a biennial convention and competition to promote the wearing of the terno by way of mentoring young designers to create an updated look yet follow the right-sized sleeves, I am honestly impressed by what the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Bench have achieved in awakening the excitement of women in wearing the national dress.

In my travels around Asia, I was fascinated when I witnessed middle-aged women mixing cement or asphalt, wearing cotton saris while at work on road construction. In some Asian countries, the local populations, who have not been influenced by American or French or Italian fashion, still wear their culture on their sleeve. For example, in Bhutan, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and India, both women and men wear their native attire as a way of life.

My maternal grandmother, Juanita McIlvain, is in a balintawak. She is flanked by my mom, Rosario Roxas Moran, and Manny Roxas.

At a young age, when I used to go to my grandmother’s hometown in Bautista, Pangasinan, on weekends, I recall seeing women in their simple cotton balintawaks tending to their palay under huge acacia trees. But I wonder now if that was just the imagery from my Amorsolo pastoral scene or an actual memory.

Indeed, the terno is as formidable as it is elegant, feminine as it is patriotic, and eternally symbolic of Filipina grace and beauty as it is of fervent nationalism.

Yet my grandmother and her friends wore their ternos during their afternoon teas. After all, she was the wife of the Chief Justice, and later, she became the ambassador’s wife, and wearing the national dress was the protocol. She witnessed the evolution of the national attire from the Traje de Mestiza to the terno when Pacita Longos developed the sleeve to what it is today.
Balintawak designed by Windell Madis

The more informal terno, the balintawak, worn with an alampay over the shoulder and a tapis as an overlay over the saya, was usually an outfit worn at lunch or tea. I wore my grandmother’s terno as the Reyna Elena in a Santacruzan.

After winning the Miss Universe pageant, I had every reason to wear our national dress because I had every opportunity to represent the country while living in New York. My inspiration at the time was First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, whom I often joined when she visited Manhattan. She wore her ternos so beautifully that a beauty candidate thought she had invented it.

My grandma, Nieves Gonzalez Moran, was the wife of the first Chief Justice, Manuel V. Moran.

The late Aureo Alonzo designed the one I wore at the 1973 pageant, and Auggie Cordero created several throughout the year. When I gave up my crown in 1974 in Manila, Mrs. Marcos had her designer, Christian Espiritu, make one for me in sequined gold. In recent years, my designers were the late Pitoy Moreno and Ito Curata, Dennis Lustico, Pepito Albert, Lesley Mobo, Inno Sotto, Cary Santiago, and Ternocon finalist Windell Madis. I choose my couture designers depending on the quality of their work, design, and fabric.

I look forward to wearing the terno, as do my two daughters. After watching the three Ternocon series, they discovered young designers implementing edgy designs for the younger generation.

First from left is my paternal grandmother, Lola Nieves, at an afternoon soirée with friends.

I have learned so much about the history and design of the terno just by attending the workshops. However, for the competing designers and their mentors, it is a lot of pressure to produce a work of art that truly represents our culture.

Indeed, the terno is as formidable as it is elegant, feminine as it is patriotic, and eternally symbolic of Filipina grace and beauty as it is of fervent nationalism.