Starweek Magazine

Power Dressing for the Modern Filipina

Ida Anita Q. del Mundo - The Philippine Star
Power Dressing for the Modern Filipina
ON THE COVER: Kapampangan designer Marlon Tuazon with his winning pieces in both formal dress and Balintawak categories of TernoCon 2018. Details on the back of Tuazon’s Balintawak give the dress a modern feel.

“Every Filipina must have a short and a long terno,” says esteemed fashion designer Inno Sotto, who is the chief mentor to finalists of TernoCon 2020. He and TernoCon project director Gino Gonzales are looking forward to the second edition of what has become one of the most highly-anticipated events of the year.

“It is the 100th year of the terno,” Gonzales points out, noting that it was in the 1920s that Pacita Longos first started designing dresses with the iconic flattened sleeves. Her creations were worn by most of the carnival queens of the time.

Gonzales says the idea for TernoCon stemmed from Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs, a book produced in 2015 with Ben Chan of Bench. “We did it to address problems concerning lack of knowledge and awareness about Philippine dress and problems with the construction of the dress,” he says.

They realized the book was not enough to address the issue. They wanted to do more. So, they teamed up with the Cultural Center of the Philippines to do workshops in NCR, Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. 

“It was a great opportunity to teach people how to make the terno,” says Gonzales. The workshops, dubbed Fashioning the Terno, which drew both fashion students and practitioners, had fashion history lessons in the morning and actual hands-on construction in the afternoon.

History was particularly important, says Gonzales, “so that when they design, they have a backstory. They carry with them all that history.”

He adds, “The problem is when people design today, they have no reference. It’s important for them to have that in order to have a wealth of codes to play with. Otherwise you’re just stuck with current trends.”

Designer Marlon Tuazon came all the way from Pampanga to participate in the very first leg of workshops held in Vigan.

Tuazon says he learned so much from the workshops, despite being an already established designer in Pampanga. If before just getting the sleeves to stand up was enough, after the workshop he learned that there was a proper way to make the terno, including a proper size and count for the sleeves.

Tuazon went on to win TernoCon 2018.

“I’ve learned to love the terno more,” he says. In fact, his new-found inspiration has moved him to make the terno his signature style.

“Now he’s the go-to person in Central Luzon for terno,” Gonzales says with pride.

Last December alone, Tuazon made 25 ternos for fashionable clients of all ages – a leap from just one a month before TernoCon.

Gonzales notes, compared to three to four years ago, there are many more women wearing the terno, even if the dress code does not require it.

Aside from TernoCon’s influence, the resurgence of interest in the terno and all things Filipiniana is also thanks to upscale trade fairs like Katutubo Market, Artefino, Maarte Bazaar and more. “It’s the zeitgeist,” says Gonzales.

“It’s getting to be a trend,” Sotto agrees.

“The resistance to wearing the terno is the sleeves. But when you think of it, the terno is the sleeves,” but he shuns the idea of downsizing the sleeves to make the terno more discreet for everyday wear.

“At the very heart of it, we always go back to love of country. The actual terno is not just a dress, it’s an externalization of your nationalism,“ Gonzales says. “The shrinking of the sleeves is symptomatic of our attitude of being afraid, of being ashamed of our national identity.”

Sotto agrees: “We have to be proud of who we are. I hate espresso cup terno sleeves.”

Downsizing the sleeves through the years is indicative of adapting to Western fashion.

Gonzales adds, “Those sleeves tell a long story of the women who wore it.”

He says, through the years, women who wore the terno always had a role to play, whether they were the first lady of the land, hermana mayor in a big fiesta or Reyna Elena in a Santacruzan.

Today, with the style made more accessible, any woman can wear the terno – as any modern woman has her own role to play.

Sotto also notes that the terno always used to be attached to a long gown. “However, over the years, we started to see it attached to other things.” ?In this year’s TernoCon, finalists have come up with numerous iterations of the terno – from the formal gown to pantsuits and shorter lengths of skirts.

This year, the finalists were no longer given the parameters of designing pieces that are formal or casual, long or short. “It’s up to them to interpret a modern terno. They were given more of a freehand.”

As a result, the mentors noticed that there are less gowns this cycle; more short ensembles and pants, and outfits that can crossover from formal to casual.

Of the 13 finalists, three are female and, Sotto says, all three designed the most casual versions of the terno, all with separates.

“They have an innate understanding of how they will be used in a practical manner,” he says.

For the upcoming TernoCon 2020, Tuazon is looking forward to being a featured designer. Though no longer a contestant, the pressure is on to show how much his understanding of the terno has grown.

Gonzales is looking forward to the catalogue that will be produced for the event. “For the first time we’re having a real catalogue,” he says, adding that it is again Ben Chan’s support that is making the documentation possible.

The publication brings Gonzales and Chan’s project full circle – from the history book in 2015 to a fashion catalogue five years later, documenting the history of the terno and the modern interpretations of it.

Sotto recalls the night of TernoCon 2019: “The night, I was walking around in a daze in the lobby. Then I turned around and saw the lobby filled with women in terno. Ang ganda-ganda (It was so beautiful). It was a sight to behold. That night was unbelievable to me.”

“Seeing women today wear the sleeve in any occasion, formal or informal, is enough encouragement for us to continue the project,” says Gonzales.

Looking forward to TernoCon 2020, Sotto says, “In 2020 we will have a clearer vision of what the terno is really supposed to be, how it’s supposed to be worn. How they interpret it is really up to them. It will always represent our pride and dignity.”

“It’s not just an event,” says Gonzales of TernoCon, “it’s an ongoing movement.”

In line with TernoCon 2020, three exhibits are open to the public at the CCP: Slim’s Terno: A Heritage for Philippine Fashion; portraits by Rafael del Casal; and dolls in terno by Cholo Ayuyao. For more information, call 8832-1125.


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