Maria Clara Dress

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Maria Clara dress is an elegant formal outfit for women with clean lines that symbolize the virtues and nobility of a Filipino woman. It originated from the local baro't saya. It is one kind of traditional dress worn by Filipino women.


The Maria Clara is considered a mestiza dress because it is an ensemble combining indigenous and Spanish influences. The main parts of the dress are the baro, saya, tapis or sobrefalda, panuelo,inagua and a matching paineta, tamborin and zapatilla.

  • Baro

The baro is obviously an improved version of the pre-Hispanic baro. The sleeves were made wider and bell-shaped to suit the hot climate of the country. Traditional textiles like abaca and daet where later replaced with imported finer textiles from abroad. Belgian laces became favorite adornments on the trimmings of the sleeves, sobrefalda and the panuelo.

  • Saya

Saya literally means "skirt". The saya has also evolved from the lowly saya of old. It was hawever, made wider, flared and billowy. Several saya styles or cuts became popular in different Philippine regions. The very popular is probably the "panelled saya" where panels of strongly contrasting or coordinate colors are sewn alternately into a balloning saya. The favorite combinations are the black and white, and the black and red. Another saya that became very popular in the Northeatern Luzon and Zamboanga is the mascota skirt which is a wide saya with a moderate tail. The favorite mascota fabrics are big floral motifs and checkers. Very popular among the Pangasinenses and the Zambal women is the siesgo saya which is probably the least flaring of the many saya versions. The most extravagant is probably the saya called siete cuchillos (seven knives). The siete cuchillos is a saya made voluminous by doing seven bias cuts near the lower hip line and inserting same fabric to add volume. The result is an extravagant wide skirt. The most widely used in the Visayas particularly in Samar and Leyte is the saya serpentina which is bell-shaped and having a serpentine profile. The most popular saya worn during formal occasions is the saya de cola (skirt with tail). The train adds elegance to the whole ensemble that is why it is the favorite cut among the rich and elite. The cola or the train is either tucked on the side or at the back with a gold chain or held by the left hand by inserting a hem of the skirt to the ring worn on the left ring finger.

  • Panuelo

The panuelo derived its name from the Spanish "paño" which means 'scarf'. The panuelo is a wide triangular scarf covering the back and fastened securely in the front by gold brooches or pins. The panuelo is the only Spanish-originating part of the Maria Clara ensemble. The panuelo is also called baksa among the Visayans, babarahin among the Tagalogs and kandungga or panyolon to the Waray people.

  • Inagua

Slip also called sapad or binabaye

  • Tapis

An overkirt also calle sobrefalda

  • Paineta

A decorative comb

  • Tamborin, Estampita or Escapulario
  • Zapatilla

The dress is traditionally worn with a pañuelo (matching neck scarf) over the shoulders and accessorized with a delicate abaniko (fan), an ornament which adds to the overall feminine style and completes the Maria Clara outfit.

The Maria Clara dress became very popular during the Spanish era since its emergence in 1890. The name was taken from that of the heroine of the then recently published Noli Me Tangere. At present, it is typically worn during folk dance and theater arts performances that feature the rich cultural heritage of the Filipinos. It has become one of the types of traditional formal wear used during some political and social gatherings. It is also sometimes worn by brides at their weddings.




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