This indigenous mode of dressing of the natives of the Philippines was influenced during the Spanish Colonization of the archipelago. In early pre-history, the half-naked style consisting of only the saya (long wrap-around) or tapis (knee-length wrap-around) covering the lower half of the body with bare upper torso, was gradually covered with a collarless blouse called a "baro", which is the Philippine cognate of the Malay "baju".
The early pre-colonial clothing of groups such as the Tagalogs and Visayans included both the baro and saya made from silk in matching colours. This style was exclusively worn by the women from the upper caste, while those of lower castes wore baro made from pounded white bark fibre. Modern groups whose attire still closely resembles these more ancient forms of dress include the Tumandok people of Panay – the only Visayan group that were not hispanised; various Moro peoples; and the indigenous Lumad tribes in interior Mindanao.
Under the Spanish colonisation, the basic outfit had evolved into a many-layered ensemble consisting of several pieces:
- kimona, or inner blouse.
baro, an often gauzy outer shirt with fine embroidery and wide sleeves.
pañuelo or piano shawl, starched to achieve a raised look.
naguas or starched petticoat. The name is derived from the Spanish enagua, and is mentioned in the folk song Paru-parong Bukid ("Farmland Butterfly").
saya or the skirt proper. This is laid over the naguas and either bunched at the back to mirror the then-fashionable polonaise or given a de cola or finely-embroidered train.
tapis, a descendant of the pre-colonial wraparound skirt, which covers the upper half of the saya.
Some variations of the baro't saya are the Maria Clara gown, the ensemble having the addition of the alampay or pañuelo, a large kerchief or shawl wrapped around the shoulders, and the more daring ternó (which sometimes disposed of the pañuelo altogether), having the butterfly sleeves and streamlined look which mirrored the then current tastes and influences of the American colonists. This design was especially popularized by the former First Lady Imelda Marcos.