The most crucial element in constructing a barong is choosing the perfect fabric. Options can vary in terms of fibers, weave, colors, and other properties that may arise from incorporating decorative elements. The fabric dramatically affects the look of a barong, influencing the appearance of the person wearing it. Therefore, a wise choice of material can result in an exquisite fashion that can be carried over into the way you carry yourself. And this, in turn, makes wearing your barong more fun.
Piña is a sheer fabric made from the fine lustrous fibers of the leaves of red Spanish pineapple. It has a yellowish tinge or a light champagne-gold color. When you examine the fabric closely, you'll notice intertwined fibers (longitudinal warp and transverse weft) with uneven thickness typical of the fine pineapple leaf fibers. Extracting the delicate pineapple fibers is labor intensive, and this arduous process makes the pineapple fabric expensive.
The elegant piña is the finest of all Philippine handwoven fabrics. Unfortunately, it's rare and only available in small quantities from a handful of weavers because most weavers prefer to weave the less expensive piña-silk that they can sell quickly in large quantities.
Piña-Silk (Piña-Seda or Pineapple-Silk) is a handwoven fabric from pineapple and silk fibers. It has a yellowish tinge which is lighter than that of piña fabric. When you examine this fabric closely, you'll notice the silk fibers running lengthwise (longitudinal warp) with even thickness intertwined with the noticeable piña fibers (transverse weft) with uneven thickness.
This fabric has an abundant supply so you can find this in most barong shops throughout the Philippines. However, a lot of sellers refer to piña-silk as "piña" and to piña as "piña-orig" (orig as an abbreviation of the word "original"). So when buying a piña barong, it would be wise to ask the seller to confirm if the fabric is piña and not piña-silk or to inspect the fibers closely to get the right idea of the fabric.
Abaca-Cotton is a handwoven fabric from cotton strands and abaca fibers (extracted from the leaf sheet attached around the trunk of the abaca plant, a species of banana native to the Philippines). This fabric is thicker and less transparent than piña fabric.
Cocoon (Cocoon Silk) is a woven fabric from silk with transparency somewhat similar to the transparency of piña but without the sheen. The fabric's natural color is off-white.
Cocoon-Piña is cocoon hand-painted with piña streaks that give it a distinct color somewhat similar to that of piña. The quality of this fabric depends on the paint application techniques that vary widely from supplier to supplier.
Jusi, like cocoon, is also a woven fabric from silk but is less transparent. The fabric's natural color is off-white.
Jusi-Piña is jusi hand-painted with piña streaks that give it a distinct color somewhat similar to that of piña. The quality of this fabric depends on the paint application techniques that vary widely from supplier to supplier.