The Maria Clara dress is an elegant formal outfit for women. It is considered a mestiza dress because it is an ensemble combining indigenous and Spanish influences. The Maria Clara dress became very popular during the Spanish era since its emergence in 1890.
The name was taken from the legendary Maria Clara, the heroine of Noli Me Tangere, the then recently published novel of Dr. Jose Rizal. Maria Clara remains a symbol of the virtues and nobility of the Filipina woman
Its origin was the traditional baro’t saya of early Filipinos: the original ensemble of a loose, long-sleeved blouse over a wide, ankle-length skirt. The Maria Clara consists of four separate pieces: the baro or the camisa, the saya, the panuelo and the tapis.
The camisa was a collarless waist-length blouse, with wrist-length, richly embroidered flowing bell sleeves, often made of pineapple fiber. The sleeves were made wider and bell-shaped to suit the hot climate of the country.
The saya literally means “skirt”. It’s a bubble-shaped, floor-length skirt. It evolved from the lowly saya of old. It was however, made wider, flared and billowy. Several saya styles or cuts became popular in different Philippine regions and perhaps the most popular is the “panelled saya” where panels of strongly contrasting or coordinate colors are sewn alternately into a ballooning saya. The favorite combinations are the black and white, and the black and red.
The panuelo derived its name from the Spanish “paño” which means scarf. The panuelo is the only Spanish-originating part of the Maria Clara ensemble. It is a wide, stiff, triangular scarf covering the back and fastened securely in the front by gold brooches or pins. The addition of the panuelo was the period’s concession to modesty with the camisa being low necked, and made of the flimsiest fabrics, like piña and jusi.
The tapis is a hip-hugging, knee length overskirt. The addition of the tapis as overskirt was to keep the lower torso from showing through the sheerness of the skirt material. Opaque muslin and “madras” were used for the overskirt.”