Is there a limit when it comes to reimagining the terno?

Published November 14, 2022, 1:58 PM

by John Legaspi

We asked Ternocon 3’s designers and chief mentor about making the terno contemporary

Once worn only by the country’s upper society and lady politicians during formal events, the terno can now be seen everywhere. It got numerous makeovers, from becoming a pantsuit and a jacket to acquiring different treatments such as tie-dye and raw. Designers made it new and exciting by using different materials, creating a myriad of styles to choose from. In the past years, it has been feared to be forgotten. But with younger people wearing it now, one can assure that the legacy of the Filipino garb will live on.

Terno creations by Bon Hansen Reyes, Jaggy Glarino, Hannah Adrias, Dennis Lustico, Cheetah Rivera

While these reimaginations also allowed the terno to be worn not just by women these days, its counterparts in different nations such as India’s sari, Japan’s kimono, and the hanbok of Korea remained the same as they were depicted in books. With it being a product of the Philippines’ history and tradition, one must ask, are there limitations when it comes to designing it in today’s time? 

During a press presentation of Ternocon 3, a contest and convention started by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Bench in 2018, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle got a chance to chat with its latest design participants and mentors about making the terno contemporary. 

First a history lesson

According to the book “Fashionable Filipinas” by Slim’s Fashion and Arts School’s Mark Lewis Higgins and Ternocon artistic director Gino Gonzalez, the terno’s prime element is its arched sleeves or the butterfly sleeves. The sleeves are usually two inches high from the shoulder and can go as high as three inches. They have eight to 12 pleats to create a round shape. The terno was adapted from the traje de mestiza during the Spanish colonization era. Filipino women started wearing the terno in the 1900s. While in the 1920s, its much-relaxed version, the balintawak, gained popularity. 

Reimagining the terno

Ternocon’s chief mentor Inno Sotto believes that before designers explore the many possibilities of the terno, they should first learn its story. Much like our culture, it is a mixing pot of our past with design elements mirroring Western dresses. 

“However you interpret it is already your own take,” the noted designer says. “I also tell them (the design participants) that they cannot also take it too far, because the idea is to always let an entirely new generation accept the national costume. It has to look friendly. Design is the language of our profession and it must be understood by anyone. It must be something that people can visually relate to and want to wear at whatever age. If that is done, more people will be open to wearing the national attire.”

When it comes to it being donned not just by women, design participant Cheetah Rivera believes that it is the call of the time, especially now that gender lines when it comes to clothing are blurring. “I think we are on the right path in being more inclusive about wearing whatever we want,” she says. “I see no problem about it as long as they wear the terno with respect.”

Being a menswear designer, Bon Hansen Reyes aims to give a unique spin to the terno, while still keeping its spirit alive. According to him, after going through sessions with his mentors, creating a terno doesn’t have a lot of restrictions, apart from mastering the sleeves. For him, what’s important in modernizing the terno is the intention of the design. “Always ask the intention,” he says. “There is no right or wrong as long as the design is smartly translated.”

Future Ternocon

Ternocon 3 is set to feature a more diverse group of design participants hailed from different parts of the Philippines. Joining Cheetah (Quezon City) and Bon (Rizal) are Yssa Inumerable (Parañaque City), Ron Santos (Davao), Bree Esplanada (Cebu), Gabbie Sarenas, X Al Rey Rosano (Negros Oriental), Glyn Alley Magtibay (Oriental Mindoro), Marc Carcillar (Iloilo), Amor Albano (Ilocos Norte), Glady Rose Pantua (Zamboanga), Karl Mark Nadales, and wildcard Geom Hernandez (Batangas).

The third edition of the contest and convention will be presented in the new 300-seater black box theatre of the CCP, the Tanghalang Ignacio Jimenez. The upcoming affair will be held on Jan. 28, 2023.

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