‘You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes’

Or so said Diana Vreeland. In what they wore to hear the President’s Report to the People, what did you think was the state of the nation?

RAY OF HOPE President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the middle of his first SONA at the Plenary Hall of the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City (Noel B. Pabalate)

On Monday, July 25, all eyes were on Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City for the first State of the Nation address (SONA) of Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr., who took his illustrious place in history as president of the Republic of the Philippines at noontime on June 30, 2022.

Even before he spoke the first word, President Marcos’ was a historic speech, a perfect example of history repeating itself, with his father, the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, making his first SONA on Jan. 24, 1966, in which he said, as his son, following in his footsteps 56 years later, would have also said, “I was met with disbelief when, during my inaugural address on Dec. 30 last, I stated that we were in a state of crisis. It is my task today to recount the unhappy details of such a crisis.”

Although government spending in the Philippines decreased to ₱1.101 trillion in the first quarter of 2022 from ₱1.299 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to the Bureau of the Treasury, the son, as his father before him, inherits a country in the thick of economic challenges caused by forces beyond our control, such as the ongoing pandemic and current tensions in Europe that are exacerbating the global oil crisis. In 1966, Ferdinand Sr. told the Filipino people, “Our government has been spending more than it has been earning. The daily income of government is ₱4 million while its daily expenditures are ₱6 million.”

True enough, the economic recovery program of his government was among the key—and the first—issues Marcos Jr. tackled in his “President’s Report to the People,” which also included the government’s pandemic response, the return of face-to-face schooling, the looming food crisis, climate change, and expanding his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s infrastructure projects.

Overall, however, as he ended his speech, more earnest than emotional, more practical and business-like than dramatic, President Marcos declared that “the state of the nation is sound,” making sure it was clear to his audience that he did “not intend to diminish the risks and the challenges we face in this turbulent time in global history.” And yet, he said, “I see sunlight filtering through these dark clouds.”

How was this measured optimism, drawn from what President Marcos presented as doable, such as upholding Duterte’s “friend to all, enemy to none” foreign policy and diversifying the country’s energy sources, reflected in the way the people dressed for the occasion?

 Fashion is a mirror of the state of the nation. It reflects optimism or despair, whether or not the despair is expressed, countenanced, or countered. Off the cut, or the fabric, or the design is thrown a sense of pride or a sense of shame, opulence or austerity, peace or unrest, unity or divisiveness, poverty or wealth. 

“Fashion functions as a mirror to our times, so it is inherently political,” said Andrew Bolton, head curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “It’s been used to express patriotic, nationalistic, and propagandistic tendencies as well as complex issues related to class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.”

For Monday’s SONA, the attendees dressed simply, nothing outrageous, more toward elegance and dignity than toward grandiosity, and more to champion art and culture and identity, as embodied in Filipiniana and other forms of traditional Filipino dressing.

To Lesley Mobo, who designed the modern terno worn by first lady Liza Araneta-Marcos in handembroidered piña calado, handwoven piña suksuk with antique gold inlay, vintage Victorian lace, and stretch georgette, “identity and culture are most important in hard times.” From these two, we can draw the strength and the guidance with which we can navigate uncertainty, unite ourselves, identify our strengths and weaknesses, and shape our dreams.

To Manila Bulletin Lifestyle columnist Carol RH Malasig, who is in Manila in between stints abroad as a diplomat’s wife, her husband having just finished his tour of duty as third secretary and vice consul at the Philippine embassy in Berlin, “haters will hate, but I feel like a lot of people forget that we’re an important country in this region and we have to look the part.” 

I see sunlight filtering through these dark clouds.

—President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Among those who turned the most heads was Vice President Sara Duterte, who wore a Bagobo Tagabawa ensemble, replete with a headdress. She borrowed the dress from Bae Sheirelle Anino, deputy mayor of the Tagabawa tribe of Davao City, to honor the tribe’s artisans.

PROUD DAVAOEÑA Vice President Sara Duterte in a Bagobo Tagabawa traditional dress borrowed from the deputy mayor of the Tagabawa tribe of Davao City (Photo courtesy of Albay Rep. Joey Salceda)

In a modern terno by Mark Bumgarner with understated butterfly sleeves and a quiet trail of beads, Heart Evangelista was a vision in white, as usual topping the list of the occasion’s best dressed. She wore her hair down, a feat hard to achieve in Filipiniana.

CONTEMPORARY TERNO Love Marie Ongpauco Escudero in Mark Bumgarner with her husband Senator Chiz Escudero (Photo courtesy of Heart Evangelista)

Senator Imee Marcos wore a modern interpretation of the terno by Jan Garcia with puff and pleated shoulders, although what proved more interesting was what she wore to the opening of the 19th Congress the morning before SONA, a terno pantsuit by Edgar Buyan, the butterfly-sleeved blazer and pants designed with images of farmers in toil, echoing her campaign to address myriad problems confronting the agricultural sector.

WINNOWING Senator Imee Marcos in terno pantsuit by Edgar Buyan at the opening of the 19th Congress before she changed into a Jan Garcia modern terno for her brother's first SONA (Photo courtesy of Imee Marcos)

Even Senator Nancy Binay, whose looks in previous SONAs might have drawn as much attention as flak, captured the mood of the moment in a sleek and simple Randy Ortiz terno with quiet details like callado embroidery on the sleeves and sampaguita appliqués on the dress.

Senator Nancy Binay in a sleek, simple Randy Ortiz (Photo courtesy of Nancy Binay)

Most other headturners, like presidential sister Irene Marcos Araneta in a black-is-beautiful Pepito Albert or her daughter, presidential niece-in-law Xandra Rocha Araneta, in a Puey Quiñones “terno at tapis” number, Tootsy Angara in her woven Maria Clara by Michael Leyva, and Milen Aquino-Gonzalez in Marlon Tuazon, all followed the dress code for a simple SONA, mostly in soft whites and beiges and cream and some with details so small only the most discerning eye could catch them.

“You can see and feel everything in clothes,” said the late fashion editrix Diana Vreeland. “You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes.”

In what they wore, what did you think was the state of our nation?