AS if incurring the ire of fashion designers and their equally aggrieved clients isn’t enough, fashion watchers like me now have to deal with a disgusted public who suddenly finds fashion events involving politicians, government officials and their spouses and guests frivolous and distasteful.
So, if someone assassinates me as I drive back home from work later tonight, rounding up the likely suspects will now become even harder. Apart from questioning disgruntled fashion insiders and their patrons, the police would now have to factor in almost everyone who has taken me and my media colleagues like the beautiful Marie Lozano to task for being purveyors of “misplaced decadence and ill-gotten wealth.”
I’m referring, of course, to President Aquino’s recent State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa. This yearly spectacle of supposedly distinguished guests, particularly women, parading like peacocks in embroidered, beaded and feathered derivatives of what passes for nowadays as Filipiniana wear (in broad daylight at that!) is actually of more recent vintage.
Political reporters’ domain
While I gained a name in the media business as a lifestyle reporter covering fashion shows and red carpet moments of stars gracing awards nights and various showbiz functions, covering the SONA during the Cory and Ramos years used to be the exclusive purview of political reporters.
How did we come to this, or, on a more personal level, how did I end up spending one day of the year fraternizing with journalists and personalities I hardly know at the Batasang Pambansa? It’s all Gloria’s “fault”!
The mood and mode slowly changed during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as female guests took their cues from the then president. Thanks to her stylists’ herculean efforts, the clueless and fashion-challenged GMA began wearing beautiful ternos and updated Maria Clara dresses designed by the likes of Inno Sotto, JC Buendia, Rem Divino, Ito Curata and the late, great Joe Salazar during her SONA appearances
Out of “respect” for their host, women, from Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago down, started ditching their smart pantsuits and skirt-and-blazer ensembles in favor of designer ternos and other forms of Filipiniana finery.
The changing dress code also afforded them to boldly display their jaw-dropping baubles—courtesy either of their adoring husbands and late grandmothers or paid for by the Filipino people.
Yes, you heard it right. The same Miriam, who’s now fulminating in the mouth like a rabid askal at the spectacle of fellow female politicians doing the red carpet like showbiz denizens, once played the game, too.
Now she’s threatening to file a bill making it mandatory for guests, especially women, to wear uniforms if they wish to attend future SONAs. If that happens, the event would simply degenerate into a contest of the biggest, most expensive jewelry pieces, designer shoes, bags and even belts. So much for eliminating class!
I remember a particular SONA not too long ago when Miriam—the survivor that she was, is, and will be—even walked arm in arm with GMA as she and then Quezon City Rep. Annie Susano welcomed and accompanied the president from the session hall entrance all the way to the foot of the gallery’s raised podium.
Although Miriam didn’t don a priceless and vintage Yves Saint Laurent then, she wasn’t caught wearing a yari sa Laguna either. If I’m not mistaken, she was wearing a stylized kimona, while Annie, short of slipping into a pair of Texas-style cowboy boots, channeled her inner Weng Weng in an all-white 007-inspired pantsuit.
My point is, unless we live in Mao Zedong-era China, you can never control how people dress up and behave in public, including during SONAs.
Taste and propriety
When it comes to matters involving something as personal as taste and propriety, the best arbiters are still the individuals themselves and their inner circle of well-meaning friends, loved ones and advisers.
Then there is also a real and valid concern among these women to be able to conform to what has become a traditional SONA dress code: gown (or what US Vogue now describes as long dress) with Filipiniana motifs and inspirations.
As a fashion watcher, I’m never easily dazzled by ostentation. If there’s anything that makes me stand at attention, apart from how good the wearer carries the dress, it’s the way a particular outfit has been put together through inspired color combinations and fabric manipulation.
More than all that painstaking embellishments, it’s all about the total look and, of course, how the dress flatters the wearer and fits the occasion. And since the SONA is a daytime event, exaggerated bling in the form of beaded Swarovski crystals, sequins and rhinestones as well as somber all-black outfits is definitely out.
The best and the worst
So, if I were to pick five of the best-dressed women in Monday’s SONA, then, I’d have to go for Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, Sen. Loren Legarda, Stella Quimbo, Heart Evangelista and former Sen. Nikki Coseteng.
Special mention should also go to Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, Gloria Angara, wife of former Sen. Edgardo Angara, Tootsy Angara, wife of Sen. Sonny Angara, Kaye Revil, wife of Masbaste Gov. Vince Revil, and Bettina Osmeña, wife of Sen. Serge Osmeña.
Three of the event’s biggest disappointments were former actress Assunta de Rossi-Ledesma, wife of Negros Occidental Rep. Jules Ledesma, Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares and Sen. Pia Cayetano.
(Why? Find out next time) 😀