I was seven years old then when my mother first bought me a pair of jeans. It was some sort of a milestone in my life since I thought then that only old men can wear maong pants. And since my mother bought me a pair, I took it like she’s welcoming me to the adult world. Mind you, I was seven years old that time. It was very cheap, I think. It never cost her more than 150 pesos; however, a hundred fifty pesos for a pants was already expensive as far as the standard of living in our place was concerned. I knew some of my grade one classmates were envious of my luck since it was uncommon before to see grade one students wearing pants much less blue jeans.
That pair of jeans looked funny by today’s taste: it was meant to be worn as a high-waisted pants, that has ample leg room for two seven-year-olds and a very narrow hole for the feet to pass through. I remember that the brand name had the logo of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which was the most popular kid’s series during the early 90s.
In the Philippine pop culture, maong pants used to symbolize youth rebellion, then women empowerment, and now that they have become mainstream, anybody from the lowly construction workers to the top business executives don a pair of a Made in China imitation of a Versace blue jeans or the ubiquitous red tabs of Levi’s 501.
I remember, in 2003 when I took the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT), there was one article in the reading comprehension part that talked about the culture of blue jeans with Filipino college students, and I think that it’s also true with the rest of the world’s universities. It talked about how maong pants have evolved in terms not only in terms of the designs but also of the meanings they convey as well as the utilitarian functions of this kind of clothing.
Whereas in the earlier years of the invention of the hardy blue jeans in California that’s made of durable canvas with rivets in areas of much stress worn by gold miners, blue jeans even become a symbol of democratization of consumption. Although underlying realities still exist such as only the middle class can afford (at least in Third World countries such as the Philippines) to buy a pair of Levi’s costing more than 2,000 pesos (50 USD); nevertheless, the culture of wearing blue was still successful in creating an artificial appearance of democracy, which I think is good enough for now. Wearing them narrowed the divide that cut across the fashion taste between the rich, middle class Atenista/LaSallista market and the masa, promdi, bakya crowd.
When Filipino women started to wear maong in the middle of the last century, they have discovered freedom in the comfortable but fashionable maong. And with it came mobility, access to work, and a call for equality with men.
The functions of maong also changed. Before, the clothing apparel was limited to their use as working clothes worn of manual workers that could offer protection from deplorable working conditions, now wearing a blue jeans in the annual board meeting is not anymore as out of place as it used to be.
I bought my first pair of Levi’s pants during the latter year of my college life after working as a student assistant. Whereas before, wearing my first blue jeans meant entering a world of adults of my imagination, that act of buying pants this time that cost me several months of working as a messenger/typist/draftsman in the different offices in the university was an initiation rites for my entrance in the working class world.
Maong pants or blue jeans have come a long way. But one thing is sure, it will survive countless future redefinitions.