As a child, my clothes were almost always ready-to-wear, bought off-the-rack from bazaars and clothing shops that abound along Plaridel St. in Angeles. I and my brothers wore basic short pants in khaki, black and navy blue, which we matched either with a T-shirt or a hand-me-down polo salvaged from my Manila cousins. All other clothing pieces were sewn by my multi-skilled Mother who was quite handy with a sewing machine.
By the time I got to high school, it was obvious that I needed better, more tailored clothes; beyond uniforms, I needed appropriate fashions for our teen socials, school activities like class parties and proms. So, my Mother sent me and my brothers off to a tailor in Angeles—Cong Peter—who had a shop right in his ramshackle house, just across Sacred Heart Seminary.
For the longest time, Cong Peter designed and dressed us up in the latest styles of the day—from funky denim bell bottoms, bodyfit long sleeved shirts with standing collars, to snazzy gabardine coats that were perfect for our more formal senior prom. He was a master cutter par excellence, so much so that he found employment in Saudi, which left us briefly distressed. Where do we go now for our next set of clothes.
Fortunately, every Pampanga town has many “sastres” of repute, known for their keen fashion sense as well as expertise in cutting and sewing. Before Cong Peter, there was a long line of master tailors who excelled in their trade and earned fame and fortune not only in their towns, but beyond the borders of Pampanga.
In the peacetime years, young men of Minalin would hie off to Simon;s Tailoring, operated by master cutter, Martin Santos. For style-conscious Fernandinos, only the shops of Elpidio David (David and Fashion Tailoring), C. Hugo Gentleman’s Tailor Modernist and Vivencio Salas would do. Magaleños went to Narciso Suing’s “Gentlemen’s Tailor”to have their fittings while in Masantol, it was the “Sastreria de Julian Usi”.
More enterprising Kapampangan tailors set their sights on the big city of Manila, which had a bigger, more sophisticated and therefore more moneyed clientele. Narciso Mangune of San Simon set up his “NAR-MAN’’s Tailoring” along Azcarraga corner Misericordia, in 1932, armed with a vow to his customers: “Nung bisa kang lunto maticdi at calang alangan lalu na qñg sociedad, ipatai yu ing quecong imalan qñg cabalitan a sastreria NAR-MAN’s. Sane ya at biasang taluqui qñg macapanaun a moda” (If you like to look dashing and without any awkward feeling in society, have your clothes sewn by the well-known NAR-MAN’s Tailoring. It is experienced and is up-to-date with the current fashions of the day).
From Sasmuan, master cutter Jose S. Galang managed his own Galang Tailoring along 1122 Rizal Avenue. Just 5 stalls away was Alviz Tailoring, whose “clothing perfections” won First Prize at the 1933 Manila Carnival. Further down the road was Cura’s Tailoring, operated by I.D. Cura; it had a branch at Maria Clara St. Angel S. Domingo opened “The New York Modern Tailoring”at 1000 Magdalena St., Trozo in Tondo. His cabalen, P.S. Domingo, had his along busy Azcarraga (now C.M. Recto), fronting A. Rivera. Both came from Mexico.
Lopez Tailoring, operated by a certain T.S. Lopez in Escolta enticed its customers with its time-honored philosophy: “Success is not luck..it’s perseverance and personal appearance. Wear custom made-to-measure clothes and have personal comfort and distinctive style”.
The most impressive credentials seem to belong to Lorenzo V. Beltran, who owned and operated “Beltran’s Tailoring” on Echague. Beltran described himself as a “Sartorial Designer”, with over 18 years of experience in the tailoring profession. A Business Administration degree holder from the University of Manila, Beltran also bannered in his ads that he has travelled abroad for 3 year, and is one of the most up-to-date tailors in the city of Manila. The shop’s specialty was the “Evening Press”.
In recent years, more famous Kapampangan-owned tailoring shops include Toppers of Manila, which was founded by Atty. Amado Carlos of Apalit. In the 70s, it was one of the leading men’s wear chain in the country, specializing in suits done in 24 hours, dress pants, vests, coats and barongs. It still is in operation today, with its main office in Quezon City.
Fashion styles these days tend to be more casual, informal and laidback. Before, gentlemen shoppers would walk the Escolta strip in white Americana cerrada and straw hat while young Filipino swains dressed for the afternoon paseo at Luneta in smart sharkskin coats and tie. The demand for such styles may have waned, but tailoring shops continue to thrive in Pampanga towns, capturing a niche market of customers who want more than just signature brands—but accurate measurements, perfect fit, personalized, friendly service—all at an affordable price. Practicality—like quality-- never goes out of style.