The Philippine terno is a traditional formal attire worn by women in the Philippines. It is known for its butterfly sleeves and its elegant design. The terno has become an iconic representation of the Filipino culture and has been worn by notable figures, including former First Lady Imelda Marcos. 

However, many are unaware of the person behind the creation of this fashion masterpiece. This article aims to shed light on the history and origin of the Philippine terno and its creator.

History of the Philippine Terno

The Philippine terno has its roots in the baro't saya, a traditional Filipino dress worn by women during the Spanish colonial period. The baro't saya consists of a blouse and a long skirt, and it was typically made from silk or piña cloth. In the 1920s, the baro't saya was modified to include a shorter skirt and longer sleeves, eventually leading to the terno's creation.

The terno became popular during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly among upper class and fashion-conscious Filipinas. It was during this time that the terno underwent several modifications, including the addition of the signature butterfly sleeves, which were inspired by the Spanish mantilla. 

The butterfly sleeves were designed to make the arms look longer and more graceful, and they were made from lightweight fabrics such as organza, piña, or jusi.

The Creator of the Philippine Terno

The Philippine terno was created by a talented Filipina designer named Salvacion Lim Higgins. Higgins was born in Manila, Philippines, in 1915, and she grew up in a family of dressmakers. She studied at the University of the Philippines and later pursued fashion design in New York City. 

It was during her time in New York City that she was exposed to the latest fashion trends and techniques, which she used to create her own designs.

Higgins returned to the Philippines in the 1940s and opened her own fashion house, the Masion Sisi. It was here that she created her most iconic design, the terno. Higgins was known for her impeccable taste and attention to detail, and the country's elite and socialites often wore her designs.

The Legacy of Salvacion Lim Higgins

Salvacion Lim Higgins passed away in 2005, but her legacy lives on through the Philippine terno. Her contributions to the fashion industry have been recognized by the Philippine government, which awarded her the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1993. 

Higgins' designs have also been featured in several international fashion shows and exhibitions, including the Smithsonian Institution's "The Barong Tagalog and Filipiniana: A National Dress" exhibit in 2014.

The Philippine Terno Today

The Philippine terno continues to be a significant part of the country's fashion culture. It has been worn by notable figures, including former First Lady Imelda Marcos and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray. Today, the terno has undergone several modifications, including the use of modern fabrics and the incorporation of contemporary designs. 

Many Filipino designers continue to create their own versions of the terno, keeping the tradition alive while adding their own unique twist.


The Philippine terno has become an iconic representation of the Filipino culture and fashion. It is a testament to the creativity and talent of Salvacion Lim Higgins, who created this masterpiece and left a lasting legacy in the fashion industry. 

The terno has undergone several modifications throughout the years, but its essence remains the same, a symbol of elegance, grace, and beauty that continues to inspire generations of Filipinas.

If you're looking for an authentic Filipiniana outfit, Mestiza Filipina is the perfect destination for you. Our collection of traditional garments, including the Philippine terno and barong tagalog, is handcrafted by skilled artisans in the Philippines using high-quality materials and traditional techniques. Shop with us today and add a touch of timeless elegance to your wardrobe.

Written by Louisa Parkinson

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