Primary Source

Painting of Imelda Marcos, Philippine First Lady

Painting of Imelda Marcos


Politicians are astute experts on the symbols and meaning of dress as part of self-representation. For women, the politics of dress are highly significant. This painting depicts a powerful woman, Former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos and shows her use of national dress in the Southeast Asian political context. Marcos popularized the terno, the Philippine national dress for women with butterfly sleeves, when she became First Lady. She used the national dress to craft a self-representation of herself as embodying the nation, presenting herself as a nationalist subject. Marcos was conscious of Southeast Asian cultural constructions of woman as bearer and wearer of national tradition, and tapped into these notions to achieve her political agenda. She stated during her trial that she wanted to be seen as a nationalist. Since she could not wear the Filipino flag, the terno became her flag. Filipinos, however, identified the terno with her personally and with her frivolousness. The terno became a symbol of Imelda Marcos rather than a metaphor for nation.

This source is a part of the Women and Politics in Southeast Asia, 1900-2000 teaching module.


Bravo, Claudio. Painting of Imelda Marcos. In Pedrosa, Carmen Navarro. The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos. Manila: 1987.

How to Cite This Source

"Painting of Imelda Marcos, Philippine First Lady," in World History Commons, [accessed May 27, 2024]