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Guayaberas

Read about the history and style of the popular Latin American shirts called guayaberas.

The distinct style of guayaberas dates back to 17th century Cuba. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The distinct style of guayaberas dates back to 17th century Cuba.

Guayaberas

Guayaberas (gwy-ah-bear-ah) are loose-fitting, light-weight shirts for men with a distinct style that dates back to 17th century Cuba. Commonly called a wedding shirt, this versatile garment can be worn in casual settings or at formal affairs. Guayaberas are recognized throughout the world as a true reflection of Latin American culture. Today, people wearing guayaberas are found around the globe and cross age, gender, ethnic and cultural divides. An article in the Los Angeles Times cites several reasons for the popularity and mainstream interest in guayaberas, including emphasis on comfort, widespread multiculturalism and nostalgia for the past.

History of Guayaberas

According to Cuban folklore, in the 1880s the wife of a guava picker designed and sewed the first guayabera. It hung outside the trousers and had four frontal pockets located over the chest and below the waist. The pockets were deep enough to hold handfuls of the miniature guavas native to Cuba. Cotton material, side vents and a white color combined to keep the wearer cool. The style became popular throughout Cuba and its neighbor, the Yucatan Peninsula region of Mexico, which also claims to be the home of the original guayabera design. The indigenous people of this area used the word guayabana to mean "throw over."

Guayaberas eventually became a wardrobe staple throughout Latin America. As described in the Havana Journal, writer Ernest Hemmingway, one of Cuba's most famous residents, sported a guayabera in the 1950s. Other famous guayabera wearers have included author James Michener, United States President George H.W. Bush and Cuban President Fidel Castro. Each year on July 1, Guayabera Day is celebrated in Cuba to mark the start of spring and to reclaim credit for designing the guayabera.

Style Variations in Guayaberas

An authentic Cuban guayabera has four pockets, two vertical columns of pleats down the front, three columns of pleats down the back and 27 mother-of-pearl buttons. The columns of pleats are called alforzas and consist of 10 individual pleats sewn closely together that extend from above the upper pockets to the bottom hem. The Mexican version commonly has only the two upper pockets with columns of embroidery in place of pleats. A version worn in the Philippines is long sleeved with either button cuffs or French cuffs.

The traditional guayabera has a boxy cut which is comfortable and accommodates a variety of shapes. A form-fitting version is now made for women. Colors vary from the traditional white and light-reflecting shades to black as well as hues that complement the seasons. Dark reds and greens are popular winter colors for guayaberas as are bright spring colors. Materials range from cotton and cotton-polyester blends to linen and silk.

Guayaberas aficionados seeking the unique designs of older guayaberas can find them in consignment shops, vintage stores and flea markets. Online retailers and high-end specialty shops carry guayaberas in traditional and modern designs. They can be special-ordered for size and customized with logos and embroidery requests. Online retailers report that the majority of their clientele are not Hispanic. Many retailers outsource production of guayaberas to North America and Asian countries.

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