Guayabera History, Culture, and Styles
The guayabera is an iconic garment, steeped in lore and traditions, signifying various national, regional and cultural identities. To discuss the history of the guayabera borders on an academic task. An excellent essay and museum exhibition have been devoted to the subject, references to which are provided below. In brief it can be agreed that the guayabera shirt is popularly thought to originate in Cuba, with the invention of a wife adding four pockets to her husband's shirt for picking guavas, or guayabas, hence the name guayabera. Alternately, it is explained as a regional name coming from Yayabero used to reference people from the area of the Yayabo River in Cuba.
Although the origins may well be Cuban, the Yucatán Peninsula and Veracruz regions of Mexico are places in which guayaberas have been consistently produced and used as proper regional dress. But despite the seemingly Caribbean roots, there are those that argue that the guayabera finds its origin from fabrics or garments brought by the Spanish to the area from the Philippines.
Interestingly the guayabera has shifted its identity- being known first as a peasants shirt, and subsequently being worn by heads of state at formal functions. Although the guayabera is traditionally associated with Latin American and Caribbean culture, transported by emigres and tourists to far flung places the guayabera has been adopted by style and comfort loving gentleman everywhere. It has similarly transcended generational gaps, once being thought of as "old guard", then reborn and popularized by younger generations.
Today the guayabera is considered appropriate attire for formal occasions and is prized throughout the world – from the Asia, to Africa and the Americas. Because the shirt is worn outside the pants and without coat and tie, it is especially appreciated in hot climates for business and elegant social occasions. Guayaberas are also known as Mexican wedding shirts because of their popularity as groom’s attire at beach and destination weddings.
The hallmark of a guayabera aside from the pockets, is the fine pin tucking or pleating called alforza fina found on the front, and often the back of the shirt as well. The true pin tucked pleats will stretch like an accordion, which is one way to distinguish a fine guayabera from an imitation. Regional adaptions and names for the shirt are many: the hem, collar, sleeves, number of pockets, pleating, embroidery, decorative yoke and buttons, fabric and colors - nearly all the elements have their variables. The one thing that remains consistent is that it be a lightweight, buttoned shirt that is worn outside the pants, hence the expression "fuera como la guayabera". Though characteristically a mens shirt - the guayabera style has been interpreted in blouse and dress form for women.
- Mexican Wedding Shirt
- Cuban Shirt
- Cigar Shirt
- Chacabana (in the Dominican Republic)
- Shirt-Jac (in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana)
- Guayabel (in Haiti)
- Safari Shirt (in Great Britain)
- Bush Jacket (in Jamaica)
- Classica, Four Pocket with Pleats
- Presedencial, heavily pleated with a straight hem
- Jarocha, heavily pleated with a scalloped hem
- Filipina, mandarin collar, one or no pockets and narrow pleats
- Norteña, two elongated pockets at bottom.
Our house model Guayabera Norteña Rejilla
Our featured shirt is called norteña referring to the square cut, straight hem and two elongated pockets at the shirt bottom and a cigar pocket at the breast (compared to the 4 pocket classic guayabera). Our shirt also is distinguished by what is known as rejilla - the embroidered perforations or openwork which are both decorative and functional, making the shirt more comfortable in hot weather. Yucatec guayaberas are known for elaborate embroidery as well as the traditional pin tucking. The Huitzilli Norteña Rejila shirt features all three of these details: open work, ornate embroidery and pin tucking both on both the front and back of the shirt. Also there are functional buttons at the hip so that it can open depending on the gentleman's build.
Please see the excellent resources below for more in depth exploration of the history and cultural significance of this fascinating garment.The Latin American Fashion Reader:
Essay on the Guayabera in The Latin American Fashion Reader, Guayaberismo and the Essence of Cool, by Marilyn Miller
The Guayabera : A Shirt's Story at History Miami Museum