July 28, 2011

History of the Guayabera

The guayabera shirt is a happy odd mix of pockets, buttons, tucks and embroidery, yet its look is perennially hip. And its origin is a mystery! Guayaberas have a long history in the Caribbean and South America. So one story goes, the novel design was custom-made for a wealthy Cuban rancher in the 1700s and imported from Spain. Others claim the Philippines or Mexico was its birthplace, and because all three countries have Spanish influence, Spain is likely the guayabera's grandfather. The exotic-sounding name may have come from the Yayabo River nearby that fabled rancher, though it's commonly accepted that "guaya" comes from "guayaba" or "guava", the name of a tart indigenous fruit.

Guayaberas are unbeatable when it comes to comfort in summer, usually in all-cotton or blends that remain light and cool in humid weather. The originals were long-sleeved. Short sleeves are classic nowadays, with a usual design having buttons at each of a four-pocket front and an uncommonly detailed amount of drawn work or embroidery. The special detailing makes these shirts particularly popular for ceremony; guayaberas are also known as Mexican wedding shirts.

Regardless of its true origin, the guayabera's unique style has remained a favorite. Fidel Castro has appeared in guayaberas (instead of his usual military costume) at events to appear as one with the common man. Today government officials of both Cuba and Miami sport guayaberas as part of their tropic uniforms. And popular culture has been inspired by the guayabera as Urban Outfitters and Perry Ellis recently have marketed the Latino design to another generation of comfort-loving, fashion-conscious admirers.