It’s cool, elegant, worn by many famous people and perfect for hot Michigan summers.
Originally published in the Clawson Patch newspaper May 2013.
Michael: Of course we are talking about the guayabera shirt. I just added two more to my collection in getting ready for our trip to Singapore.
Before my wife occupies her part of this page covering the history let me introduce readers to what the shirt looks like. The true guayabera has a straight across bottom with a slit on each side, so it is meant to be worn outside the pants. The original design has four pockets. Each pocket has a button. The part that makes it easily recognizable are the two vertical rows of pleats (alforzas in Spanish) running along each side and down the back. Similar styles go by the names of safari shirt in Great Britain or Barony shirt in the Philippines.
Graciela: OK, before readers get the wrong idea let me add that the latest shirt for my husband is a gift from me for his upcoming birthday. The great part about a guayabera is that even gringo men look elegant in them, especially the older ones. Ernest Hemingway often wore one.
While people in Latin American countries argue about the origin, all agree it started in the 1700’s. The vast majority give Cuba credit. In fact the guayabera is the official shirt of that country.
The most popular story, and one that explains the name, is the first guayabera was made by a poor Cuban seamstress in a pueblo. She sewed the four pockets on the shirt and put a button on each so her husband could carry guayabas (guava in English) home from the fields.
Michael: The originals of the shirt were made of linen and always in white or beige. Later they started making them in light pastel colors. Today one can find the shirts even in a variety of bright colors or black with intricate designs.
Graciela: For Colombians the shirt has a special significance. When Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Márquez (Gabo to his countrymen) won the Noble Prize for Literature he wore a guayabera to meet the king of Sweden while the other recipients were dressed in tuxedos.
Michael: Today they are considered formal wear, especially those shirts with exquisite embroidery designs on the front and back. They are almost a staple for destination weddings done on beaches in Caribbean places like Cartagena and San Andres. In fact it is sometimes referred to as the Mexican wedding shirt.
Graciela: Our Chilean friend flew into Bogotá before heading to a wedding on a Caribbean island. First thing off the plane he asked us to take him to a store to buy a guayabera as everyone would be wearing them.
Michael: I am picky about my guayabera shirts so here is my advice. Stick to traditional style. Always make sure it is made of linen. You want a shirt that breathes in warm weather. I don’t care how inexpensive the price, avoid like the plague, polyester shirts or a blend with synthetic materials. Stick with the whites and light colors in pastel shades. Again, dark colors absorb the heat of the sun and the shirt just looks out of place in cool weather. Wear it like you own it; confidence. With a guayabera you are Ernest Hemingway, Antonio Banderas or a gringo exhibiting taste and style.
Graciela: For those in the USA, you can purchase them over the Internet. But in my opinion the best way to shop for clothing is to try it on first. Come to Bogotá. Mall stores like Arturo Calle and Pat Primo carry very nice guayaberas at reasonable prices.
Michael: If you are willing to shuck out a few more bucks for something special then I recommend a guayabera from Textiles Latinos. The company is located in Bogotá in the Centro Comercial Portal 80. Here is a link to their Facebook page where you can take a gander at their amazing merchandise.
Disclaimer – we are not associated in any way with any of the products or retail places mentioned in this article.