The guayabera (//) is a men's shirt typically distinguished by two vertical rows of closely sewn pleats that run the length of the front and back of the shirt. The shirt is typically worn untucked. Guayaberas are popular in the Caribbean region of Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Central America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and throughout Africa. It is also known as a "Wedding Shirt".
The origin of the garment is a something of a mystery, thought to be the result of a mixture of Native American and Spanish styles, developed in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Various claims for the distinctive style have been made, from Mexico to other Latin American countries to the Philippines.
A version of the shirt's origins claims that Mexicans originated it in either the state of Veracruz or the Yucatán Peninsula. One theory holds that it was during the era of trade routes through the Caribbean that the Mexican shirts got to Cuba and were taken to the Philippines by the Spaniards, where the evolution of the intricate embroidery started. Alternatively, others speculate that the shirt, which has documented origins in the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spanish, made its way to Cuba through Mexico via the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. The origin of the Guayabera shirt remains a mystery, and a similar prototypical shirt has existed since the 18th century, probably imported from Spain.
Guayabera may come from a Cuban legend that tells of a poor countryside seamstress sewing large patch-pockets onto her husband's shirts for carrying guava (guayabas) from the field. Guayabera may also have originated from the word yayabero, the singular nickname for those who lived near the Yayabo River in Cuba.
In 2010, Cuba declared the guayabera shirt to be its "official formal dress garment".
Others claim the origin to be from Baní, Dominican Republic, also for the harvesting of guayaba fruit in the region. This theory explains the movement to Cuba, through Máximo Gómez, which used this type of shirt.
The guayabera is distinguished by several details:
- Either two or four patch pockets and two vertical rows of alforzas (fine, tiny pleats, usually ten, sewed closely together) run along the front and back of the shirt. The pockets are separately detailed with identical alforzas that are aligned with the alforzas on the body of the shirt.
- The top of each pocket is usually adorned with a matching shirt button, as are the bottoms of the alforza pleats. Vertical rows of adjusting buttons are often seen, one on each side, at the bottom hem. While most versions of the design have no placket covering the buttons, a few newer designs do.
- The bottom of many shirts has slits on either side, and these include adjusting buttons. The bottom has a straight hem, and is not tucked into the trousers.
- In Britain and Zimbabwe the guayabera is called a "safari shirt"
- In the Dominican Republic it is known as "chacabana"
- In the Guyana, Trinidad, and the United States a type of guayabera (similar to a safari shirt) is sometimes called a "shirt-jac"
- In Jamaica it is known as a bush jacket
- In the Mexican state of Yucatán, it is also known as camisa de Yucatán.
Uses and design variations
The guayabera is worn as office and loose formal wear all over the world.
- In Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, guayaberas are part of the traditional wear for men and may be considered formalwear in some situations.
- Though traditionally worn in white and pastels, guayaberas are now available in many solid colors. Black guayaberas, embroidered with colorful flowers and festooned with French cuffs, have for many decades been extremely popular in Mexico and are considered formalwear in some situations.
- In Zimbabwe, the short sleeved version is worn for special occasions. The shirt was brought to Africa by Cuban teachers who once lived there. Today, it has replaced the safari suit for special occasions. White shirts are worn with black dress pants to weddings, and black shirts are worn to funerals.
- The shirt-jac (also known as a "jac" for short, or a "summer jac") has become a popular clergy shirt since the 1980s. These shirts are simpler than a guayabera, avoiding the design details such as pleats. Many clerics purchase fine guayabera shirts and have the collars re-tailored into clerical collars.
- Mexican guayaberas often use complicated embroidery in place of or as a supplement to the traditional alforzas. This style originated in Mérida, Mexico.
Guayaberas have been worn extensively by a number of Latin American political leaders, including César Chávez, Carlos Prío Socarrás, and Fidel Castro. This is often interpreted as a sign of the wearer's affiliation with populist political positions. U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, have also worn the shirts as a sign of solidarity when visiting the Cuban community in Miami.
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Similar shirts include the "safari shirt" in Britain and "camp" (or "jac") shirt in the U.S. A variant of the British safari is the "clergy shirt". The real "safari shirt" is usually made of stronger material (less light weight) and has upper pockets and gussets (in the back to provide more flexibility). The safari shirt is confused herein with a safari jacket/bush jacket which is a single layer, long sleeved and long square tailed affair often made iconic by film directors and seen in photos of Ernest Hemingway. The jacket has lower open pockets and is worn open (not buttoned); it sometimes serves as a photographer's jacket. Both shirt and jacket signature color is tan.
The Philippines' national costume for men, the Barong Tagalog shirt, has some features which are similar to the guayabera. However, the Barong Tagalog is a much more formal piece of clothing. It lacks pleats or pockets, and is marked by intricate, hand-sewn embroidery in a variety of forms, including geometric or floral patterns. It is not traditionally made of linen, but rather of hand-woven, fine, translucent piña or jusi fiber. Less formal linen and cotton variants of the barong are used in everyday wear, as school or office uniforms for instance. A disputed theory is that the Barong Tagalog was either a local adaptation or a precursor to the guayabera. According to those who claim that the barong is the precursor of the guayabera, the guayabera shirt was originally called the "Filipina" since Manila-Acapulco Galleons brought the shirt to Mexico from the Philippines.
In the Samoan islands the shirt style has been introduced into the masculine formal attire known as the "safari set". American Samoa's version of the shirt often includes tightly-sewn vertical pleats and two or four buttoned pockets.
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