The guayabera (//), also known as camisa de Yucatán (Yucatán shirt), is a men's summer shirt, worn outside the trousers, distinguished by two vertical rows of closely sewn pleats running the length of the front and back of the shirt. Typically made of linen, silk, or cotton, and appropriate for hot and/or humid weather, guayaberas are popular in the Caribbean (especially Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico), Mexico, Central America, South America, Southeast Asia, the south of Spain, and Portugal.
The design of a typical guayabera is distinguished by several details:
- Either two or four patch pockets and two vertical rows of alforzas (fine, tiny pleats, usually 10, sewn closely together) run down the front and three down the back of the shirt. The pockets are detailed with alforzas that are identical to, and aligned with, the alforzas on the body of the shirt.
- Long or short sleeves, the more common being the short-sleeved version, having a cuffed sleeve with a single decorative button.
- Some shirt designs include slits on either side, and these include two or three buttons. The bottom has a straight hem and is never tucked into the trousers.
- 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 used at the bottom hem. While most versions of the design have no placket covering the buttons, a few newer designs do.
Though traditionally worn in white and pastels, guayaberas are now available in many solid colors. Black guayaberas, embroidered with colorful flowers and with French cuffs, have for many decades been extremely popular in Mexico and are considered formalwear in some situations.
The exact origin of the garment is unknown, although some sources attribute the shirt to the people of the Philippines who introduced the design to Mexico. Specifically, the design is believed to be from the lace-like white Philippine barong Tagalog, which has documented origins in the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spanish. It made its way to Cuba through Mexico via the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade (AD 1565 to 1815).
Some scholars dispute the Philippine origin based on perceived design differences. The barong traditionally does not have pockets and has an intricate U-shaped embroidery around the chest (the pechera) which is mostly absent in Cuban guayaberas. Guayaberas are also made from linen or cotton, and not the expensive piña or abacá sheer fabrics used in formal barong (although informal barong worn by the lower classes in the Philippines use common opaque fabrics like linen).
However, guayaberas in Mexico also have chest designs like pleats and embroidery similar to the barong (and in contrast to Cuban guayaberas); and they can range from having no pockets to having one, two, or four. This is the reason why Mexicans also claim that it originated from either the state of Veracruz or the Yucatán Peninsula. In Mexico, the same basic style is also known as the "camisa de Yucatán" (Yucatán shirt) or "wedding shirt".
Regardless, a clearer line of evidence is that guayaberas are actually also referred to as "filipinas" in Yucatán, Mexico, with the former regarded as a variant of the latter. The only difference between the two is the type of collar used. Filipinas have a collar similar to the Nehru or mandarin-style (a style known as the baro cerrada in the 19th-century Philippines), while guayaberas have a more typical spread collar. Both filipinas and the derivative guayaberas were the traditional everyday men's shirts in Yucatán since the mid-19th century, before they were replaced by western shirts in the early 20th century. The white filipina shirt is still regarded as the traditional formal dress for men in Yucatán, along with the terno for women (cf. traje de Mestiza of the Philippines). In particular, white filipinas are the traditional shirts worn for the jarana Yucateca dance, paired with white trousers. This suggests an origin from the Philippines that entered Mexico early during the colonial period through Yucatán then to Cuba, where it was later adapted to local fashion and materials.
Cubans also claim the guayabera originated from Cuba. Cuban literature refers to the shirt from 1893, and documentary evidence mentions the shirt in Cuba as early as 1880. The Cuban origin story tells of a poor countryside seamstress sewing large patch-pockets onto her husband's shirts for carrying guava (guayabas) from the field. In another version of the story, in 1709 Spanish immigrants from Granada, José Pérez Rodríguez and his wife Encarnación Núñez García arrived in Sancti Spiritus, located along the Yayabo River. José asked his wife to make him a shirt with long sleeves and four large pockets to store his cigars and belongings while he worked. Because it was easy to make, as well as being useful, it soon became a popular garment in that region. Another belief is that the name guayabera is said to have originated from the word yayabero, the nickname for those who lived near the Yayabo River in Cuba.
Wear and use
The guayabera is often worn in formal contexts, such as offices and weddings. In Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, guayaberas are part of the traditional wear for men and may be considered formalwear. In 2010, Cuba reinstated the guayabera as the "official formal dress garment".
Guayaberas have been worn extensively by a number of Latin American political leaders, including Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Cesar Chavez, Carlos Prío Socarrás, and Fidel Castro. This is often interpreted as a sign of the wearer's affiliation with populist political positions. Michael Manley, populist Jamaican prime minister, specifically advocated for the guayabera as an anti-colonialist mode of dress, and conversely the shirt was later banned in Parliament by the conservative Jamaica Labour Party. Similarly, Mexican left-wing populist Luis Echeverría advocated for its use in Mexico in part to symbolize rejection of European and American-style business suits.
U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Barack Obama, have worn the shirts as a sign of solidarity when visiting the Cuban community in Miami and when attending Latin American summits. Visiting politicians are sometimes given the shirts by Cuban American or Latin American political leaders.
Similar shirts and alternative names
A variety of similar, lightweight dress shirts exists in other tropical countries. These include:
- In America: the Western shirts with pointed yokes and elaborate embroidery were directly copied from the guayaberas of 19th century Mexican vaqueros.
- In Guyana: a similar or identical shirt is called a "shirt-jac".
- In Jamaica: the guayabera is called a "bush jacket".
- In the Dominican Republic: guayaberas are referred to as "chacabana".
- In the Philippines: the barong Tagalog shirt has some features which are similar to the guayabera: it is long-sleeved, light, traditionally white, and worn without being tucked in. However, the most traditional styles are decorated with "U" shaped embroidery (called the pechera), rather than the guayabera's straight pleats, and lack pockets. It is also traditionally made of hand-woven, fine, translucent piña or jusi fiber, rather than linen.
- In Trinidad and Tobago, physicians often wear them because of their practicality; one pocket for pens, one for a prescription pad, another for a stethoscope, etc.
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