A Cuban government proclamation made it official in 2010, but it wasn’t exactly the hottest news when the the guayabera was recognized as the island’s formal dress garment. Nor that officials were directed to wear them at state functions (they already did). For centuries we’ve known the roomy, well-ventilated shirt with plenty of cargo pockets as the de facto garment for fancy dressing in Cuba—or for that matter throughout the Latin world.
The guayabera, sometimes called a Mexican wedding shirt, has historically hazy origins—with many countries claiming provenance—but its best associated with Cuban nightlife, where it provides casual elegance on sultry evenings and plenty of room for toting cigars. A cross between the British safari and camp shirts, it gains Latin panache with its many stylish elements.
The proper guayabera starts with a sturdy, but loose-weave linen (the better for keeping cool). For the same reason—and to allow the freedom to bust some Latin dance moves—the cut is capacious. Sleeves are typically short, although Cuba’s resolution calls for long ones at formal affairs. Instead of tails, the shirt is hemmed in a straight cut just below the beltline (a guayabera is never tucked in). Then come the decorative details that define the garment. The shirtfront usually supports four patch pockets (two at the chest, two at the waist) with button details. Narrow bands of tightly pleated fabric (called alforzas in Spanish) run from the shoulder yoke to the hem (two or three in the front and three in the back) and may be in contrasting fabric designs.
While plain white guayaberas are prescribed by the Cuban resolution, the rule for the rest of us is anything goes. Berta Bravo, or The Guayabera Lady, who provided the shirts pictured here, makes them in an ever-widening array of styles and colorful fabrics. Her highly detailed guayaberas include buttoned vents at the sides of the hip and often have such appointments as contrasting fabrics inside the collar and behind the placket. If her quality workmanship isn’t enough of a calling card, consider also that the second-generation Cuban, based in Coral Gables, Florida, is a dedicated cigar smoker. And what’s more official than that?