Buy a Guayabera

Commonly worn by men in Latin America, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Hispanic communities in the United States, and the politicians pandering to them, the humble guayabera is a global staple of hot weather attire. Complete with an apocryphal origin story (peasants’ pockets for guava portage? Please.) and tempered by decades of ossified styling, it has earned its unique place in the menswear canon.

Guayaberas vary in design, but generally feature vertical rows of decorative embroidery and/or fine pintuck pleats called alforzas, descending from a western style yoke in back, and running over buttoning pockets on the front. Better quality guayaberas tend to feature more numerous and narrow alforzas which can approximate (for what it’s worth) the ribbed texture of seersucker. The collar is worn open, and the straight hem leaves inveterate tuckers like me no choice but to enjoy the breeze.

More formal versions -- long-sleeved, occasionally french-cuffed, with two hip pockets -- have been deemed sufficiently formal for diplomatic meetings between heads of state. I myself favor the more informal short-sleeved, four-pocketed model. Being less exotic, it’s more wearable, and more in keeping with the guayabera’s modest country roots. It also fills a more useful sartorial niche as a hot weather shirt-jacket, comfortably and securely distributing the accoutrements usually carried in the load-bearing man-purse that is a coat.

Along the same quasi-utilitarian lines, I personally think guayaberas tend to look best when made from somewhat coarser fabrics, conjuring the heavier but closely-related safari shirt. If you prefer to have a finer one made up (a relatively affordable bespoke option), select a shirting with some opacity to avoid having the pockets and pleats contrast too much against the sheer fabric (or prevent the boorish outline of an undershirt).  

Guayaberas are now available in a wide spectrum of colors and fabrics. You can’t go wrong with traditional white or natural cotton or linen, but don’t restrict yourself to them if you enjoy the style. It’s the contrasting details that can over-egg the pudding, pushing the shirt’s casual charm into the realm of ethnic costume; all those pockets, pleats, buttons, and embroidery provide enough texture without the need to highlight them.

The guayabera will always be a bit florid for men for men too tightly tethered to NATO-centric notions of sartorial propriety, but more cosmopolitan dressers embrace it in the same cavalier spirit of cultural appropriation that gave us Hawaiian shirts, Gurkha shorts, Panama hats, and Indian madras.

[Originally published in A Suitable Wardrobe.]