Guayabera's Heritage, Evolution, And Status Explored At HistoryMiami (PHOTOS)

The Guayabera: When A Shirt Is Not Just A Shirt

Local tailor legend Ramón Puig reportedly made guayaberas for everyone from Robert Duval to Ronald Regan when they visited Miami. Puig is credited as saying "You wouldn't smoke fake Cubans so why would you wear a bogus guayabera?"

The iconic 4-pocket shirt -- spotted on everyone from Raul Castro to Mitt Romney wooing Latino voters on the campaign trail to abuelitos playing dominoes on Calle Ocho -- is as much a symbol of Miami as it is of Cuban heritage.

When HistoryMiami folklorist Michael Knoll, a Wisconsin native, moved to Miami in 2008 he immediately honed in on the cultutral importance of the button-down shirt.

HuffPost Miami spoke with Knoll about the museum's current exhibit "The Guayabera: A Shirt's History," which explores how the shirt became such an icon and reveals some of the more curious evolutions of the design --- guayabera leather jacket, anyone?

What inspired you to curate this show?
As a folklorist, I dedicate my efforts to identifying and understanding traditional cultural expressions. When I moved to Miami, it didn’t take long for me to notice the guayabera and recognize its meaningfulness to many South Floridians.

This recognition grew into a project to research the shirt’s history, create a collection of guayaberas for HistoryMiami, curate an exhibition, and develop a series of educational programs related to the shirt. We are excited about this opportunity to contribute to the public’s understanding of this iconic item of clothing.

What elements make a shirt a guayabera?
During the research phase of this project, I asked many of the folks I interviewed this question. Not surprisingly, the most common answers were the shirt’s four pockets and its vertical stripes of pleating and/or embroidery. These two features are the most famous distinguishing characteristics. But guayaberas are usually made of lightweight, light-colored fabric. The shirt is worn untucked and features a straight hem. The shirt’s yoke exhibits decorative elements.The guayabera’s design includes side vents. And there are often decorative buttons ornamenting the shirt.

guyabera historymiami cuba
(Flickr photo by Helln.)

What's the significance of the shirt's four large pockets?
Although the specifics of the shirt’s origin are unclear, it seems reasonable to conclude that the shirt’s multiple pockets have historically been useful for storage; they are perfect for carrying a variety of small items. But one common belief concerning the shirt’s naming is that the pockets were created to carry guayabas (guavas).

There seems to be some disagreement in Latin culture about where exactly the style of shirt originated.
Our research suggests that the guayabera emerged in Cuba. The earliest historical evidence we encountered indicates as much. Likewise, nearly everyone we interviewed, including makers and sellers in Mexico, identify Cuba as the origin.

Did women's fashion ever get influenced by the guayabera? Or is the style merely reserved for men?
The shirt has traditionally been a piece of menswear, and remains most popularly that. We do know, however, that guayaberas have existed for woman since at least the middle of the 20th century. And in the past couple of decades, guayaberas and guayabera-inspired pieces for woman have entered the picture in earnest. Examples of contemporary designers who are crafting these garments include The Guayabera Lady and Arcadio Diaz. There are others as well.

What are some of the more peculiar objects on display as part of the exhibit?
The exhibition features historic and contemporary pieces, including many pieces for men, and others for women and children. I would say that the more peculiar items include those featured in a section of the exhibition called “Guayabera-Inspired Novelties.” These pieces include a dog guayabera, a guayabera leather jacket, a Hawaiiabera (a synthesis of the Hawaiian shirt and the guayabera), among other items.

Dog Guayabera


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