guayabera shirt

Guayabera—a traditional Latin American garment.

The story goes like this.

About three hundred years ago a farmer’s wife took a needle and thread to her husband’s work shirt. She sewed four large pockets onto the front of the shirt, enabling her husband to easily pick and carry guayabas (guavas).

Past this — well, that’s where the arguments start.

The Cubans claim it originated near the Yayabo river in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.  The Mexicans believe the Yucatans invented the shirt and the Cubans copied it.  Then there are other stories of it originating in Thailand or the Republic of the Philippines, and then making its way to Central America via Chinese slave traders.

via-art of manliness

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Emiliano Nelson - known simply as “Nelson” - is the only maker of custom guayaberas shirts in Cuba. They’ve been worn here for centuries, usually made of cotton or linen. And Nelson’s are among the best on the island, he believes, because they are unique, “I’m making the guayabera in my own style, with my own design. The lines and the patterns are more contemporary, a guayabera that has a more fitted look.”

Like a lot of the other new entrepreneurs in Cuba, granted licences to operate small businesses by recent government reforms, Nelson does not face the challenge of demand. His shop at 22 Villegas, between Tejadillo and Empedrado in Old Havana, has plenty of customers. His challenge is supply. He tells me that he gets some fabric from Panama or Italy “but it’s difficult to get”. Plus, Cuba doesn’t make its own linen and the local cotton is not to Nelson’s standards.

There is no Cuban wholesale market for materials. Because of strict state controls, Nelson can’t simply call up an overseas supplier and order bolts of fabric. He must rely on a slow and sometimes inefficient government bureaucracy to import on his behalf. One solution Nelson has found is to get friends to bring cloth into the country for him. He even resorts to the age-old tailoring tradition of having clients bring in their own supplies.

When it comes to his tools of the trade, Nelson’s scissors are from the 1930s, his presses even older than that. The trick to surviving in Cuba, he says, is to get by with whatever you can find, in business or elsewhere - and he should know, he’s been at it for over 20 years.

He was allowed to start his business in the early 90s because of the artisanal and historic nature of his work. At the time, the shirts had almost died out in Cuba. Nelson became one of the country’s first private entrepreneurs and he never looked back.

“A couple of years ago the state made the guayabera the official attire of Cuba, the official dress for protocol and important events,” Nelson tells me. “This has allowed the guayabera to go back to what it was in the past.”

Now the guayabera is back in Cuba and Nelson a star. His customers include foreign celebrities like Danny Glover and Sting. He’s even made a shirt for Fidel himself.

Transforming a symbol of Cuba’s economic past… into it’s future.

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Little Havana

Miami Cuban Vibes, Because Clavicle Is So In Right Now

So lately I’ve been obsessed with the whole vintage 50s vibe, which I’ve been lovingly calling my “retro-Dad” look, but with summer upon us I think it’s time I venture out a little. Allow me to introduce retro Dad’s brother, aka the Cuban uncle from Mimai that you never knew you had. In keeping with the 1950’s throwback trend, I’m bringing back the guayabera shirt because honestly, any shirt with an open collar that allows you to show off a little clavicle is totally fine by me. Us Filipino’s actually have a very similar version of this shirt known as a “barong” but I’ll just save that for another post. Rather than a typical pairing of white pants with this shirt, I opted for some colored denim to give the outfit more of that bold Miami feel. I stuck with traditional accessories like the white straw hat and woven slip-ons to round out my vintage Cuban lewk and shot the whole thing on these colored walls because that’s as close to Miami as my broke self is gonna get this year. Thoughts on today’s outfit? Leave a comment!

Wearing:

Original Penguin Shirt // Armani Exchange Jeans // Kenneth Cole Shoes // Goorin Bros. Hat

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