A Shirt's Story


This online exhibition offers an overview of the guayabera’s history, one that traces the shirt’s journey through Cuba, Mexico and the United States, and from humble beginnings to fashion phenomenon.

What is a Guayabera?

Men wearing guayaberas are a familiar sight in Latin America and the Caribbean. A traditional piece of menswear, the shirt is distinguished by its four front pockets and two vertical stripes of pleating and/or embroidery. Its widespread usage and distinctive appearance has made it the most iconic piece of clothing associated with the cultural life of Latin American and Caribbean populations worldwide.

Despite this far-reaching popularity, the circumstances concerning the guayabera’s origin and stylistic evolution are indeterminate and widely dispersed across a number of sources. The Guayabera: A Shirt’s Story weaves together the threads of the shirt’s history from an array of different legends, archival records, advertisements, historic photographs, articles and other sources from different centuries.

+ At left: A classic version of the guayabera. Circa 1948.

The Anatomy of a Guayabera

Explore a Guayabera

Learn about the characteristics that contribute to the shirt's distinctive look.


Guayaberas are usually made of lightweight, light-colored fabric.

Straight Hem

The shirt is worn untucked and features a straight hem.


It normally includes four pockets, useful for storing small items.


Stripes of pleating and/or embroidery adorn the guayabera.


The shirt’s yoke exhibits decorative elements.

Side Vents

The guayabera’s design includes side vents.

Decorative buttons

Decorative buttons ornament the shirt.

How The Guayabera Got Its Name

How many names can one shirt have? A lot, if that shirt is the guayabera, which is also known widely as the “Mexican wedding shirt.” Other names for the guayabera that exist in different countries include the “chacabana,” used in the Dominican Republic, the “shirt-jac,” as it is called in Trinidad, and the “guayabel,” as it is referred to in Haiti.

The exact origin of its most common name, “guayabera,” however, is uncertain. The most popular belief states that the garment’s name is a derivative of the Spanish word “guayaba,” meaning “guava.”

This often-repeated belief suggests that the storage of guavas in the shirt’s pockets may have been an early use of the garment. Most versions of this story identify its setting as Sancti-Spiritus, Cuba, the locale most often claimed as the shirt’s birthplace. Inhabitants of this city on the Yayabo River have historically been referred to as “yayaberos” and “yayaberas.” Other sources refer to these inhabitants as “guayaberos” and “guayaberas.” Although not easily verified, these possible explanations for the shirt's name continue to be the most widely accepted among people familiar with the guayabera.

The Cuban Chapter

Competing notions concerning the guayabera’s geographic origin exist with some placing it in Cuba and others in Spain, Mexico or the Philippines.

Historical evidence, however, suggests that the garment emerged in Cuba. The most frequently told origin story involves an 18th century couple in the Cuban countryside. In this tale, the husband asks his wife to create a shirt with multiple pockets to store his belongings while working.

Late 19th century archival records describe the guayabera as a shirt or jacket, which may have resembled the uniforms of Spanish and Cuban soldiers of the period. Unlike the contemporary guayabera, these military garments featured four pockets positioned along the hem. Other sources describe its use in the countryside by Cuban landowners and fieldworkers.

By the mid 20th century, the guayabera featuring two chest and two hem pockets had become well established in the country’s urban centers, including Havana. The shirt’s adoption by government officials and workers may have inspired its popularity among city dwellers.

After the revolution of 1959, the garment’s common use in Cuba, along with the country’s apparel industry, gradually faded away. The guayabera is still made there in limited quantities for tourists, but is rarely seen on the streets of Havana today.

The Mexican Chapter

The guayabera is also refered to as a “Mexican wedding shirt,” signifying its importance to Mexico’s cultural heritage.

Mexican men wear the shirt as frequently as men elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. The shirt is most noticeably a part of life in the coastal city of Veracruz and the Yucatan Peninsula, both of which have long-standing historical connections to Cuba. One commonly told story of the shirt’s arrival to Mexico states that Yucatecan henequen planters first encountered the garment in Cuba in the late 19th or early 20th century.

After production of the guayabera dwindled in Cuba, Mexican manufacturers in the Yucatan city of Merida rose to prominence as makers of the garment. The heyday of Mexican production occurred in the 1970s and is credited largely to former Mexican president Luis Echevarría who promoted the shirt's use domestically and elsewhere by wearing it for government business.

In later decades, increased competition from Chinese factories led to a dramatic reduction of guayabera manufacturing in Merida. The city, however, remains an important hub for the shirt’s production and sale. One stylistic innovation of the shirt is widely recognized as a Yucatecan contribution: the intricate embroidery usually featured on the garment’s front.

The Contemporary Chapter

The guayabera is currently worn at business meetings, beach weddings, nightclubs and elsewhere not only in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also in parts of the United States such as South Florida, Texas, California and New York, which have large populations from these regions.

The shirt is particularly popular in warm locales where its traditionally lightweight, light-colored design is most appropriate.

Recent trends in the use and design of the shirt represent a dramatic break with the past as up-and-coming and established designers, tailors and other makers and sellers of the garment reinvent the tradition. Clothing corporations, boutique stores, online businesses and fashion designers are introducing new fabric types and styles, as well as new imaginative designs. They are also targeting a more diverse consumer base.

Designers and business owners in Miami, Florida, many of whom are members of the region’s Cuban community, are creating a global hub for innovation. They and others in the industry are producing not only inventive designs for men, but also guayaberas and guayabera-inspired items for women, children and even pets. The shirt’s current availability in both high-end shops and mass market department stores has extended its reach and popularity to more than just Latin American and Caribbean customers.

How It's Made

Throughout its history, the guayabera has been crafted by individual artisans such as designers, tailors and seamstresses, and also by factory workers in industrial settings. When compared, the former usually produce more expensive, higher quality shirts in smaller quantities, while the latter focus on larger quantities and less expensive materials. Industrial manufacturing is increasingly the norm. Guayabera factories are currently located in China, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador and elsewhere.

The shirt is currently made from a variety of fabrics; historically, however, the shirt has been crafted from linen or cotton. The typical tools used to create the garment include measuring devices, cardboard patterns, scissors, sewing machines, and more. The complicated process of crafting the guayabera includes numerous steps.

The workshop of Marce
Selecting fabric
Measuring the client
Creating the pleats
Using patterns to mark fabric
Cutting the fabric
Shirt pieces ready for assembly
Constructing the pockets
Assembling the shirt
Attaching the buttons
Ironing the finished shirt
Finished shirt
The factory floor at Ravgo
Creating patterns
Cutting fabric pieces
Bundled pieces for assembly
Sewing pleats
Assembling the shirt
Attaching the buttons
Ironing finished product
Creating embroidery
Designing embroidery pattern
Testing embroidery pattern
Embroidery machine at work
Preparing embroidery for shirts
Completed products for sale

Share Your Guayabera

Tell us what the guayabera means to you and post an image showing you wearing your guayabera shirt or dress.

Submit Your Own Guayabera Image