Guayaberas aren’t just for old men anymore.
When I was in college 20 years ago my buddies used to make fun of me for wearing the Mexican wedding shirts. “Those are for viejitos (old men) or fat dudes,” they would tell me.
With the tops more stylish and varied than ever, I bet some of my pals now have developed an appreciation for them. Today’s guayaberas are appropriate for formal or casual gatherings. They also come in an array of colors, fabrics and looks, from traditional to contemporary, with elaborate colorful embroidery or kitschy retro patterns.
It’s no surprise the shirts have become popular outside Latin America and the United States, with everyone from young hipsters to older intellectuals wearing them. The clothing is especially prevalent in Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines, all of which claim to have invented the pleated, pocketed camisas.
Some nice guayaberas can be found online but the really cool and original ones are those hidden away at thrift stores. In Tucson, Savers has proved to be a treasure trove for the shirts.
Eight in my collection were on display last week when the Citizen had an unofficial “guayabera showdown” in honor of departing editor-publisher Michael Chihak. Mr. Big Cheese, who thinks he’s part Cuban (see his taste in music), was bragging about how nice his new shirt is. He said we’d probably never seen one like it and would be blown away.
Ever the skeptics, my co-workers and I decided to challenge him. I brought in the shirts and handed them out. The black-and-white photo (in print) doesn’t do them justice. But it shows the variety available on the market.
Arts writer Polly Higgins is wearing a Savers find: a retro classic from Yucatan, Mexico. It’s white with little blue Aztec or Mayan figures and a super-long ’70s collar.
Features designer Jen Lum is decked out in a peach top, with beautiful matching embroidery. Like Polly, she belted her oversized shirt over jeans, and completed the ensemble with high heels. They converted guayaberas into high fashion. Who knew? Tyra and Miss Jay from “America’s Next Top Model” would be proud.
The aqua one modeled by features editor Dina L. Doolen is unusual because it has a zipper instead of buttons. Pretty cool for a guayabera made in Korea. It’s an eBay special.
I’m wearing my personal fave: a “disco” guayabera I discovered at Savers on Fort Lowell. It’s made of shiny light-blue polyester-cotton, with subtle, little paisley designs throughout.
Chihak’s shirt is black with gold and reddish embroidery. It’s classy, elegant and perfect for the sophisticated, mature man.
Illustrator Arnie Bermudez’s model is the opposite of Chihak’s. With its tribal-like pattern and fewer pockets and pleats, it’s targeted more at the hip, younger set. Another eBay find.
Online content editor Mike Truelsen, events coordinator Elsa Nidia Barrett and Calendar designer Kristina Dunham opted for traditional variations in green (eBay), blue (Savers) and wine (Meryvn’s).
After modeling our shirts for most of the day, Chihak, with little discussion, fanfare or voting, proclaimed 27-year-old Arnie the winner of the contest. Which just goes to show that guayaberas really aren’t only for old, fat men anymore.