Tuesday, November 10, 2009

guayaberas: dispatches from the great shirt quest of '09

by frédérik sisa

The Day of the Dead is my favourite of all the holidays. Introspective yet festive, colourful yet funerary – just the sort of thing that suits my gothic-go-lucky frame of mind. Although it’s been a few years since my wife and I celebrated the Day of the Dead at the historic Olvera Street in downtown LA, the happy circumstance of my wife getting a photograph in an exhibit at the Pico House provided the impetus for a return.

The exhibit was lovely, and the wonderful day proved chock-full of people, costumes, dancing, Calaveras, altars…and, of course, margaritas and a fine Mexican dinner with good friends at La Golondrina. As is traditional – as a tourist destination, Olvera Street is, unsurprisingly, full of shopping opportunities – I hunted for shirts. But while I’ve opted in the past for t-shirts with beautiful Jose Posada artwork (see image at left), this time I hunted under the Prime Directive of the Great Shirt Quest of ’09: Thou Shalt Avoid T-Shirts.

And thus, my discovery of the guayabera shirt, also known as a Mexican Wedding Shirt. (Wikipedia offers this fun factoid regarding the name: “The origin of the name Guayabera may come from a Cuban legend that tells of a poor countryside seamstress sewing large pockets into her husband's shirts for carrying guava (guayabas) from the field. Guayabera may also have originated from the word yayabero, the word for a person who lived near the Yayabo River in Cuba.”

Not quite a first discovery, though. Cubavera offers guayabera shirts, but I admit I was bit skeptical (especially when going solely by images on a website) and ended up sticking with Cuban-style shirts. After all, the things have 4 pockets. 4! Pockets! Crazy!

After the shock of having so much storage space on a shirt passes, however, the construction and aesthetic appeal stand out. The details are incredible: a row of three vertical buttons at the hem on each side of the waist, rows of pleats (called alforzas) on the front and back, embroidered patterns. If you can get past my lousy picture-taking skills, you can get the gist in these pics:



I ended up getting two shirts; a short sleeved black shirt and a long-sleeved burgundy shirt. (If I succeed in taking decent pictures, I’ll post them.) In the final assessment, these shirts offer both comfort and an impeccable style that can move from formal to casual and back without missing a beat. The pockets even add to the charm - forget guayabas - how about tequila bottles? Guayaberas, then, have proven to be cures for the common shirt and a worthy addition to the wardrobe.

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