Polo Alternatives

The man who first took Rene Lacoste’s brilliantly simple sport shirt and replaced the original logo with his business’s name and phone number should spend eternity pursued and bitten by embroidered crocodiles. Because that first corporate swag shirt was the nail in the coffin of the pique polo as a respectable summer shirt. Arnold Palmer looks like he’s about to cry over it.

Fortunately, the pique polo is not the only worthwhile summer shirt.

Guayaberas and Guayaber-ish

The guayabera—button front, woven fabric, usually short sleeved, with decorative pleats and four pockets—is a staple in tropical climates and with American anthropology professors (anecdotally). Traditional guayaberas are relatively loose, as is most clothing worn where it’s always hot. Check out Jesse’s experience with Miami guayabera makers Ramon Puig. If a real-deal ‘bera is too much for you, there are a decent number of similarly styled shirts available that omit traditional details for a subtler take. My favorite is probably the Engineered Garments Chauncey shirt. Like with any short sleeved, woven summer shirt, a trimmer fit will look cleaner and less Guy Fieri, but will also be less functional in the heat.

Aloha Shirts

Hawaiian/Aloha shirts have been pigeonholed in the past but island patterns add some welcome brightness to the hot weather uniform of simple cotton pants and shirts. Aloha shirts have a long history in Hawaii, but entered the American consciousness largely in the 1950s, as tourists from the continental U.S. brought them home. Bold prints and colors are the standard; subtler takes will use only two colors, and some use reverse printed fabric, a Reyn Spooner standard that’s less loud. The vintage market for Aloha shirts is very competitive; old versions in rayon or silk blends fetch crazy prices. Personally, I prefer newer versions in cotton or cotton-linen blends—the multicolor print above is an overdyed shirt from surf brand Lightning Bolt.

Popovers

Popovers are essentially just normal button front shirts with a placket that doesn’t reach the bottom of the shirt, which is the way all dress shirts used to be made (some makers will still do this for you). The popover as summer shirt is often short sleeved and made in oxford cloth, so a summer version of the unimpeachable OCBD. Does a popover really “wear” that much cooler than a simple button front shirt? No. But it’s traditional warm season wear and looks more “dressed” under a sportcoat than a polo. We’ve highlighted a number of solid popovers before; Jack Spade has a short sleeved poplin version right now and I know Winn Perry is expecting some Individualized-made popovers soon. One thing to remember: most pullover clothing is knit and has some give; a very trim, woven fabric popover will be a pain to get on and off.

Better Polos

Another option is just avoiding the polo shirt as practiced by Lacoste and Ralph Lauren—so, fewer logos, different collar styles, and different fabrics. The cult of James Bond is a little silly in my opinion, but Daniel Craig’s Bond has brought due attention to Sunspel’s Riviera pocket polo, which has a mesh, self-fabric collar and close fit, even if you aren’t packing Craig-caliber guns. UK knit specialists John Smedley make a number of polo style shirts in knit sea island cotton, with slightly longer sleeves and bigger collars than most slim, modern takes. Banlon-style polos, with a waistband rather than tails, are arguably neater than a standard polo, but they’re a rare beast these days. I haven’t tried one, but I’m intrigued by Land’s End’s similar banded hem polo.

-Pete

Ramon Puig: La Casa de las Guayaberas

I was in Miami last week, and rather than visit South Beach, I thought I’d take my half-day of free time and go on a hunt for a guayabera. Thanks to a tip from Image Granted, I made my way from my hotel to Ramon Puig, one of the most respected guayabera shops in the world.

If you’re not familiar with the shirt, the guayabera is a pleated, button-down shirt with four front pockets. It’s often worn with short sleeves, though a long-sleeve version is worn in the tropics for business and formal occasions. It’s most associated with Cuba, though you can find it throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, and a sister shirt, the Barong Tagalog, is worn in the Philippines. You can basically find a version of the shirt anywhere tropical trade traveled in the 19th century - even Africa. The name is purportedly derived from the guava plantation workers (guayaberos) who wore them originally, though that’s in much dispute.

The guayabera, like the Aloha shirt, is perfectly suited for tropical weather. It’s also a genuine classic, a garment that blends form and function close to seamlessly. These days you’re much more likely to find American-style dress on younger folks in the third world, but like the Aloha shirt, the guayabera has made a comeback on the strength of cultural pride.

At Ramon Puig, the style is traditional, conservative and distinctly Cuban, but there are racks upon racks of shirts in a dizzying variety of fabrics and colors. There are only two styles: long sleeve and short, but when you multiply those by regular and long sizes, then numerous fabric levels, then colors in each fabric, you get a store filled to the brim. Prices range from $40 for the basic poly-cotton blend shirts to $140 for Irish linen.

Besides all this, there’s also a custom operation. Sr. Puig died a few years ago, but there’s still a tailor making shirts that run upwards of $500 each in a shop in the back. I was lucky enough to fit comfortably in a size medium-tall (be sure to size down one for a slimmer fit if that’s your preference), and walked out with a souvenir I couldn’t get anywhere else.

Q and Answer: Can I Wear a Guayabera?
Peter writes: All summer, I have been struggling to look presentable in extreme heat. For some reason (I assume the mixture of extremely lightweight fabric and venting) guayabera shirts keep me cool. When I think back to sepia-toned images of my youth; I can picture my more radical philosophical uncles sporting these shirts with lightweight chinos and occasionally a panama hat. They were Chicanos but not Cuban (as am I). However, when I look for guayabera shirts to buy; I can only seem to find polyester or blended fabric ones…only the rare vintage shop has anything that looks decently made. Worse than this is the people I see who are not old rotund Latin gentlemen wearing these shirts. Invariably they look like assholes far down the spectrum of Ed-Hardy-ism. This leads me to ask you find folks two questions:  is it possible to find a well-made guayabera shirt, and can you wear one without looking like a jerk?
Not all fashion classics have roots in England or Italy.  The guayabera is accepted garb for even formal occasions in much of the tropical world, and is particularly popular in Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines.  You’re right, though, that here in the states, they’re popular among the polyester bowling shirt and tattoo of an old-timey revolver crowd. That said, I don’t think that’s any reason not to wear them, especially in very hot weather.  They’re good-looking, practical and a genuine classic.  If you’re Latino (whether your heritage is Cuban or not), or Filipino, that helps, too.
You’re right, though, that it can be maddeningly difficult to find decent-quality guayaberas.  The third world long ago moved to polyester and polyester blends (they’re cheaper), and what premium market there is here in the States tends to be pitched towards the Tommy Bahama crowd.  We’d be looking for something short-sleeved (we won’t be wearing them to formal events), and in lightweight natural fabrics - preferably a cotton-linen blend, which won’t wrinkle as badly as linen alone, but wears lighter than just cotton.
I did find a few shirts in a cotton-linen blend from one eBay seller, but they look like they’ve got a very end-of-summer stock level, and further efforts have borne no fruit. 
So I’ll throw it to you out there in PTO land: any sources for high-quality guayaberas?

Q and Answer: Can I Wear a Guayabera?

Peter writes: All summer, I have been struggling to look presentable in extreme heat. For some reason (I assume the mixture of extremely lightweight fabric and venting) guayabera shirts keep me cool. When I think back to sepia-toned images of my youth; I can picture my more radical philosophical uncles sporting these shirts with lightweight chinos and occasionally a panama hat. They were Chicanos but not Cuban (as am I). However, when I look for guayabera shirts to buy; I can only seem to find polyester or blended fabric ones…only the rare vintage shop has anything that looks decently made. Worse than this is the people I see who are not old rotund Latin gentlemen wearing these shirts. Invariably they look like assholes far down the spectrum of Ed-Hardy-ism. This leads me to ask you find folks two questions:  is it possible to find a well-made guayabera shirt, and can you wear one without looking like a jerk?

Not all fashion classics have roots in England or Italy.  The guayabera is accepted garb for even formal occasions in much of the tropical world, and is particularly popular in Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines.  You’re right, though, that here in the states, they’re popular among the polyester bowling shirt and tattoo of an old-timey revolver crowd. That said, I don’t think that’s any reason not to wear them, especially in very hot weather.  They’re good-looking, practical and a genuine classic.  If you’re Latino (whether your heritage is Cuban or not), or Filipino, that helps, too.

You’re right, though, that it can be maddeningly difficult to find decent-quality guayaberas.  The third world long ago moved to polyester and polyester blends (they’re cheaper), and what premium market there is here in the States tends to be pitched towards the Tommy Bahama crowd.  We’d be looking for something short-sleeved (we won’t be wearing them to formal events), and in lightweight natural fabrics - preferably a cotton-linen blend, which won’t wrinkle as badly as linen alone, but wears lighter than just cotton.

I did find a few shirts in a cotton-linen blend from one eBay seller, but they look like they’ve got a very end-of-summer stock level, and further efforts have borne no fruit. 

So I’ll throw it to you out there in PTO land: any sources for high-quality guayaberas?