How Cuban Traditions Work

Traditional Cuban Clothing

Although traditional Western dress has been worn in Cuba for decades, the semi-tropical climate lends itself well to casual, loose clothing. Island temperatures seldom fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius), and natural fabrics like cotton and linen have always been popular because they're breathable and lightweight.

Recognizably Latin styles like tiered ruffled skirts, exaggerated sleeves and brightly colored, embroidered shirts and blouses have had their place in Cuban fashion, but as Cuba struggled to exercise its independent spirit, Afro-Cuban influences like the African head wrap, or bandana, began to surface, creating an individualized look and a fusion of cultures that's uniquely Cuban. Remnants of these fancy rumba-style dresses are more often worn today as costumes to entertain tourists or stylized into formal wear like wedding gowns. An average wardrobe in Cuba today is likely to consist of casual slacks or jeans, shorts, skirts (for women) and T-shirts or loose-fitting tops.


One traditional Cuban garment is in widespread use on the island, though. It's called a guayabera shirt, Havana shirt, Mexican wedding shirt or cigar shirt. It's the Cuban answer to laid-back male chic. The guayabera shirt has two (or four) front pockets, and two groups of closely spaced pleats on the front and back. It has a dress-style collar and buttons, and is worn loose and long with slits a few inches up the sides. The story goes that the originator of the design was a woman who added pockets to her husband's shirt so he could stow a few guavas for the trip home [source: Puerto].

Cubans claim the guayabera shirt as their own, but so do most of the countries in Latin America. Where early styles were probably white or off-white and somewhat plain, 21st-century versions come in anything from silk to satin and with sport-embroidered designs, beads, rick-rack and other embellishments. They're worn on casual and even some formal and work-related occasions. An offshoot of the guayabera shirt is the feminine version, the guayabera dress. Long, loose, and lightweight, it can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.