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Immerse in The Aesthetics of Cuban Traditional Clothing

Cuba was influenced by American culture following the 1898 Spanish–American War, and the Soviet Union followed later in the 20th century. Cuba's development of a culture and clothing was both multiethnic and mixed was made easier by all of these factors.
Cuban Traditional Clothing

The clothing and fashion trend in Cuba is inspired by its culture. Many different cultures have impacted this island nation in the Caribbean Sea. 

The Taino and Ciboney tribes, originally from South America, were the first to settle there. The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1482, which led the Spanish to colonize Cuba in the 16th century. The indigenous peoples as a whole had vanished within a century. After that, the Spanish brought enslaved Africans into the country to primarily work in the production of agricultural goods, particularly tobacco, sugar, and coffee.

Cuba was influenced by American culture following the 1898 Spanish–American War, and the Soviet Union followed later in the 20th century. Cuba’s development of a culture that was both multiethnic and mixed was made easier by all of these factors.

Today, 37% of people in Cuba claim to be exclusively white, 11% are classified as “negro,” and 1% are of Chinese descent. The majority of people are mulatto, or mixed African and European descent.

Traditional Clothes in Cuba

Table of Contents

The multi-cultural effects are reflected in Cuba’s traditional attire, with Afro-Spanish culture particularly prevalent. 

Recognizably Latin styles like exaggerated sleeves, tiered ruffled skirts, and brightly colored, embroidered blouses and shirts have had their place in Cuban fashion. However, as Cuba strived to exercise its independent spirit, Afro-Cuban influences like the African bandana, or head wrap, began to surface, creating a unique look and a fusion of purely Cuban cultures.

Remnants of these fancy rumba-style dresses are 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, and T-shirts or loose-fitting tops. Smoking traditional Havana cigars are common for both men and women in Cuba, although it is not a part of the traditional attire.

Traditional Clothes in Cuba​

Cuban Men's Folk Dress

The traditional Cuban men’s attire consists of a guayabera shirt, trousers, a straw hat, and a neckerchief. 

The typical Cuban male attire is rather contemporary and fashionable. They usually dress in comfy, breathable clothes to help them with the tropical climate.

Guayabera shirt showing pockets and pleats

This most popular traditional Cuban garment is widely worn on the island. A guayabera shirt, a Havana shirt, a Mexican wedding shirt, or a cigar shirt are all names for it. 

It is the Cuban equivalent of casual male chic. There are two or four front pockets and two groups of closely spaced pleats on the front and back of the guayabera shirt. It is long and worn loosely, with slits a few inches up the sides, a dress-style collar, and buttons. The design is said to have been created by a woman who added pockets to her husband’s shirt so he could carry a few guavas home.

It is disputed where this style of shirt originated: Spain, Cuba, Mexico, or Thailand. According to one account, farmworkers in Sancti Spiritus in Cuba produced shirts with large cigar-holding pockets made from linen sheets. In another story, a wealthy Cuban rancher from the 18th century brought this shirt style from Spain. Regardless of its origins, this kind of shirt is worn all over Latin America. In Cuba today, both male and female government officials must wear it to state functions.

Another typical Cuban shirt is called a “guarachera shirt,” but people only wear it for folk dancing. This is because the design is not practical and draws much attention. This shirt has a lot of colorful flounces and wide sleeves. Therefore, folk dancers are the only ones who typically don guarachera shirts during performances.

guayabera musicians

History of the Guayabera: the Formal Dress of Cuba

Although some sources claim that the people of the Philippines brought guayabera design to Mexico, the exact origin of the garment is unknown. 

More specifically, it is thought that the design is derived from the white Philippine barong Tagalog, which looks like lace and has been documented to have originated in the Philippines before the arrival of the Spanish. Through the Spanish ships trade, which took place between 1565 and 1815, it traveled through Mexico to Cuba.

Based on what they believe to be differences in design, some scholars question the Philippine origin. In contrast to Cuban guayaberas, the barong typically lacks pockets and has intricate U-shaped embroidery around the chest. Guayaberas are also made of linen or cotton, not the expensive pia or abacá sheer fabrics used in formal barongs. However, informal barong, which are worn by the lower classes in the Philippines, are made of common opaque fabrics like linen.

Contrary to Cuban guayaberas, guayaberas in Mexico also feature barong-like chest designs like pleats and embroidery; and they can have one, two, or four pockets, as well as none at all. Mexicans also assert that it originated in either the Yucatán Peninsula or the state of Veracruz for this reason. The “camisa de Yucatán,” also known as the “wedding shirt,” is another name for the same basic design in Mexico.

Regardless, a more definitive line of evidence is that in Yucatán, guayaberas are also referred to as “filipinas,” with the former being considered a variant of the latter. The only thing that separates the two is the kind of collar used. While guayaberas have a more classic spread collar, Filipinas wear a collar that is similar to the mandarin style.

History of the Guayabera

Since the middle of the 19th century, men in Yucatán wore filipinas and their modified form, the guayabera, for everyday wear before western shirts replaced them in the 20th century. In Yucatán, women still wear the terno, and men wear the white filipina shirt as the traditional formal attire. Particularly, white filipinas are the traditional shirts worn with white pants for the jarana Yucateca dance. This suggests that it originated in the Philippines and traveled through Yucatán to Mexico during the early colonial era, and then it reached Mexico, where it was altered according to local style and materials.

Additionally, Cubans assert that the guayabera originated in Cuba. The shirt is mentioned in 1893 in Cuban literature and in 1880 in Cuban documents. According to the Cuban legend, a poor rural dressmaker made large patch pockets in her husband’s shirts so that he could carry guava (guayabas) from the field.

According to a different version of the story, José Pérez Rodrguez and his wife Encarnación Nez Garcia, both Spanish immigrants from Granada, arrived in Sancti Spiritus, which is located along the Yayabo River, in 1709. To keep his cigars and other belongings safe while he worked, José asked his wife to make him a shirt with large pockets and long sleeves. It quickly became a well-liked garment in that region because it was convenient to make and useful. Another theory is that the word “guayabera” stemmed from the word “yayabero” which was a nickname for Cubans who lived near the Yayabo River.

Cuban Women's Folk Dress

Materials used in women's clothing

Since Cuba is in the middle of the Caribbean, where it can be very hot, women’s traditional clothing has always been loose-fitting to keep them cool in the summer heat. 

The majority of clothing is made of light cotton or linen, and dresses are also made of satin. The materials used are popular for beading and embroidery, and parties and fiestas feature colorful costumes

Cuban Women's Folk Dress​

Women's Vibrant Clothing in Cuba

Compared to men, women in Cuba wear colorful and vibrant clothes. Their ruffled, multicolored gowns feature intriguing off-shoulder necklines and long, wide skirts inspired by 19th-century Spanish flamenco attire. However, Cuban attire is a hybrid of Spanish and African fashions and is not entirely Hispanic. Floral motifs, stripes, checkered prints, or even a combination of these patterns are frequently used to make Cubana dresses. For trimming, ribbons and lace are the typical options.

Because these gowns are suitable for dancing, both regular Cuban women and folk dancers frequently wear them.

Additionally, Cuban headdresses are typically African in style, with colorful head ties that are intricately draped around the head. However, unlike African head ties, which are embellished with multicolored African patterns, Cuban head ties are typically monochrome or with floral patterns.


It is a plain summer button-down dress with pleats that are similar to those on male guayabera shirts. 

This outfit is ideal for daily wear in the humid and hot climate of Cuba because it is lightweight, uncomplicated, and free of the needless fabric. It is attractive but not vulgar. And while guayabera dresses can be any color, guayabera shirts are typically white. Women’s guayabera dresses are usually vibrant and embroidered. They can also be adorned with other embellishments to make them more attractive. Guayabera dresses are largely women by women as they’re practical, wearable, and attractive.

Ceremonial dresses​

Ceremonial dresses

Spanish dresses, which have numerous ruffles all the way down the skirt and around the cuffs of the sleeves, are another type of woman’s traditional attire. 

This style is especially admired by teenage girls wearing quinceanera dresses and the bride in a traditional Cuban wedding. The traditional celebration of a girl turning 15 and becoming a young woman in the eyes of society is called a quinceanera.

As much as a wedding dress, these dresses can be very intricate. Traditionally, the girls wore a ball gown with lace gloves and a parasol. Nowadays, they usually wear modern dresses. Girls wear two special symbols: a scepter, which represents her increased responsibility and authority, and a tiara, which represents her triumph over childhood and the transition to adulthood.

Festive dresses

Bata Cubana, or rumba dress, is a traditional dress for women to wear to fiestas and other celebrations. 

African, Spanish, and even French influences combine in the colors, ruffles, and fabric. This kind of dress is more commonly worn as a costume for performances, salsa, or rumba dancing in Cuba today. The bata cubana is typically accompanied by an African-style headdress, which has remained popular in Cuba even after slavery was abolished in 1865.

Festive dresses​


Jewelry is an integral part of Cuban attire. Women typically never go out without wearing jewelry. 

Women in Cuba have their first jewelry and statement pieces when they’re babies. They adorn themselves with necklaces, rings, and earrings. One of the most admired jewelry pieces in Cuba is the linking chain which went viral over the internet. Cuban women wear gold jewelry that makes their skin shine. They also wear colorful pieces to match and complement their outfits.

Cuban Fashion is Booming!

Fashion is truly a depiction of one’s style and personality and can make you stand out from the rest. 

Cuba has a long history of accomplishment in this sophisticated and competitive fashion industry. Cuban designers are currently experiencing a boom, as they’ve received numerous international awards.

The current fashion in Cuba is based on the country’s customs and the oppressive heat of the summer. Natural fabrics, which are more expensive but feel fresher and more comfortable, like cotton, linen, and gauze in light colors, are perfect for the endless summer in the tropics.

Fabrics made by hand, like crochet bobby pins or Richelieu embroidery, are back in style. Corduroys and other bias cloth are also popular because people get tired of artificial fabrics and want to wear natural ones.

The traditional Cuban clothing guayabera is also becoming increasingly popular and is admired by designers and the public worldwide. Cuban fashion, which was being ignored due to the economic conditions of the country, has now proven itself on the ramp and vogue. People love the colorful and breezy vibe that Cuban fashion brings to their summer closet while being sustainable and friendly to the planet.


Fashion in Cuba tells the story of expressions and experiences and shows the intimate images of its people. 

Cuba’s traditional clothing shows the vibrancy and sparkle of the hearts of Cuban. Although fashion being ignored for years, people have started to admire traditional Cuban attire as it brings comfort, colors, and style to their lives.

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