I have to be honest, I’m a little biased in writing this article, camp collar shirts are my favorite fetish in recent years.
Perhaps best known as bowling shirts, cuban shirts, cabana shirts, alpha shirts or safari shirts, (yes, too many names you are right), shirts characterized by the camp collar have made a comeback as a must-have in men’s wear and beyond.
A casual item that, however, at the same time represents a very valid alternative on occasions when the outfit required is more elegant, a transversal piece if there is one.
As I said, the names this garment carries are many and this is the result of its multifaceted and debated history, but let’s try to shed some light and try to tell the story.
The origins of the camp collar shirt can be traced back to the late 19th century, with some saying it came from the Philippines, some from Mexico, and some saying it originated in Cuba via Spain. I lean toward the latter, partly because it was Cuban workers who popularized it in the United States with the mass exodus to Miami and later to New York after the Cuban exile in 1959.
Called “Guayabera”, the shirt had (and still has of course) an extremely comfortable fit, and that very wide, flat collar gave the wearer a little more “breathing room” while working in the sun and gripped by the scorching heat.
As early as the 1930s, the camp collar became a garment worn outside of work and as an informal alternative to a suit and tie, but it was not until after ’59 that it quickly and permanently conquered the United States as well.
Thanks to breakthrough figures such as Elvis, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Sean Connery’s James Bond, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, Ernest Hemingway, and so many others who routinely wore it in their spare time, the Cuban shirt became the ultimate expression of high-profile casual.
Today the camp collar shirt has forcefully entered the collections of major fashion brands (see Prada with the “Bowling shirts” or Aimé Leon Dore with the “Rico“), empirically substantiating the aesthetic and historical value of an iconic item.