The Ideal Summer Shirt

The Ideal Summer Shirt

History and Overview:

Possibly the most identifiable piece in a well-dressed man’s summer wardrobe, the camp shirt (also known as the cabin, cabana or lounge shirt) has a long and storied history from being used in the oppressive heat of the Caribbean summers by field workers to being worn on luxury yachts in the Mediterranean sea (and everywhere between). There are thousands of variations to the tried and true formula. Still, the bare bones of the garment remain the same no matter where it’s worn. This makes it an easily adaptable worldwide staple for when the mercury starts to climb.

Camp shirts were traditionally found being worn by workers who labored out under the sun in Cuba and other plantation-dominated territories in the greater Caribbean. This being the intended use, these types of shirts feature several unique features that make them ideal for those living and working in warmer climates.

An example of plantation workers showing the early iterations of the Cuban-style shirt (https://www.everyculture.com/Cr-Ga/Cuba.html)

The most important of these features is the “camp collar,” a style of collar that evolved from the far more traditional mandarin collars that would have initially been present. The camp collar shirts (otherwise known as Cuban-style collars) lie flat against the chest and sit much further apart, allowing for more exceptional breathability. Other features include a straight cut (creating a looser fit), a straight hem that’s meant to remain untucked, and a simple placket which helps create a less cluttered appearance.

The origins of the shirt are hazy and not quite definable. Still, experts estimate it was created in Mexico or the Philippines, who were then brought by the Spanish to work their plantations in the Caribbean. It then began to evolve into the somewhat stereotypical camp shirt that most come to think of (i.e., white, two breast pockets). However, it still needed to be brought into the continental U.S.A. before it could burst into the world stage in a meaningful way.

This happened when primarily Cuban communities were established in Miami and New York. Here, the businessmen saw the appeal of a slightly less “dressed up” shirt and began to incorporate the camp shirt into an increasingly business-casual wardrobe that accommodated the warm summers.

Once the Cuban-style shirt was acceptable for the masses, it began the sweep across the world, firmly cementing itself in place as one of the all-time-great summer pieces for both men and women. As I said above, there are thousands of interpretations of the very basic rules that define a “camp shirt.” Some are more stylish and sleeker, while others are more comfortable and considered everyday wear. Below I’m outlining some of my favorite shirts that I’ve found and gone over what makes them appealing (though the perfect camp shirt is different for everyone).

Cooper and Hemingway, sporting two very traditional Cuban-style shirts

Personal Favorites:

Tenden is a wonderful little shop that was recommended to me in Grand Haven, and while I was there with a friend I stumbled across this shirt (which really, was the inspiration for this entire post). I love the whole idea of this boutique, in that all the pieces of clothing (except for a select few pieces) are made within the shop that they’re sold. Denim jackets, jeans, camp shirts, it’s all made within the same four walls. The owner clearly has a passion for making clothing that fits correctly.

This shirt clearly fits all the marks of a proper, traditional camp-style shirt. It’s made out of 100% cotton (per the traditional recipe), the collar lies flat against the top of the chest and the overall vibe of the shirt clearly screams “summer”. If you find yourself in Grand Haven, find your way down there and check out the shop. Aside from clothing, the owner provides some wonderful and much-needed conversation.

You’ll see a lot more of his stuff in here in the future. Keep an eye out.

From European brand End., this shirt showcases what the camp shirt has evolved into. Staying with the traditional formula (camp collar, straight hem, relaxed fit), it departs somewhat into the current trend with pastel colors and a modern sort of “summer bummer” theme. Honestly, this shirt just looks the most at home in a Lana Del Ray music video. That’s why I’m falling in love with it the more I look at it.

Granted, this might be the most expensive offering on this list, but it’s worth it. Update: It’s also serving me Harry Styles vibes, and that’s another reason to dig it

So, while the first two shirts that have been shown were traditional short-sleeve button fronted shirts, this one breaks the mold in a drastic way. It’s still 100% cotton, features a camp style collar and has a straight hem at the bottom (are ya sensing a theme yet?) However, it plays with the formula by adding longer sleeves that hang down to the wrist and being cut into a slim fit – versus the relaxed fit of a traditional shirt. I’d wear this more during the end of summer, when the bars and breweries are still serving drinks outside, but the wind coming off the lake shore carries a bit of a chill. It’s a comfortable option that plays with the formula just enough to be new and unique, but still easily qualifies as a “camp shirt”.

It’s also on sale for just over 50%, so for that I really wouldn’t complain. Just saying.

Here’s the final option, and truth be told, it’s the option that I’m kind of hesitant to include. I love the fit, the color works well for early fall or late spring, and it is a camp shirt. Another selling point is that it’s cheap. It’s accessible to all people regardless of income (as opposed to most of the other options presented above, which are fairly expensive).

The cost difference between this shirt and the others comes down to the materials that are used to make it. While the other options are 100% cotton, this one is 53% cotton and 47% viscose. Viscose is a low-cost fabric that’s neither truly organic nor truly synthetic. Really, it’s a variation of rayon, but is often added to garments to lower the price.

Really, it’s a fine option to add to any wardrobe. When you’re buying stuff from big brands, just be aware of the materials that are being used and where the garments are coming from.

Really, at the end of the day a camp shirt is one of the most personally variable pieces of clothing in a well-dressed man’s wardrobe. What do you think? What are your takes on the fit, materials, and colors? Do you have any recommendations for pieces that you’ve enjoyed? I would love to hear from you, so please let me know!

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