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San Antonio, Where Men Go To Shop | Guys Drop By Penner's to Buy Guayabera Shirts

The Charlotte Observer : June 2006

By: The Rev. Billy Wirtz

Guayabera (gu-ya-ber-a) - a light, open-necked shirt often with large pockets and pleats down the front, that is typically worn outside the pants. That's according to answers.com.

They are also known as Mexican wedding shirts, Cuban barber shirts and often: "Those shirts like Uncle Sal used to wear."

They are made from a variety of materials: poly/cotton, 100 percent cotton, silk and even linen. Regardless of the material, guayaberas are about the most comfortable shirt you can wear, OK, I'll just say it: every guy needs at least one guayabera.

You can find these shirts at some mall department stores during spring and summer, but if you really want to have the ultimate guayabera experience, you have to visit the mother church of guayabera stores, Penner's Menswear in San Antonio.

Are you old enough to remember what a real men's store looks and feels like? Penner's has two spotless floors of polished wood and glass, and the place smells faintly of furniture polish and leather. The impeccably dressed salesman greets and welcomes you (in Spanish or English).

Before he shows you the first guayabera, he asks a few questions. "Do you have a particular fabric in mind?" Do you prefer long sleeve or short?" He looks you up and down, and suggests the size for you. All the shirts are made in Mexico, and sizes vary, so one brand's XXL is another's XXXL. He walks you upstairs, and now it's time to get serious.

Penner's carries all their shirts in sizes from small to 5X. The guy there will select half a dozen shirts in different fabrics and styles.

Do you want a black satin finish model with extra fancy embroidery to wear at your next Cinco de Mayo party? How about an elegantly understated plain white shirt with no embroidery made from imported linen that whispers "class"? Take your time, the salesman's in no hurry. And if he has to leave, someone else will wait on you till he gets back. At Penner's they understand that a poorly fitting guayabera will wear like a tent, but a carefully chosen one will soon become one of your favorite shirts.

They also teach you the one non-negotiable rule of the guayabera: Never, ever wear a guayabera tucked in.

Most of the staff has been at the store for several decades; chances are, one of the Penner brothers themselves may wait on you.

If they don't have exactly what you want - for instance, a short sleeve in Clemson orange - they get your e-mail, phone number, etc., and call you as soon as it comes in. I speak from personal experience.

Mark Penner - he co-owns the store with son Matt (it has been a family operation since 1916) - says the shirts start at $42 and run to $135. "The majority are between $42 and $85." The shirts, he adds, are made in two factories in Mexico to Penner specifications.

They also carry a great selection of high stylin' hats and shoes. For some reason, patent leather seems to be real popular in that region of the country. The majority ofPenner's footwear could be best described as Southwestern urban style, sort of Superfly meets Antonio Banderas.

In today's world of discount outlet malls staffed by minimum-wage clerks who will occasionally put down their cell phone long enough to point you toward the men's department, Penner's is a breath of fresh make that furniture polish-scented air. If you can't make the drive to San Antonio, go to their Web site or call (they are equally helpful over the phone).

Over the years, I have bought six shirts from Penner's and they all still look great. I have worn them to clubs, barbecues and often on plane trips. At security, four pockets make locating ID, ticket, etc., a breeze. Trust me, buy one, and soon you will own several.

I even wore one to a friend's funeral.

We had played a lot of music together. Over the years, we had worn a variety of clothing onstage - Hawaiian shirts, ludicrous '70s disco getups, even the occasional suit. But our favorites by far were the guayaberas we bought from Penner's.

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