Guerrera - The Rayadillo Tunic

1887 - 1898



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The Spanish army began to modernize their uniforms in the 1880s.  The frock coat and jacket were no longer practical or the prevailing fashion among European armies.  In the Peninsular infantry, the jacket and frock coat were replaced by the guerrera in 1886.  Colonial tunics soon followed.

The tunic is a garment of moderate length, the skirt generally reaching  to the top of the legs.  It is cut straight in the front and slightly tailored in the back, making it both attractive for service dress and comfortable enough for campaign dress.  The front body and skirt are cut in one piece, this being the principle difference between a tunic and a frock coat, the latter having a separately cut skirt attached to the body with a seam at the waist.  Trials were conducted in the early 1880s with double breasted tunics but these proved unfit for tropical service and, starting with the Philippines in 1887, single breasted garments became regulation throughout the colonies.

Each colony authorized unique patterns of guerreras for their garrisons.  These distinctive features allow the modern student and collector to identify from which colony a particular guerrera came with reasonable certainty.  A brief comparison of the three basic patterns demonstrates the differences.

CUBA 1890

Introduced in 1890, the Cuban guerrera was the simplest in design of all the colonial tunics.  It had a rolled collar, shoulder straps, and two inset breast pockets with flaps.  Seven metal buttons closed the front.  No decorative binding was present.  The collar was now always rayadillo for the regulars but the volunteers retained them for gala, service and also, generally, for campaign dress.  Regular troops did continue to wear colored cuffs for gala and service dress until they were suspended in 1896.  The rear skirt had two scalloped false pocket flaps with buttons as a decorative detail.  In 1896 this feature was ordered removed from Cuban tunics.

As the Cuban uniform could be viewed as something of a 'standard' pattern, its use has been noted in images of troops in the Philippines and, to a lesser extent, in Puerto Rico.  Generally, the Cuban guerrera is observed being worn outside of Cuba by officers who may have had their uniforms made in Spain before reporting to their duty stations.  Peninsular tailors probably used the Cuban tunic as a generic model for all colonial uniforms.  The reverse use of Philippine or Puerto Rican tunics outside of their colonies has not been observed in photos or the artifact record.



Three views of the Cuban 1890 pattern tunic.  This is a post-1896 produced specimen and was made without the sleeve button holes to attach cuffs and the false pocket flaps and buttons on the rear skirt.  This example has had a rough post war life in a costume shop where the shoulder straps were remover, buttons were repeatedly added and removed from the rear skirt and it has undergone numerous re-sizings.  It is awaiting proper restoration. 

An artilleryman wearing the Cuban 1890 pattern guerrera.  Note that he has tucked the pocket flaps into the pockets, a practice often seen in period images. 


I would like to acknowlegde the welcomed assistance of Fernando Camareno who discovered the original 1893 cartilla de uniformidad and cheerfully shared it with me.

The regulation pattern guerrera for troops stationed in Puerto Rico was authorized in 1893. Like the Cuban guerrera it had a rolled collar and two inset breast pockets with flaps.  The most distinctive feature found on Puerto Rican tunics is the matching rayadillo binding along the front, skirt hem, shoulder straps, side vents and side back seams.  Tunics from Puerto Rico are found with both six and seven button front closures.  The rear skirt has two scalloped false pocket flaps with buttons as a decorative detail.  An 1896 order to remove this feature from Cuban tunics apparently did not affect those in Puerto Rico.  For dress and garrison duty, cuffs and shoulder wings, the latter used only in Puerto Rico, of branch of service colored wool were attached, usually in a temporary fashion with buttons or hooks, but sometimes permanently sewn, giving the guerrera a smarter appearance.  All Puerto Rican issue guerreras were made of rayadillo, although some volunteer tunics are made of printed cotton instead of the proper woven fabric.

Classic 1893 pattern Puerto Rican rayadillo tunic of the Spanish American War period.  Note the rayadillo binding along the front, skirt hem, shoulder straps, side vents and side back seams.  The rear skirt has two scalloped false pocket flaps with buttons as a decorative detail.  The interior is unlined and retains blue ink size stamps "3ª".  The buttons are attached by rings and could be easily removable for the frequent washings necessary in the tropics.  This particular tunic, along with matching trousers, were brought back from Puerto Rico by Captain Clarence E. Dentler, 11th. US Infantry, West Point Class of 1884.

Front detail with collar, shoulder straps and pocket flaps.

Reverse view showing the decorative seam binding and the false pocket flaps on the skirt.

Shoulder strap bound in rayadillo trim.

Detail of the cuff showing the button hole in the seam used to attach the colored wool cuffs.  The button is not part of the tunic and is only used to show the hole's location.

Image courtesy of Jose Maria Fabregat

A detail from a cabinet card portrait of José Antonio Pallejá Solé, a soldier in the 3rd. Provisional Battalion of Puerto Rico and the Great Grandfather of the donor.  He wears the Puerto Rican pattern guerrera with distinctive edge trim in full dress or 'Gala' mode with addition blue and green wool shoulder wings and black cuffs with green braid 'sardinetas', both unique to Puerto Rican regulars.  The collar is without colored cover, a common practice after the mid 1890's.  Note his belt plate embossed with the unit number "3" and the white canvas covered pith helmet with brass royal crest, introduced into Puerto Rican service by an 1894 Royal Order.  The photo, shot in San Juan, is believed to have been taken in 1897 or 1898.

Puerto Rican tunic accessories including infantry shoulder wings, black cuffs for the Provisional Battalions and green cuffs for the Cazadores Battalions.  Souvenirs of Pvt. Stanley Dew, 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

PHILIPPINES 1887 and 1892 

The distinctive Guerrera worn by troops stationed in the Philippines was introduced in the regulations of 1887.  The feature that set it apart from those worn in the other colonies was the standing collar. Two different guerreras were issued, one made of white cotton with colored collar cuffs and shoulder straps for gala dress in most branches except the infantry, and one of rayadillo without colored facings for service and campaign dress.  The front buttons were hidden by a fly and the breast pockets are inset with flaps.  No edge binding was present on Philippine tunics.

The regulations were amended in 1892 but the tunic patterns remained essentially the same.  The infantry received a white tunic with exposed buttons for gala dress.

Image courtesy of Stephen Osman

Three smartly dressed Spanish regular NCOs from Regimiento de Infantería "Magallanes" Nº 70 wearing the 1887/92 pattern rayadillo guerrera.  Both Filipino natives and Spanish born soldiers served side by side in the infantry of the permanent garrison.  This photo was taken soon after Manila fell to the American army.

This example, from the collection of the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley, was one of many souvenirs brought home by Pvt. William G. Compton, Co. C, 13th. Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.

Made of light white cotton, this tunic matches the 1892 regulations for an infantry full dress tunic.  Brass buttons are of the standard infantry pattern and the standing collar has brass unit numbers "73".  The 73rd Infantry Regiment "Jolo" was part of the permanent Spanish garrison in the Philippines.  This garment was a souvenir of Capt. A. J. Kelleher, Adjutant of the 1st US Infantry.

All material is Copyright 2011 by William K. Combs.  No portion may be used without permission.