Long-time San Antonio resident Caroline Matthews elevated the guayabera with luxe cotton fabric options, a tailored fit, and intricate, custom designs when she started her made-to-order line, Dos Carolinas, in 1987. With a flagship store at San Antonio’s Pearl development and a studio in Houston, Matthews is putting thousands of Texas men in her designs each year. We caught up with the designer to learn more about how she got her start in fashion (at Sears) and what it’s like working with discerning male shoppers.
Lauren Smith Ford: Growing up in West Texas, what were your creative pursuits as a child?
Caroline Matthews: I was the daughter who was given art lessons while my sisters took dance and acrobatics classes. When we were at the ranch in the summer, I used to torture my sisters by making them make shoes from cardboard and ribbons. I would then insist that we wear them to town.
LSF: How long have you lived in San Antonio?
CM: I moved to San Antonio in April of 1972 [for my] first job out of college. I went to work for Sears.
LSF: What drew you to guayaberas?
CM: My first position at Sears was in the men’s department, [where] I became familiar and interested in the guayabera—they are a San Antonio staple.
LSF: How many different ways can a Dos Carolinas shirt be customized?
CM: This is a hard one. It starts with the fabric, and by the time we finish, a guy can create a shirt unlike any other. Many of our shirts have had elements of favorite shirts added to them. Men are very reluctant to let go of a favorite garment, so we try to provide them a way to keep that garment in their closet. I have reached the point where I won’t copy a current shirt from another manufacturer. I have been disappointed that other firms have copied my shirts exactly, and I don’t want want to go there.
LSF: What is the most elaborate customization you have ever done?
CM: I have a client who brings me fabric from France and asks me to come up with a new design every time. I have created shirts for him that will never be repeated—not that many men would be that brave.
LSF: What was the largest order you have ever received?
CM: I can remember the first time I had an order for 30 shirts, and I stayed up most of the night for a week in order to finish on time. Now we regularly handle 150-plus for events, and they seem to just roll through the factory. When we took on the job of making the uniforms and robes for Hotel Emma, we had to rethink our manufacturing process. That resulted in a new manufacturing facility and many more employees.
LSF: Has there been anything surprising about working so closely with your male shoppers?
CM: I have always known that guys have a strong sense of their own style and are not shy about sharing. Many women think that guys don’t really care, but if they look at what they wear, they will find that there are certain constant elements in their wardrobe. The flip side of this is all the items in the back of their closets that someone gave them, and they wore one time to be polite and never put on again.