By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
A professor in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles at Washington State University, she was featured on the first episode of Hawaii Fashion Now, which aired this month on Hawaii’s Olelo 53 public TV station. She traced the history of Hawaiian garments from the missionary era to the multicultural, postwar explosion of aloha attire. See a video clip below:
“My whole career has been about how we express who we are, what we believe and value, through clothing and textiles,” said Bradley, who has written several books on Hawaiian fashion. Her studies began in the 1990s, while teaching at the University of Hawaii, and continue at WSU, where she researches dress, culture, body and appearance topics.
When she arrived in Hawaii in 1991, aloha shirts were at a low point – made of polyester fabrics and bad prints, she recalled. Her research helped stimulate the academic community and designers alike.
“As my work received attention, designers in the United States and later worldwide started looking at what was in print – much of it my work – and Hawaiian prints for menswear took off,” said Bradley. Designers like Prada took notice.
“Today, the most expensive aloha shirts that are mass produced exceed $1,400,” she said.
She finds that Hawaii’s clothing, prints and designs mirror the ethnic diversity of the islands as well as their beauty.
The characteristic Hawaiian men’s shirt, for example, combines a western body with Japanese fabric, is created by Chinese tailors and eventually incorporated indigenous Hawaiian motifs. The trend of wearing it loose, outside the trousers, originated with Filipino immigrants.
“You have five ethnic groups who brought different traditions, and it all lands on the aloha shirt,” she said. “It helps us visualize multicultural harmony.”