Over the last century the Hawaiian shirt, also called the Aloha shirt, has become a fashion icon. One of the biggest attractions to Hawaiian shirts is the variety of themes, designs and colors, making it easy for any man to choose a shirt that fits his own distinctive individual style. Until now, however, finding the right Hawaiian shirt has been difficult for consumers unless they are sifting through the racks in a retail clothing shop near Waikiki beach, like Hilo Hattie’s. The Internet has brought a wide selection of Hawaiian shirts to the fingertips of every consumer on earth, however, sparking a comeback of the ultimate tropical casual wear.
Hawaiian shirts are not just clothing—they represent a tropical state of mind and Hawaii’s laid-back lifestyle. These colorful, floral-print shirts evoke an feeling of exotic locales, tropical sunshine, palm trees swaying in the breeze, hula girls dancing on sandy beaches, and paradise Hawaiian style. The reemergence of Hawaiian shirts in recent decades has been driven in part by the popular Casual Friday or Aloha Friday trend that encourages everyone to unwind and wear Hawaiian shirts.
The louder, bolder versions of the Hawaiian shirt are also popular as a retro style, evocative of Don Ho and Elvis Presley. In addition, Duke Kahanamoku style shirts—named for the father of modern surfing, gold-medal swimmer and one of Hawaii’s greatest heroes—also bring back the days of 60s surfing, with a variety of surfer-style prints.
Hawaiian shirts are the top textile export of Hawaii, but shirts manufactured for local residents of the Hawaiian islands present more subdued colors. Hawaiian quilt designs, Polynesian motifs, and simple patterns. In fact, some of the local Hawaiian shirt styles are actually printed on the interior of the shirt, to mute the colors. In contrast to the informal feel the Hawaiian shirt projects to the rest of the world, in Hawaii these shirts are considered formal and business attire suited to the tropical island climate.
A recent trendy spin on the Hawaiian shirt has been the inclusion of Asian comic or anime, as well as martial arts emblems, Asian calligraphy and samurai designs on Hawaiian style shirts. This new movement has greatly expanded the appeal of Hawaiian shirts beyond the classic style. Consequently, the bold new look for Hawaiian shirts have become very popular in urban areas. Wearing the Hawaiian shirt over a t-shirt or as an oversized shirt has also expanded the appeal.
Hawaiian shirts are not just about the look, however. This style has been designed with lightweight fabrics such as cotton, rayon and silk, to provide maximum comfort in hot and humid tropical regions. Short-sleeved, button-down Hawaiian shirts are meant to be loose fitting and untucked, further supporting the relaxed Hawaiian lifestyle.
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When delving deeper into the origin of Hawaiian shirts, you find that they reflect more than just Hawaii. Hawaiian shirts represent a pan-ethnic fusion of the many cultures that make up Hawaii. For example, Filipinos, a large ethnic group in Hawaii, influenced the style of the Hawaiian shirt with their own untucked “barong tagalog” short-sleeve shirt. Japanese kimono-cloth shirts worn by plantation workers in Hawaii during the early 20th century were also early versions of today’s Hawaiian shirt. This combination of Asian and Western cultures is at the heart of the magic of Hawaii, as well as the unique and forever fashionable Hawaiian shirt.