The Hawaiian Shirt: Aloha That Never Goes Out Of Style

Hawaiian gifts

You might know them as Hawaiian shirts, but in Hawaii, they have a different name: Aloha shirts. And they have actually come a long ways from when your always-golfing grandfather attempted to appear like Magnum, P.I.

Today, they're not just put on by business owners in Hawaii: Hawaiian-inspired patterns are on the racks in department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, and labels such as Prada, Saint Laurent, and Uniqlo have actually showcased pieces this year.

Mens Hawaiian Shirts

Hawaiian Shirts, Aloha Shirts

Aloha shirts date back as far as the 1930s and have actually bounced between being cool and hideous for decades. In mid-century, as tiki culture raged through the country, celebs like Elvis, Shirley Temple and Bing Crosby, along with President Nixon, all put on the style, and it ended up being emblematic of a happy, more unwinded mindset.


However not just any shirt with flowers on it is an Aloha Shirt, states Dale Hope, a designer, shirt collector and author of "The Aloha Shirt: Spirit Of The Islands" with Gregory Tozian. What separates an Aloha Shirt from a patterned shirt is a degree of thoughtfulness and study.

"With an Aloha Shirt, it's all in the art," he told The Huffington Post. "It's done by artists as a homage, with regard to the location. You can tell that research was done in the print when they look into the shape of the canoe or the details of the fish in the print. It's not just some stupid canoe; there enough stupid canoes." A real Aloha Shirt is "something made with pride in Hawaii.".

nixon shirtThreading The Needle: The Multi-Cultural Origins

So where did the Aloha Shirt come from? Although the development is credited to Ellery Chun, a clothier in Honolulu throughout the '30s who was shrewd enough to trademark the expression "aloha shirt" in 1936 or 1937, the shirt as we understand it today was more probable the evolution of a lot of things.

In the '20s and '30s on Oahu, underpaid plantation employees started searching for other methods to earn a living. With sewing devices making their way across the Pacific, employees-- usually immigrants from the Philippines, Japan, China and Portugal-- saw they could make more money if they set up shops as tailors and clothiers.

kapa clothThe Native Hawaiian population had typically worn kapa, a cloth made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree that was pounded flat, bleached dry by the sun and dyed in bright reds and yellows using berries and kukui nuts. However, due to missionary impacts, they had started wearing modest, more subdued clothing. Anthropologist Linda Arthur Bradley notes that kapa were traded out as it ended up being "a mark of condition to be able to wear brand-new Western-style clothes." However the kapa's strong colors would resurface in aloha wear.

The shirt was additionally influenced by the untucked method shirts were appearing in the Philippines, along with kimono material from Japan and flower prints from Tahitian pareus. For the growing tourist market in Honolulu in the '30s, the shirt became a symbol of all these exotic cultures and crossroads.

As Hope writes in his book, "nothing painted a more brilliant photo of Hawaii than these vibrant shirts with their vibrant Island images." That a shirt with island-based colors would come to stand for the Aloha Spirit, "was probably just something that was in the air at the time," he informed The Huffington Post.

Rupturing At The Joints: The Trend Grows In Appeal

The word "aloha" was tossed around a lot in the '30s as tourism grew, however Musa-Shiya Shoten, an inspired shirt-maker, was probably the first person to ever use "aloha shirt" in print. He ran an advertisement in a 1935 issue of the "Honolulu Advertiser" for "Aloha" shirts: "well customized, stunning designs and glowing colors: 95 cents." Later on, Ellery Chun discovered the hot trend and trademarked the expression as a way to keep his store in business during the Depression.

According to Dr. Bradley, aloha shirts of the '30s were technically "hash prints," or a "hodgepodge of images [put] onto a t-shirt utilizing linoleum stamps." During the war, stationed servicemen bought loads of these shirts, which acted as a colorful antithesis to their uniforms.

The 1960s also saw a big shift in Aloha Shirt design: the reverse print, a more subdued design that appears like a shirt sewn inside out. Design house Reyn Spooner initially put the reverse print out and citizens liked them. "The reverse shirt was something special," Pua Rochlen, president of Jams World, informed Hope in "The Aloha Shirt." "It was for the kama'aina, not for the malihini travelers.".

When Shirt Hit The Fan: The Hawaiian Shirt's Fall From Grace

The 1970s and '80s were a dark period for Aloha Shirts. The popularity of a mustached Tom Selleck in the television series "Magnum, P.I." had every paunchy person believing he could look as macho as Magnum if he, too, wore Aloha Shirts. Rochlen informed The Huffington Post that the Hawaii design provided in "Magnum, P.I." "had not been about welcoming unique materials, color, art, and imagery." For circumstance, Magnum's Jungle Bird shirt-- which is now included in the Smithsonian's collection-- was a basic print: a blue shirt with parrots on it. However as Rochlen points out, "it was Tom Selleck. He might have been putting on toilet tissue and we would have chased the very best toilet tissue on the planet.".

Hawaiian Dress Shirts

The real blow to Aloha Shirts' credibility came later, according to Hope, who states you can determine the date to August 1993, the month the brand Tommy Bahama was born.

Tommy Bahama ushered in a new era for island resort wear. It promoted a Jimmy Buffett Parrothead lifestyle that confused the general public's perception of aloha shirts, ultimately dooming the term to nothing more than kitsch.

That Is, Till Now:

According to the Wall Street Journal, Aloha Shirts are back in a huge way. Bergdorf Goodman has actually invested heavily in Hawaiian-inspired prints this year; Hedi Slimane designed a $840 shirt for Saint Laurent this year and Prada is selling $1,500 long sleeve Hawaiian print shirts. (That's a bargain: Due to the fact that long sleeve styles were printed for just a short time, an original long sleeve Aloha Shirt sold at Sotheby's for $10,000.) Forbes has called the renewal the "Hawaiian print redux," and GQ just recently included Pharrell Williams sporting a Prada Aloha Shirt in a story that questioned whether "Oahu is the new fashion capital of the world.".

aloha shirt


While these are stunning Hawaiian-inspired shirts, the majority of wouldn't be thought about true "aloha shirts" under Hope's meaning due to the fact that they lack the storytelling essence.

Whether individuals call them Hawaiian or otherwise, it appears the world is still in love with these shirts and designers will certainly continue to discover methods to include Hawaiian-style themes into their products.

However if the old things is what you actually desire, Bailey's Antique & Aloha Shirts in Waikiki has long been referred to as a Mecca for antique Aloha Shirts. The congested shop usually keeps more than 15,000 various pieces in house with originals that cost up to $8,000 each and replicas as high as $89.

Not convinced Aloha Shirts are for you? At the very least, all of us owe them a financial obligation of gratitude. The custom of wearing the shirts on Aloha Fridays in Hawaii presented the idea of "casual Fridays" to the remainder of the nation.

And that's something we can all be thankful for.

Find Your Perfect Aloha Shirt

0 Responses

  1. […] the intro of Aloha Friday in 1966, the manufacturers of Aloha shirts promptly started producing designs with more muted […]

Leave a comment