Aloha shirts generally are available in cotton, rayon, or silk. The shape is a camp shirt (or bowling shirt), similar to a guayabera or Filipino Barong Tagalong. Men’s shirts have straight sides, short sleeves, one pocket, and a collar with an open neck.
Aloha shirts became popular beyond Hawaii partly because of celebrities. Memorable shirt sightings include: Montgomery Clift in “From Here to Eternity”, Elvis in “Blue Hawaii”, Tom Selleck in “Magnum, P.I.”, and George Clooney in “The Descendants.”
The Gardener loves the comfort of Hawaiian shirts and wears one most days. I’ve asked him to answer some frequently asked questions here.
How do you go about collecting the shirts? Since we’ve been going to Hawaii I developed my strategy to buy a shirt for every day I’m in Hawaii. We have certain shops that we typically go to and sometimes we find shirts in unexpected places. Sometimes I buy shirts for special occasions like Christmas and Mardi Gras. I’m still looking for a good Halloween shirt.
What’s your favorite fabric and why? I like the feel of cotton. It works the best when I’m hot. It’s also less expensive to launder. I like rayon and silk for dressing up.
How do you wear aloha shirts when it’s cold? I have several long sleeve T-shirts that I wear underneath the aloha shirt. I have red, blue, orange, and black and those go with almost all my shirts.
Can you wear an aloha shirt for a dressed up occasion? It depends on the occasion. I’ve worn aloha shirts to informal weddings and I’ve worn them to church. I’ve worn them out to dinner. Usually I choose a floral pattern that is not over-the-top bright colored.
What is the Magnum, P.I. shirt? Do you have one? It’s a shirt that Magnum wore in the series in the 1980s. (You can see it in the opening credits.) It’s red and has parrots on it. I have one, and between us all in the family, we have five.
Who are your favorite designers?
- Jams World: These are really brightly colored and very unusual prints.
Thanks to The Gardener for sharing his collection with us. We hope you find some aloha too!
- Hawaiian shirts a colorful history from Beanteacher
- Interview with Dr. Linda Arthur from Collectors Weekly
- Sig Zane, based in Hilo, is one of Hawaii’s most famous designers and respected hula practitioner.
- Reyn Spooner
- Royal Hawaiian Creations
- Maui Shirts
Let’s talk story
I fell in love with the idea of surf culture when I went to the theater to see “The Endless Summer” in 1966. I eventually began sewing aloha shirts and then when I got to go to Hawaii – fabric bonanza! These shirts have multicultural threads to them, like so much of Hawaii.
One thread seems to go back to the Palaka shirts worn by plantation workers. The typical shirt was blue and white checked and made with an English (or possibly German?) fabric. (Hawaiian music groups wore these shirts in the 1940s as a nod to the past.) Another thread goes back to the practice of Japanese tailors making shirts for boys from scraps of kimono fabric. A third thread is the Filipino Barong Tagalong that is worn without tucking in.
In the 1930s, ads began to appear for custom-made aloha shirts from the tailors in Honolulu. The term “Aloha Shirt” was trademarked. Island factories began printing Hawaiian-theme fabrics. Popularized by the Waikiki beach boys, many tourists went home to the mainland with custom shirts.
In the 1960s the Hawaiian Fashion Guild gave aloha shirts to every member of the state legislature. Through resolution and custom, Aloha Friday became accepted, with aloha shirts being worn in the workplace.
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