All About the Hawaiian Shirt

Hawaiian Shirts!

Call it a Hawaiian shirt or Aloha shirt, nothing says “holiday” quite like it.

The Hawaiian shirt is an ancient garment, dating at least to the 1920’s. Its precise creation is lost to time, but there are a few persons of note that were instrumental in its rise to popularity:
Gordon Young first developed a “proto-aloha” shirt in the 1920’s, using Japanese yukata cloth, a narrow width, cotton cloth with usually a blue or black geometric or bamboo pattern. His shirts made for him by his mother’s dressmaker became the bee’s knees with his classmates at the University of Hawaii.

By 1936 Ellery Chun of King-Smith Clothiers, manufactured and promoted a local style of shirt using the Japanese kimono material but with colorful tropical designs done by his sister Ethel. They retailed their shirts at the family’s store in Honolulu. These shirts found popularity among the off-duty navel servicemen, finding them comfortable, colourful alternatives to their uniforms.

In 1948 Alfred Shaheen – the “Shaheen” in “Shaheen’s of Honolulu” – turned his eye toward Aloha shirts. During the postwar tourist boom, sales exploded, and Shaheen hired local artists to design all sorts of Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian motifs. In ten years, Shaheen was the undisputed king of Hawaiian Shirts. He marketed them as “wearable postcards”, and they became a virtual uniform for tourists, whether visiting Maui or Wisconsin, and a symbol for ease and relaxation. As always, Hollywood helped – big stars like Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Bob Hope and – of course – Elvis, all made major features sporting flamboyant tropical shirts.

Many people throughout the years have contributed to the rise of the Hawaiian shirt and we can all be thankful that they did. I personally find it a charming addition to any wardrobe to wear while on holiday or not. My husband’s love of Hawaiian shirts is obvious in his collection, as you can see pictured below.



And see my own Hawaiian shirts in my Esty Store!


If you would like to read even more about the history of the Hawaiian shirt please check out these titles:

The Aloha Shirt by Dale Hope

The Art of the Aloha Shirt by DeSoto Brown and Linda Arthur

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