3 Things to Know About Aloha Shirts

October 23, 2019

An image collage of 3 men wearing different short-sleeve Hawaiian shirts available at Waikīkī Beach Walk in Honolulu, HI

"Browse a wide selection of locally made Aloha shirts, available at Waikīkī Beach Walk®. Clockwise from right: Noa Noa Rio Shirt ($86.00), Kahala Ocean Going Boy’s Shirt ($52.00), Kahala Goddess Shirt ($88.00).

From the bold long-sleeve version favored by Jack Lord—Hawaii Five-O’s original McGarrett—to the wild orchid prints sported by Tom Selleck on Magnum P.I., the Aloha shirt has become an integral part of American pop culture. Even the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, couldn’t resist the allure of Hawaii’s brilliant flora, fauna, and multicultural prints found on Aloha shirts.

Whether you’re headed to a business meeting, wedding reception, or happy hour with friends, the garment has gained popularity around the world as being a comfortable, stylish option that’s “just right” for any occasion. Here are some things you might not know about Hawaii’s signature wear:

BN Pineapple Mens Aloha Shirt: Blue Ginger Hawaiian shirt with a checkered pineapple and tropical leaf pattern in different shades of blue on a hanger

Blue Ginger
Pineapple Men’s Aloha Shirt

1) Aloha shirts first emerged almost a century ago.

As tourism picked up steam in the 1920s and ‘30s, Hawaiian shirts caught the attention of visiting cruise ship passengers, who admired the lightweight button-up’s vibrant illustration of island life. Local tailor shops started crafting ready-made styles for tourists seeking out a custom print keepsake of their own—most notably, King-Smith Clothiers headed by Ellery J. Chun. A savvy businessman, Mr. Chun trademarked the term “Aloha shirt” in 1936, a name that local residents still use to this day when referring to what the rest of the world knows as Hawaiian shirts. From there, the popularity of the Aloha shirt skyrocketed, solidifying its status as a cultural icon and inspiring a new wave of businesses dedicated to the mass production of Aloha wear.

2) Every aspect of its design is influenced by a different culture.

Like Hawaii’s distinctive Pidgin English dialect, the Aloha shirt is a product of many cultures that first converged during the Plantation era, when immigrants began arriving in the Hawaiian Islands between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s. Look closely and you’ll see a shape modeled after the palaka, a durable work shirt from Europe; a style worn untucked like the barong tagalog, a Filipino dress shirt; and vivid artistic prints influenced by other patterned garments from around the Pacific, such as the Tahitian pareo and Japanese kimono. More than just apparel, the Aloha shirt has a rich multicultural history that reflects Hawaii’s evolution as a melting pot.

GTG Patch Fern Mens Aloha Shirt: Light blue and green Blue Ginger Hawaiian shirt with a pattern depicting different tropical leaves on a hanger in Waikiki

Blue Ginger
Patch Fern Men’s Aloha Shirt

3) It’s why you have Casual Fridays at work.

After World War II, workplaces in Hawaii began shifting its perception of what professional attire could include. A major event that helped revive public interest in ancient Hawaiian culture and led to an increased demand for Aloha attire as a whole was the first annual Aloha Week festival in 1947. To further support the local garment industry, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild then launched a 1962 campaign that gifted each member in the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Senate with 2 Aloha shirts. This effort encouraged businessmen to swap out their traditional suits and ties during the sweltering summer heat and eventually led to the adoption of “Aloha Fridays” by the state legislature. With the help of famed fashion label, Levi Strauss and Company, this movement became known as “Casual Fridays,” which spurred offices across the country to institute a casual dress code in celebration of the end of the work week.

Man wearing a vibrant pink and purple long-sleeve Noa Noa Hawaiian shirt with a batik pattern at the beach in Waikiki, HI

Noa Noa shirts often feature eye-catching prints and stunning colors dyed deep into the fabric through a traditional batik process, which helps the overall design last much longer.

Noa Noa | 2nd Level, (808) 923-6500
Noa Noa is home to a collection of jewelry, artifacts, and all-natural fabrics painted with unique patterns from across the Pacific.

Blue Ginger | 1st Level, (808) 924-7900
With Hawaiian dresses and shirts of all sizes for men, women, and children, Blue Ginger offers exclusive resort wear for the whole family.

Kahala | 1st Level, (808) 922-0066
As a pioneer and the first to manufacture the Aloha shirt, Kahala has been a staple in Hawaii’s community since 1936. Still committed to producing a majority of the line locally and focused on creating one-of-a-kind prints that embrace the vibrancy of Hawaii, Kahala offers a wide selection of shirts for men and boys in addition to swimwear, tees, and accessories.

Quiksilver | 1st Level, (808) 921-2793
As one of the world’s leading brands in outdoor sports wear, Quiksilver focuses on producing apparel, accessories, and footwear that are fashionable yet functional.

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