The Evolution of the Hawaiian Shirt

Digital Vision /

Digital Vision /

If you’ve ever enjoyed dressing down for casual Friday at work, then you owe a debt of gratitude to the Hawaiian shirt. What started out as a tacky souvenir for tourists in the1950s has now become one of the most iconic fashion statements of all time.

Originally called the Aloha Shirt these garments became immensely popular when U.S Servicemen returned from Hawaii after World War II. One tale says a Japanese immigrant’s son named Miyamoto Koichiro sewed and sold the first Aloha Shirt in the 1930s. Another attributes the owner of a dry goods store Ellery Chun for selling tropical print fashions also in the 1930s. The true origins are probably an assortment of influences from bright Japanese Kimono cloths to Barong Tagalog shirts from the Philippines along with Hawaiian influences in patterns and colors. No matter how they started, they blossomed in the 50s as air travel boomed to Hawaii and the shirts became a standard souvenir for tourists returning to the mainland.

Celebrity Endorsements
Nothing beats a good celebrity endorsement to get a product moving. Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity sported one in the 1953 movie set in Pearl Harbor. Elvis Presley wore a red Aloha shirt on the cover of his Blue Hawaii soundtrack album in 1961.Then you had the Beach Boys and Hawaii 5-O. Tom Selleck wore one just about every week on Magnum P.I. in the 1980s, and even that trendsetter himself Homer Simpson has been seen in one.

Let’s Make it Official
At one time the Aloha shirt was banned for employees of Hawaiian city, state and federal offices along with banks and businesses as there was concern it tended to present an image of fat, lazy tourists. In 1965 the president of the Hawaiian Fashion Guild started a campaign for “Aloha Friday,” a day employers would allow men to wear Aloha shirts on the last business day of the week. A petition, along with a gift of two Aloha Shirts to each member of the legislature resulted in just such a resolution. This new policy slowly spread to California and around the globe until Casual Fridays became a mainstay at many businesses worldwide.

Hawaiian Shirts for Everyone
From its humble beginnings whether made from scrap Japanese Kimonos or invented purely as a tourist staple, the Hawaiian shirt has become an iconic fashion statement. First popularized by the surfer culture the shirts became a symbol of tackiness for a while before becoming “Hip” again. Nowadays they can be cheaply made and available at cut-rate souvenir shops and department stores or made of the highest quality fabrics at high end retailers. They no longer are worn just for tacky party nights or as costumes, and have become a modern staple of the fashionably conscious.

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