Loved and hated in equal measure, the Hawaiian shirt appears to be returning to the high street once more.
Synonymous with Hawaii and Hawaiian culture, the modern ‘Aloha shirt’ was first invented by a Japanese immigrant named Chōtarō Minamoto in 1904 in Honolulu; originally Hawaiian shirts were sewed by Minamoto’s son using kimono fabrics.
The Hawaiian shirt really took off during the 1930s in Waikiki, with the first advertisement appearing in the Honolulu Advertiser on June 28th, 1935. The story goes that on that day, the entire stock was bought up by local residents, in particular surfers and tourists.
As we’ve come to expect, it was only after WWII that the Hawaiian Shirt began to reach world-wide status. Servicemen and women returned from Asia and the Pacific islands and as transport links continued to improve tourists began to flock to Hawaii.
Alfred Shaheen & Rise in Popularity
As is the nature with all flash in the pan fashion trends, by the 1950s the Hawaiian Shirt was the victim of over saturation, with the shirt being considered ‘tacky’.
However, textile manufacturer Alfred Shaheen became the powerhouse of Hawaiian shirt making by designing, printing and producing shirts all under one roof. With his high production value and artistic prints, Shaheen raised Hawaiian shirts to levels of high fashion.
The Hawaiian shirt truly entered the pop culture hall of fame when Elvis Presley wore a shirt designed by Shaheen on the cover of his 1961 soundtrack Blue Hawaii.
In 1962, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild began to promote Hawaiian Shirts for use in the workplace in a campaign known as ‘Operation Liberation’. A motion was then passed in the Senate recommending Hawaiian shirts to be worn throughout the summer so that ‘the male populace return to ‘aloha’ attire…for the sake of comfort’.
Hawaiian Shirt in Modernity
And so the Hawaiian shirt continued to endure its fluctuations in popularity for the next half a century. As the modern eye turns towards to the past in search for ‘retro’ styling, the Hawaiian shirt has enjoyed the attention of high fashion heavy-weights such as Yves Saint Laurent, who have had a Hawaiian shirt in their collection for quite some time.