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Aloha Shirts

Nene goose aloha shirt, by Reyn Spooner

Hawaiian flowers, palm trees, sea turtles and similar themes are just some of the icons you may find on the familiar tropical button-up shirts.  Although people from the mainland often mistakenly call them “Hawaiian shirts,” the proper term is for this famous article of clothing is “aloha shirt.”

There are generally two kinds of aloha shirts.  The first is the type of shirt typically worn by local businessmen, which is printed, usually short sleeved and collared, having buttons through the full shirt.  Another kind of aloha shirt is the pullover with button mid-way through the shirt, which is probably the most popular aloha shirt style for local businessmen.  The second style is the silky looking aloha shirt, which was made famous by Tom Selleck in television series Magnum, P.I.  Aloha shirts can feature anything from standard floral patterns, to more contemporary elements like logos, drinks, team names or automobiles.  However, nature-themed prints are the more traditional versions of the aloha shirt.

History of the Aloha Shirt

Aloha shirts first came on the scene in 1935, when the Honolulu Advertiser noted the item for sale at a store called Musashi-ya Shoten in Honolulu.  The store was first opened by Chotaro Miyamoto, a Japanese immigrant to Hawaii, in 1904.  His son was reputedly the first to sew and sell the aloha shirt.    This style shirt began to gain global attention when men and women in the armed forces, after being stationed in Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific in the 1930’s and 1940’s, returned adorned with these appealing tropical shirts.  When tourism in Hawaiian increased in the 1950’s, the shirts’ popularity became apparent across the United States as well.  Designers in Hawaii saw the opportunity, and began to develop printing methods and high-level output for these iconic shirts.   A textile manufacturer named Alfred Shaheen was one of the first to transform the garment industry into intricate design and high volume shirt production.   He printed and produced aloha shirts rapidly, as they were becoming a favorite souvenir for many tourists.  Though the sometimes garish and brightly printed shirts appeared tawdry on returning tourists, they were undeniably iconic, as Elvis Presley proved when wearing a Shaheen red aloha shirt for his album cover for the Blue Hawaii soundtrack (1961).

Some of the more contemporary manufacturers are Reyn Spooner, who many considered to be the premier manufacturer of business aloha shirts today.  The company originated from a store owner Reyn McCoullough, who opened his first business in the 1940’s in Catalina Island.  He eventually joined forces with Spooner’s Waikiki stand in Oahu, and the team began quality shirt production.  The designers received enormous praise for the intricate and unique shirt making, a trend which has continued today. A classic Reyn Spooner shirt is the nene goose aloha shirt Spooner shirts are high-end, ranging around $90 each.  Other makers are old-time Hawaiian designers Kahala, and the family-owned Tori Richard, who specialize in chiffon, silk and cotton lawn material.

 Aloha Friday and Aloha Week

It is not uncommon to see men on the mainland today, occasionally wearing aloha shirts in the work place on what is called “casual Fridays;” but this trend actually began many decades ago in Hawaii.   In the mid 1940’s, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii passed a resolution allowing their employees to wear aloha shirts during the sweltering Hawaiian summers.  Over 20 years later, the president of Hawaii Fashion Guild, Bill Foster, Sr. organized a campaign enabling men to wear aloha shirts to work on Fridays, in 1965.  Though this campaign was implemented in 1966, just a few years later in 1970, aloha shirts became accepted for any day of the week in Hawaii.  For the last 40 to 50 years, aloha shirts have been considered the standard business attire for men, and are worn in lieu of suits or other formal attire.

Aloha shirts are prevalently worn every day in Hawaii, and are not just for special occasions.  However, a great time to enjoy an array of Hawaiian culture and traditions is during the Aloha Festivals.  This tradition first began in 1947 as a week-long festival celebrating Hawaiian music, dance, sports and traditions in Ala Moana Park, called “Aloha Week.”  The festivities occurred in October, in the hopes that the events would draw more vacationers to the Hawaiian Islands in what was generally a slow month for tourism.  Women wore mu’umu’us and men wore aloha shirts, making it the prime place to admire all the unique designs; colors and prints of aloha wear.  The festival started in Oahu, but grew in popularity and expanded to all the islands, and by 1991 the Aloha Week became known as the Aloha Festivals.  The celebrations are free, open to the public and are designed to promote Hawaiian heritage and culture.  There are many parades, events and ceremonies, which use the help of over 30,000 local volunteers and entertain over 1,000,000 visitors throughout the State of Hawaii.  For those who want to enjoy Hawaiian music, food, and culture, October might be the perfect month to plan a vacation to the islands.

Aloha Festivals banner

Aloha Festivals Banner, Oahu (Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson).



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