Lei - - Fashion - TEXT BY Sonny Ganaden IM­AGES BY John Hook

The clothes that have de­fined our is­lands con­tinue mak­ing state­ments in the is­lands and be­yond.

I can’t re­mem­ber the first time I saw an aloha shirt. Grow­ing up in Colorado, it may have been on a friend’s dad re­cently re­turned from that long-awaited va­ca­tion in Hawai‘i, or in a Hol­ly­wood spin like 50 First Dates. Not un­til I moved to O‘ahu did I re­al­ize that alo­hawear isn’t just a tacky tourist thing—it’s the real deal. My boss, a 60-year-old lo­cal Ok­i­nawan woman, wore a mu‘umu‘u to the of­fice for a meet­ing and looked stun­ning. I saw down­town swarmed by re­verse-print but­ton-ups at noon­time. I bought my first aloha print tank top. I got a job at a lo­cal restau­rant and was is­sued that is­land-style ser­vice uni­form: a set of three in­ter­change­able pareau-print shirts in green, blue, and khaki. I be­gan to see that what alo­hawear means to each of us is com­pli­cated, and what makes us want to wear it (or not) has been de­ter­mined by decades of tourism, gar­ment and ser­vice in­dus­tries, self-ex­pres­sion, and a trop­i­cal set­ting.

From its brightly col­ored trop­i­cal prints to its more de­mure re­verse-print fab­rics, alo­hawear has come to de­fine the look of Hawai‘i. The style it­self dates all the way back to the 1820s, when the mu‘umu‘u was born as a more is­land-friendly ver­sion of the floor-length cot­ton dress in­tro­duced by Protes­tant mis­sion­ar­ies, but it wasn’t un­til a decade later that aloha shirts—now the alo­hawear sig­na­ture—would make their de­but. Orig­i­nat­ing in the 1930s at a lo­cal tai­lor shop, the aloha shirt was quickly snatched up by tourists ar­riv­ing by boat­loads who wanted a “vis­ual post­card” of their time in par­adise. It be­came widely adopted by the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion as WWII lim­ited gar­ment ex­ports and im­ports, and Hawai‘i folks found it truly did ex­press and fit the is­lands’ vibes bet­ter than main­land fash­ions.

Inevitably, as with most fash­ion crazes, the style aged with the in­dus­try and pop­u­la­tion that first adopted the trend. But sev­eral of to­day’s de­sign­ers—both lo­cally born and main­land trans­plants—have plenty to say about the sig­na­ture style. Reyn Spooner has been turn­ing alo­hawear in­side out since the 1960s and is again re­defin­ing what alo­hawear means to­day. Though many once as­so­ci­ated alo­hawear with the ware of old un­cles and dads, Reyn Spooner has been chang­ing no­tions and turn­ing heads with the launch of their Mod­ern Col­lec­tion four years ago. The col­lec­tion fea­tures a slim­mer fit and an

overt ref­er­ence to clas­sic, vin­tage pat­terns, a nod to the fact that vin­tage shops and thrift stores have be­come a trend­ing place to dig up fa­vorite aloha shirts. They even col­lab­o­rated with Open­ing Cer­e­mony to cre­ate fash­ion-for­ward jumpers and sum­mer dresses along­side tailored, clas­sic aloha-print shirts paired with mid-thigh-length shorts and mod­eled by a ruggedly hand­some, beach-blonde type.

Mean­while a newer set of alo­hawear de­sign­ers have cropped up, evolv­ing the iconic look of Hawai‘i once again. With her ex­pertly tailored men’s shirts and eclec­tic prints, Roberta Oaks’ shirts have be­come all the rage with both men and women, young and old. Sig Zane De­signs, which orig­i­nated out of a de­sire to cel­e­brate the tra­di­tions that in­fuse Hawai‘i’s cul­ture, are donned in set­tings both ca­sual and for­mal, but­toned up to the neck and tucked into straight-leg dress pants or left loose and worn over shorts. Hand-printed us­ing or­ganic dyes and tra­di­tional tools and man­u­fac­tured in Hawai‘i, Sig Zane De­signs of­fers an au­then­tic education about Hawai‘i’s life­style in mod­ern cuts and prints.

Like clock­work ev­ery few sea­sons, brands rang­ing from Prada to Stussy to For­ever 21 draw in­spi­ra­tion from the is­lands’ prints and breezy cuts. But for Hawai‘i de­sign­ers such as Jef­frey Yoshida, it’s less about the look than the story be­hind it: “It would be so easy to say, ‘Oh alo­hawear is some­thing in a Hawai­ian print,’ but I don’t think that’s it nec­es­sar­ily at all. I think it’s re­ally more of the feel­ing of how we live here on the is­lands.”

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