From island style to designer lookbook, the aloha shirt has come a long way from its 1930s introduction.
ne of the most visible symbols of Hawai‘i’s aloha spirit can be seen in contemporary Hawaiian fashion known as aloha wear.
Its roots can be traced back to 1820, when New England missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i. Missionary women adapted the latest fashion in order to accommodate the large size of ali‘i (royalty) women. The design was then altered into a more comfortable fit, and the holoku— a loose, floor-length, longsleeved formal dress—was born. The mu‘umu‘u was initially a chemise worn under the holoku, and it wasn’t until the 1940s—with the introduction of Hawaiian prints—that it was considered fit to be worn in public.
The aloha shirt that we know today did not come about until the mid-1930s. Shirt-maker Musa-Shiya first used the term in a 1935 advertisement. However, it was tailor Ellery Chun who trademarked “aloha shirt” in 1936 as tourism in Hawai‘i grew. After World War II, bolder patterns with tropical images emerged. Rayon shirts called “silkies” became popular from 1945 to 1955. By the late 1970s, designs inspired by the Hawaiian culture came about. Eventually, subdued looking “reverse print” aloha shirts were introduced and are now worn daily in offices and other workplaces throughout Hawai‘i.
Today, the shift toward island-style resort wear gives aloha fashion a more cosmopolitan feel. Some aloha shirts may not necessarily feature Hawaiian prints but have various images arranged in a similar pattern as a traditional aloha shirt. Visit any clothing store in Waikiki and you will find not just traditional aloha attire but also a variety of Hawaiian print dresses, shorts and accessories inspired by the rich history of a multi-cultural society that has made aloha wear a lifestyle.
And come spring and summer, aloha shirt-inspired designs often make their way on to the catwalks of renown labels. This year, the likes of Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana and several other designers have all created their own rendition of the casual-cool shirt—incorporating fun florals, patterns and other colorful designs into the short-sleeved buttondowns that Hawai‘i residents have long been accustomed to.
Luckily, many shops in Waikiki have aloha shirts available before, during and after Fashion Week. Year-round, you’ll find more traditional looks from boutiques such as Avanti and Tori Richard; authentic vintage shirts at Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts; and more modern styles at Reyn Spooner at the Sheraton Waikiki. Luxe shoe purveyor Leather Soul even has its own aloha shirt design, thanks to a collaboration with the folks at Reyn Spooner.
DOLCE & GABANNA Avanti 2164 Kalakaua Ave. [C:6 Waikiki Map] (808) 924-3232 Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts 517 Kapahulu Ave. [A:12 Waikiki Map] (808) 734-7628 Tori Richard Hyatt Regency Waikiki 2420 Kalakaua Ave. [C:9 Waikiki Map] (808) 924-1811 Reyn Spooner Sheraton Waikiki 2259 Kalakaua Ave. [D:7 Waikiki Map] (808) 923-7396 Leather Soul Royal Hawaiian Center 2233 Kalakaua Ave., Ste. 301 [C:8 Waikiki Map] (808) 922-0777