by Gail Hutchins
Aloha Shirts can be found in numerous shops in Hawaii and in shops on the mainland too. But, if you want to uncover a hidden gem vintage shirt, head to Bailey’s Antiques & Aloha Shirts in Honolulu. David Bailey has an array of vintage and non-vintage Hawaiian shirts for you to per-ooze until you find the perfect one that speaks to you with the whimsy pattern and vibrant colors. Some say you won’t choose the shirt that the shirt will choose you! Let’s hope that isn’t a problem, seeing that a vintage Aloha shirt can set you back a couple of thousand dollars.
The precise origin of the Aloha shirt, a.k.a. the Hawaiian shirt, is unknown.
There are several stories about the contributions to how the Aloha shirt began. Historians agree Aloha shirts came to be in the 1920s. It’s known that in 1931 Ellery Chun decided to make a three-buttoned pullover Aloha shirt out of leftover yukata fabric used for kimonos to keep his family’s business, King-Smith Clothiers & Dry Goods, afloat during the depression.
On July 15, 1936, he officially registered the term Aloha shirt. His sister Ethel Chun Lum started developing tropical textile designs for the shirts and became one of the textile artists of the time.
The love of Aloha shirts moved westward quickly when Alfred Shaheen mass-produced the shirts. WWII soldiers went back from Hawaii bases to the mainland wearing those colorful printed-short sleeve-collared-square bottom shirts.
Hawaiian shirts have been worn throughout the years by Hawaiians, US presidents, celebrities, surfers, entertainers, and tourists alike. In 1930 John Barrymore and Shirley Temple had Aloha shirts custom made from Japanese fabrics. Elvis wore a red Alfred Shaheen shirt on his Blue Hawaii 1961 soundtrack. The movie, From Here to Eternity, had Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift in Alohas. Jimmy Buffet and the Beach Boys have a signature of wearing them while performing concerts. Nicholas Cage and Robin Williams wore them. The Tom Selleck Aloha shirt, worn in his Magnum PI television series, can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. President Harry S. Truman, in 1951 was photographed wearing one on the cover of Life Magazine.
The Hawaiian Senate in 1962 passed a resolution declaring Aloha shirts appropriate office work attire for summer Fridays. Later the Hawaii Fashion Guild started Aloha Friday that promoted wearing Aloha shirts instead of work attire at all places of business in Hawaii. Hawaii has carried this over to having casual Aloha shirt attire acceptance for all days, not just on Fridays. No need to wonder if Hawaiians wear the Aloha shirt. You’ll see a parade of locals wearing the shirts. They have become part of the Hawaiian culture. It took a while for the United States and other parts of the world to adopt the practice of dressing casually in the workplace, and after time it happened! The Aloha shirt gets credit for helping the casual office dress acceptance.
The Aloha shirt truly is a lasting piece of pop culture history.
They are a fashion statement. They serve as framed artwork.
They have sustainability and are sure to be around for a long, long time.
All of these things make them the ultimate souvenir!
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