The vivid Hawaiian shirt, once regarded as a tourist blunder, has evolved into a perennial summer favorite. Hawaiian shirts, dubbed the “Aloha Shirt,” have become a cheeky wardrobe standard. Despite its cheerful appearance, the garment has a difficult past. Some say the shirt was invented when a college student made a collared button down out of yukata, the Japanese kimono fabric. Despite this, Dolores Miyamoto maintains that it was Hollywood star John Barrymore who had a floral button down made in the shape of a Hawaiian shirt specifically ordered from her clothing business. Hawaiian shirts, regardless of provenance, use Japanese-inspired hues and prints to accentuate the lush flora and fauna of the sunny island. By the mid-1930s, shops all throughout Hawaii were mass-producing colorful shirts in an attempt to appeal to locals, tourists, and to highlight the island’s natural beauty.
How the Hawaiian Shirt Returned to Popularity
After World War II, when servicemembers returned to the mainland United States from Hawaii, the garment grew in popularity across the country. The shirt became a trendy way to showcase a carefree attitude and a friendly look, honoring the island’s “Aloha” culture. Following Hawaii’s independence in 1959, the tropical shirt became popular in mainland stores and pop culture, with an eclectic Hawaiian shirt appearing on Elvis Presley’s 1961 album Blue Hawaii.
The Hawaiian shirt began to be mass produced across the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, enabling for widespread sale and consumption. With many businesses adopting “Aloha Fridays,” where employees may wear a more relaxed clothing on the last day of the week, the Hawaiian shirt became permanently ingrained in the fashion vernacular. Despite the fact that the early incarnations were frequently constructed of rayon and synthetic textiles, cotton and linen were a popular fabric choice for the garment during this time. The garment was a natural sartorial option for pop-major culture’s players, appearing in cult favorites like Friends, Ace Ventura, and Romeo + Juliet.
Despite the garment’s fast success in the mid-twentieth century, its original attractiveness and flare began to fade in the new decade. The shirt turned into more of a campy costume than a breezy trendy statement, becoming generally linked with goofy Dad outfits and enthusiastic tourists.