Aloha shirts, also known as Hawaiian shirts, have a history reaching far beyond the Americas. They can be traced back to the 1920s when a Honolulu-based store started making shirts from colourful, printed Japanese fabrics. Over the following decade, the brightly-coloured shirts became more ingrained in Hawaiian culture. Different retailers came up with their own designs, the name ‘aloha shirt’ first being used in print in 1935.
By the time the fifties rolled around, aloha shirts had spread across America too with the help of designers such as Alfred Shaheen, Tory Richard, and Reyn Spooner. Elvis Presley even wore one on his album cover for Blue Hawaii in 1961. The humble aloha shirt had found its place within the canon of fashion.Characterised by brightly printed patterns of flowers and beach scenes, the often short-sleeved shirts are perfect for summery weather.
Here at HANSEN, we stock aloha shirts from two Japanese brands, Kapital and Paikaji.
To begin, we have the Kapital Hibiscus Ortega aloha shirt. This piece is lightweight, made from 94% rayon and 6% silk. This combination makes it very soft to the touch, perfect for wearing on hot days. For the design, Kapital has paired a bright orange hibiscus print with a native American motif. The floral print features hibiscus flowers from different perspectives - some close up and others, bringing together splashes of many colours, with butterflies nestled between the flowers. As the hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii, this design choice makes sense with the historical context of the shirt.The Native American motif featured in the shirt is in the typical geometric style often associated with Natiive American art. The roots of this sort of pattern have been lost to antiquity. However, we believe that many Native American tribes created their own starburst-like designs to symbolise man’s connection with the cosmos. The pairing of these cultures says something politically. Both Native Hawaiian and Native American populations have been subjugated across time. By bringing both styles together, the shirt acts as a celebration of native cultures. It’s remarkable how much the styles have in common too. For example, they both rely heavily on natural forms as the inspiration for their designs. In Native American art, different symbols of nature are part of a schematic system, representing how humans relate to the natural world and to each other.
Kapital carried on their exploration of aloha print motifs with their Hibiscus Ortega Kakashi shirt. This piece uses the iconography of aloha shirts but casts the patterns on an open, kimono-style shirt. Another culture and set of traditions intersects on this piece. It is made from the same breakdown of rayon and silk as Kapital’s other aloha-inspired piece. The prints are also very similar to those used on the other piece, although this one is set against a black background. Our other Japanese brand Paikaji produces more traditional aloha shirt designs, which they of course put their own twists onto. To begin, there is the floral short sleeve shirt, again screen-printed with a hibiscus flower motif. This piece however is less colourful than the Kapital shirts. Over a deep blue background, the flowers are given in block white with subtle, pastel orange details. Continuing the natural theme, the shirt is made from 100% cotton and also has mother of pearl buttons down its front. Paikaji also produce a white aloha shirt with a deep blue palm tree motif pasted on top. The design on this shirt is less traditional, more of a painted scene than floral pattern style. This white Hawaiian shirt with palm trees is made from 100% linen, making it very cooling to wear. Finally, Paikaji also produce a long-sleeved version of the aloha shirt called Palm Aloha. Eruptions of pale yellow palms burst through the dark background of the shirt. Although its long-sleeved, this piece is still made of 100% linen making it cool to wear - a good protector from the sun.Although Kapital and Paikaji are not just aloha shirt brands, they have both explored the style extensively. Each of the designs can also work as aloha shirts for women, especially if you prefer a more relaxed fit style.
What do aloha shirts have to do with casual Fridays?
Back in 1962, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild wanted to promote aloha shirts as something to be worn in the workplace as business attire. Therefore, they started a campaign called ‘Operation Liberation’ and began by sending two aloha shirts to every member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii Senate. This move worked and a resolution in the Senate was passed suggesting to the people of Hawaii that aloha shirts should be worn throughout the summer months. The argument was that this would make people more comfortable as well as proudly supporting the garment industry of the state. Already, wearing aloha shirts each Friday of the summer months was a common sight. This tradition had the name of ‘aloha Fridays’ which slowly morphed into ‘casual Fridays’ as a worldwide phenomena. Now, aloha shirts can be worn on any day of the week in Hawaii, even for those who work in a courtroom. The heritage of the country is widely accepted as something to be proud of.
What are the traditional brands of aloha shirts?
Kahala aloha shirts were born from a company which began in 1936. Kamehameha and Branfleet opened their factory to produce sportswear and were originally called Kahala sportswear. However, the majority of the sales were to tourists as the locals didn’t have enough money to pay for leisure only clothes. Instead, they decided to focus their efforts on the tourist market. What was it that the tourists wanted? Aloha shirts! And, so the kahala shirts history begins. Kahala still operates today and have dubbed themselves the ‘original aloha shirt’ company.Tori Richard aloha shirts have also been very popular. Tori Richard was founded in 1956 and has been producing authentic aloha shirts and resort wear since. For a sample of a more modern company, Hawaiian shirts from Tommy Bahama are also popular. Tommy Bahama is a Seattle-based manufacturer which began making resort wear in 1993.
What’s the Royal Hawaiian Shirt history?
The Royal Hawaiian Shirt company was founded in 1937 to fulfill tourist demand for a now increasingly popular souvenir.
What’s the difference between an aloha shirt vs. a hawaiian shirt?
There is no difference really, only in which name you choose. The shirts were known as Hawaiian shirts as they came from Hawaii. The prefix of ‘aloha’ was common for many products from Hawaii, making the two names interchangeable. However, it was Ellery Chun who trademarked the term ‘aloha shirt’ in 1937. He saw the mass market appeal of the item and its ability to be scaled up worldwide.