The Aloha Shirt
by Veronica S.
even tucked in, blazing and bold, here's the aloha shirt!
The missionaries might have denounced extravagance
and nakedness, the craving for vivid colors, tropical
textures, and sensual shapes couldn't be suppressed.
Within two centuries a modest workman's shirt grew into
the trademark wear of Hawaii.
But the history of this shirt reflects the growing
pains of a nation and the true Hawaiian aloha shirt
has become increasingly hard to find.
the late 1920's and early 1930's tourists, always looking
for exotic souvenirs, fell for a fad of the young islanders,
unusual prints. Artists and tailors spotted a serious
business. The name "aloha shirt", registered
in 1936, soon labeled a flourishing industry.
Paintings of famous artists were transferred to the
fabric of choice, rayon, silkier than silk and inexpensive.
Designs competed in intricacy. Border shirts, picture
shirts, patterned shirts. How many ways to say Hawaii?
Labels themselves became works of art, reflecting inspiration
and wild dreams of success.
the darkness of the second World War, colorful, exotic
prints were more than ever what visitors wanted. Add
to this the attention Hawaii received in the 1950's
when it competed with Alaska to become the 49th state,
as well as the intrigue with Hollywood. Aloha shirts
became a craze.
Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, all going
Hawaiian. Montgomery Clift, dead in a ditch in "From
Here to Eternity," in Hawaiian print. Immortal,
from now on. Endorsements by world-famous gold-medal
swimmer and master surfer Duke Kahanamoku. Photographs
Garment Company, one of the largest pioneer manufacturers,
shipped 35 tons of garments to the mainland in 1960.
"Made in Hawaii" sells!
In Hawaii, during those crazy years, opinions varied.
All good and well in leisure time, but what about business?
Many companies fought the breezy aloha shirt.
"Spiritually destructive," said a Japanese
boss in 1955. "Truth is" writes Honolulu Magazine,
in 1967, "almost no man past 30 really looks good
in an aloha shirt."
as this might be, with the large demand on the mainland
came the need for more effective production. First factories
took over. Then labor and designers overseas. On the
mainland, imitation shirts appeared. Designs lost their
artistic quality. Matching his and hers, no inspiration.
Demand lowered, prices dropped. The shirt became "tacky".
Only one company in the whole state of Hawaii decided
to stay true to the original Hawaiian shirt. Reyn Spooner,
created in 1956, is the only aloha shirt line designed
and produced right here in Hawaii, its prints still
pulsating with local strength.
weakened, the Hawaiian shirt lost uniqueness. Yet the
greatest loss is that no one thought of keeping track.
Numerous designs have vanished in the cotton clouds
of history. Original shirts with original labels have
become collectors items worth hundreds and even thousands
The true Hawaiian shirt reads like a painting of paradise.
The fabric is a canvas for the rich images of the islands.
And aloha shirts, true or not, are here to stay. Still
the greatest souvenir. They will forever mirror what
Hawaii is about. The challenge is now to find the real
one, the one that shows aloha.
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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