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Celebrate National Hawaiian Shirts Day: The Vibrant History of Aloha Shirts

An Aloha shirt really captures “Casual Friday.” Suburban fathers, Brooklyn hipsters, artists, children, and even the eccentric crew of Analog enthusiastically wore these bright, button-down tops on National Hawaiian Shirts Day. Aloha shirts have been a mainstay of the American wardrobe for almost a century, conveying a feeling of optimism and a love of nature even if their popularity waxes and flows.

But where did this original style start, and how has it stayed so remarkably durable? We decided to find out as we excitedly sported them about our offices

Blue Hawaii: National Hawaiian Shirts Day Birthplace

As its name implies, the Aloha shirt comes from Hawaii, a U.S. state that became known as such in 1959. Hawaii was American territory between 1898 and 1959 and held particular significance in American imagination. Hawaiian music outsold other genres in the United States in 1916, right before the nation entered World War I, therefore influencing the zeitgeist.

Hawaii had a major Japanese impact since it lay midway between Asia and North America. First Hawaiian shirts originated from local Japanese employing kimono fabric for shirting during the 1920s or 1930s. Early shirts included clearly Japanese designs, including cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji.

A feel-good product, the Aloha shirt offered a cheerful counterpoint to Depression-era America’s dismal economic situation. Maybe this explains why it gained such great popularity.

The Rise of the Aloha Shirt

There is sartorial mythology about the first shirt maker to create the Aloha shirt. Some credit Kōichirō Miyamoto, Honolulu’s “Musa-Shiya the Shirt maker” proprietor, with it. Others attribute Chinese trader Ellery Chun, whose shirts became well-known in the 1930s when they were sold at King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods in Waikiki.

By the middle of the 1930s, “aloha” was a trendy term connected with anything Hawaiian. Though Ellery Chun may have used it as early as 1933, a 1935 print advertising for Musa-Shiya the Shirt maker allegedly used the term “Aloha shirt,” first. Retaining the brand for twenty years, Chun trademarked “Aloha sportswear” in 1936 and “Aloha shirt” in 1937.


Aloha Shirts in War and Beyond

Representing an annual revenue of $11 million, Aloha shirts were all the buzz by the eve of World War II. Men on the mainland bought them in great numbers because they represented comfort and festivity. But Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 affected the industry, requiring shirt makers to turn to war production. Production started again following the war using designs with native Hawaiian themes instead than Japanese-influenced designs.

The Aloha Shirt in American Culture

The Aloha shirt spread American culture even as troops came back from Hawaii. Stars included Montgomery Clift, Bing Crosby, and Elvis Presley wore them; the Blue Hawaii shirt helped to boost its appeal in 1961. Tom Selleck’s portrayal of Magnum P.I., typically sporting an Aloha shirt, confirmed its place in the male wardrobe by the early 1980s.

How to Celebrate National Hawaiian Shirts Day

The Aloha shirt is still really fashionable nowadays. Founded in 1936, companies like Kahala replicate legacy designs and market them as premium goods. Aloha shirts, on the other hand, are sold at all price points, hence everyone can afford this American menswear essential. These are some ideas for honoring National Hawaiian Shirts Day:

  • Organize a Hawaiian-themed: celebration embracing the Aloha shirt’s tropical decorations, music, and cuisine.
  • Wear your preferred Aloha shirt: Show off your style and inspire others by wearing your finest Aloha shirt.
  • Discover Hawaiian culture: Explore Hawaii’s rich legacy and customs to understand where the Aloha shirt started.
  • Support local brands: To honor and preserve the custom, buy Aloha shirts from nearby or historical companies.

National Hawaiian Shirts Day honors the colorful legacy and cultural value of the Aloha shirt. There’s an Aloha shirt for every style, from Brooklyn hipster to suburban dad to wacky office worker.

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