History of the Aloha Shirt

Bridget Richard

Summer is approaching quickly, and many Midwesterners will dawn their “Hawaiian Shirts” as a way to hearken the new warm weather. But there’s a special history behind this iconic style of top-half clothing.

The Hawaiian shirt style, more formerly referred to as the Aloha Shirt, has roots that go back to the 1800’s. This history has been chronicled in many books, including The Art of the Aloha Shirt by DeSoto Brown and Linda Arthur. They explain the importance of the kapa cloth, which had at one point been a form of currency in several South Pacific cultures, in the Aloha shirt’s creation. The Hawaiian Islands were seen as the best place for original kapa cloth designs, which would become more popular with the Aloha Shirt later in the shirt’s peak in popularity in the 1950’s.

Some historians cite Gordon Young as one of the first major creators of the Aloha Shirt as it is known today. Young used the cotton cloth that was used in making Yukatas- a Japanese summer garment- which had floral and colorful patterns. The shirt became popular, and many stores started to make and sell the shirts throughout Hawaii for the next few decades. One key feature of the piece was how it was worn. In similar fashion to the Filipino barong talongs, which were long casual shirts, the Aloha shirt was worn untucked, in contrast to the fashion status quo of the day.

The Golden Age of the Aloha shirt came in the 1950’s. The patterns became louder than ever and most shirts were often made of Rayon, a manufactured cellulose fiber.

Rayon, and subsequently the Aloha shirt, fell slightly out of fashion in the 60’s, and had a resurgence in the 80’s, which continued into the modern day. Modern Aloha Shirt designs today contain the timeless Hawaiian and tropical designs including plants, flowers, animals, boats, and oceans.

Many BHS students love the Aloha shirt style. One said, “I like how every shirt can be different from one another, but still give off the same feeling.”


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