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The History Of The Hawaiian Shirt


When it comes to capturing the blissed out fun of endless summers, nothing does it better than a Hawaiian shirt.  But surprisingly, they were introduced to the islands by the Japanese.  In the 1800s, plantation owners were seeking cheap labor and Japanese immigrants came in droves.  With them, they bought bright kimono fabrics, while Filipino and Chinese immigrants introduced Hawaii to barong talongs, a type of untucked shirt.  These were coupled with native Hawaiian fashions and the earliest version of the Hawaiian shirt was born!

Fashion remained unchanged until the 1920s when a University of Hawaii student designed a ‘pre aloha’ Hawaiian shirt, using Japanese yukata cloth featuring Japanese patterns.  Over time the Japanese designs were substituted for Hawaiian imagery.  Pine trees were replaced with coconut trees, Oriental bamboo and tigers were replaced with flowers, fish and ukuleles.  The style spread amongst fellow students and his creations were seen all over campus.

In the 1930s, a Chinese businessman named Chun had a light-bulb moment, and started marketing these local style shirts.  Also using Japanese yukata cloth, his clothing featured his sisters’ tropical designs.  His shirts were a novelty at first, but he could see their great potential. 

Then during the 1940s a WWII veteran started mass producing the new ‘Aloha’ shirts.  He hired several local artists to design lively motifs based on Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiian imagery.  By the 1950s he had 400 employees and netted $4 million in annual profits, taking his place as the islands premier Aloha shirt manufacturer. 

 The shirts were a hit with visiting servicemen who took them home as souvenirs.  As commercial airlines started servicing Hawaii, the shirts popularity grew to new heights.  From tourists to Hollywood movie stars to American Presidents, everyone has fallen in love with Hawaiian shirts.

The Hawaiian Shop has a huge range of stunning Aloha Hawaiian shirts.  Slip into summer and view their entire collection here.