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History of the Hawaiian Shirt

February 19, 2013 / admin / No Comments

Hawaiian shirts, also commonly known as aloha shirts, are a cultural symbol of Hawaii recognized by everyone around the world. Hawaii’s year-round tropical weather makes the lightweight and comfortable Hawaiian shirt the perfect attire for locals and visitors alike. Wearing a Hawaiian Shirt in Hawaii is something that makes tourists feel at home and blend with the local environment and at the same time feel comfortable and stylish. They are also a simple, great way to remember paradise when you are back at home.

The modern Hawaiian shirt was born in the early 1930’s by a Chinese merchant named Ellery Chun. The cultural phenomenon began when Chun started sewing together vibrantly colored shirts for tourists out of his old kimono fabrics that were leftover in stock. A local newspaper called the Honolulu Advertiser quickly took notice and coined the term “Aloha shirt” for this growing new trend. It wasn’t long before local residents and tourists bought every shirt Chun had in stock. Within just a couple of years, major designer labels were springing up all over Hawaii, selling mass amounts of Hawaiian shirts.

After WW2 ended, service men and women returned to the United States from the Pacific islands with their new Hawaiian shirts. Shortly after, in the 1950s, tourists began flocking to Hawaii, particularly after Hawaii became a state in 1959. Hawaiian shirts began flying off the shelves. A textile manufacturer named Alfred Shaheen then revolutionized the Hawaiian shirt industry by providing both aloha shirts and other ready-to-wear Hawaiian clothing like sundresses all under one roof. Shaheen made artistic and high-grade shirts and clothing that raised Hawaiian shirts to the level of high-fashion and soon Hollywood stars began discovering them. It wasn’t long after that celebrities like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra started to wear and promote Aloha Shirts, contributing greatly to their popularity.

Another milestone contributing to the widespread popularity of Hawaiian shirts was Aloha week, a festival of music, dancing, sports and traditions created to celebrate the Hawaii’s rich culture. Aloha week was changed to the month long Aloha Festivals in 1991.

Aloha Friday was also officially established in 1966, allowing companies to provide their employees with an opportunity to wear Hawaiian shirts on the last business day of the week a few months out of the year. By 1970 in Hawaii, Hawaiian shirts had gained acceptance as business attire for any day of the week. By 1990 in the United States, Aloha Friday had grown rapidly and eventually evolved into what some now know as Casual Friday.

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