A Brief History of Hawaiian Shirts

Bright in color and full of vivid design, Hawaiian shirts are an immensely popular way to introduce yourself – and your clothing – at parties, the pool or the beach. They have become an international symbol of Hawaii. Although they continue to increase in popularity, Hawaiian shirts are not a new trend or fad. In fact, the design of the popular shirts has been around for decades.

Hawaiian shirts got their start in the 1930s, when clothing manufacturers on the islands decided to produce a cloth that had a design unique to Hawaii. Watumull’s East India Store led the pack by hiring artist Elsie Das to create 15 hand-painted floral designs that were then printed onto silk. Unfortunately for the store, the designs were not supposed to be printed on heavy silk. Although the manufacturer did not print the shirts as had been requested, it turned out for the best – the heavy silk shirts became extremely popular in Hollywood. Movie stars, singers, and politicians all donned the prints. In the movie “From Here to Eternity,” Montgomery Cliff, Burt Lancaster, Ernest Borgnine, and Frank Sinatra all wore Hawaiian shirts. The craze has continued on for years. Tom Selleck was seen wearing Hawaiian shirts in “Magnum PI.”

Hawaiian officials have certainly encouraged the Aloha shirt craze. In 1947, the Honolulu Board of Supervisors passed a resolution, encouraging city and county employees to wear Hawaiian shirts from June 1 to October 31 each year. Further, every Friday in Hawaii is considered Aloha Friday, when locals and tourists alike wear their favorite Hawaiian shirt or dress with pride. The islands even have an official Aloha Week, where thousands of people dress in Hawaiian pride.

Today, Hawaiian shirts continue to be a symbol of relaxation in tropical paradise.

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