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Hawaiian Style: The Roots of the Aloha Shirt (collectorsweekly.com)
109 points by ohjeez 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments





My husband lives and works in nothing but Reyn Spooners and jeans -- has a 40 year old "collection" (every year the company produces several new designs that are emblematic for that year). He says they're made of the original Hawaiian Fabric and are the most comfortable and certainly most long lasting -- they turn the fabric inside out so wear is just part of the look. They are beautiful classic shirts and I never get tired of seeing him in them.

I was looking to pick up a couple of Reyn Spooner shirts while on the big island last month, but I realized they all had collar buttons. My mind cannot reconcile aloha shirts and collar buttons existing in the same universe so I went with Tommy Bahama instead.

Thanks for the brand mention. I've been looking to replace some of my worn-out aloha shirts. I really love the low-key prints.

There are different grades of Aloha type shirts. I once had a business meeting in Hawaii. There is a business casual grade for lack of a better term. Everyone at this business looked so stylish and classy yet with a tropical sort of flair. It was great!

So true. I love Aloha shirts (I grew up on Oahu). The best thing about them is that they are multi-purpose. Need to wear something to a wedding in Hawaii? Aloha shirt with slacks. Funeral? Aloha shirt, totally acceptable. Fancy restaurant? Again, Aloha shirt. Business attire? Totally acceptable (it's really the norm for business people if you're 'dressing up').

Where else can you get away with wearing such a comfortable, fun shirt in so many different contexts.


When I tell people that only lawyers wear suits in Hawaii they don't believe me. Don't know if still going on but the legislature was pushing the courts to discourage the use of suits as well.

On top of all your reasons, it's just too hot and humid year round in Hawaii to wear a suit regularly. Must be pure misery for the people who have to.


Still waiting for this outbreak of sanity to hit Florida. I'd love for someone in the fashion industry to capitalize on the fact that that not everyone lives in the climate of Paris and New York.

I grew up in Hawaii and my Dad was a federal agent, he previously worked in DC and Philly before we moved there, he still wore aloha shirts to work because it was just the normal thing to do there.

Can't help but agree with it either, its always nice. Why tie yourself down with a suit? (pun intended)


I don’t know, New York in August makes it pretty unpleasant to wear a suit. Actually it’s unpleasant just to try and breathe... it’s like huffing hummus. Of course Florida in August is downright fatal. I think fashion just doesn’t care.

> New York in August makes it pretty unpleasant to wear a suit.

As Neal Stephenson has observed, the three-piece wool suit makes perfect sense if you're in a place where the year-round temperature is a constant 50 degrees F, indoors and out.

Basically, the British Isles before modern central heating, and nowhere else.


Its also hard to deny that a well-fitted suit just looks good though.

I think they look antiquated. I'd prefer never to wear clothing that needs to be treated with harsh chemicals.

Take a look at the pictures from the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. I was amazed both Trump and Kim survived being outdoors in that humidity while in a suit. I figured someone of their girth would be sweating bullets seconds after stepping out of doors.

Nothing says Officially Sanctioned Fun like Hawaiian shirt Friday...

A previous co-worker recently took a job with one of the big consulting firms in DC. They have "jeans Fridays" but you have to pay $5.00 to participate each week.

I've never found pants there were so uncomfortable I'd pay to get out of them. In fact, the dressier the pant, the more comfortable they seem to be.

Does this go to charity?

Yes, it does go into a charity fund.

Man, having a job on the East Coast seems like a fate worse than death. You'll pry my jeans and T-shirt from my cold, dead fingers.

I'm glad I work in tech. Shorts and flip flops are the first questions I ask any recruiter that contacts me.

It's even better here in Australia, in summer I go to work in shorts and flip flops.

I've come to realize that I am wardrobe bound to California.

Or you know, you can wear it any day you like, and fuck the office's style rules.

How's that for non-officinally sanctioned?


Do you drop f bombs whilst wearing the shirt? A true rebel.

Well, whether one is a rebel or not has few things to do with dropping f bombs or not.

So the irony is misplaced, it's not just "wannabe rebels" that can curse.

I know very true rebels, including people who actually got in prison for fighting a military dictatorship, that curse like it's going out of style. And others that are very well spoken and high society mannered.

That said, if you want to write about it, a sign of being more of a rebel than not, would be not to go with the prudishness of writing it as "f", as if it's some big deal.


I'd like to know how Hawaiian shirts became the official attire of US Federal Air Marshals

A few years ago I had to get some paperwork stamped returning to the US (equipment travelling on a carnet). I had to go through passport control in an area far from most travelers. While talking to the CBP agent, a motley group of 8 gregarious people can down the hall and skipped the passport control. The CBP agent I was working with said “there goes the Air Marshals”. The group was mixed gender, mixed ages, mixed build, mixed style. I would not have pegged any of them as Air Marshals. One girl had dyed punk hair and a biker jacket. One guy looked like a middle aged dad. One girl looked like a European fashion model.

Fascinating. I have a pretty solid collection of Aloha shirts myself, but I always thought they were a mainland invention and that the Hawaiians just sort of adopted them.

It makes me happy to know that they actually create the idea and is a positive part of their culture, and not just another adoption of their colonizer's culture.


I have some Sig Zane shirts. Love them. They are proper Aloha shirts. Bought them in Hilo, when my wife and I were on vacation a couple of years ago to the big island.

I also have some shirts with much bolder fluorescent colors and more garish styling, many of which I bought at Hilo Hattie's, which ironically does not exist in Hilo. I bought mine on Maui, during that same trip.

The latter are what I would call "Hawaiian Shirts", with quotes intact. Only suitable for tourists to wear. No local would be caught dead in them.

Here on the mainland, I wear my "Hawaiian Shirts" every day, and on days with hot weather, I also wear cargo shorts and Keen sandals. I wouldn't want to work any place that would not allow me to wear the clothes that make me feel comfortable.



In Fiji, they wear bula shirts, which are more or less the same (bula == aloha in Fijian).

I wonder if they're a separate parallel development, or if they were introduced at some point.


I'm curious. much of South East Asia has the Batik shirts. The higher end ones are considered formalwear. Is there any connection?

Then there are those embroidered shirts from the Philippines.

Those are awesome -- they don't seem to be as common now, but you still sometimes see older Filipino gentlemen wearing them on "dress-up" occasions.


Any good brands? I saw a mention of Reyn Spooners.

Usually I made do with Tommy Bahamas.


Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack are usually good places to find good brands and deals inc Reyn Spooner and Tommy Bahamas

Just got two of them in today. I love this type of shirt.

People, please stop calling them Hawaiian shirts. Thank you.

OH, they're definitely Hawaiian shirts. They're not Estonian, for instance. Nor Japanese. Pure Hawaiian. There are also Hawaiian pants, and skirts etc.

The article's a fun read, and indicates that the originals were a product of Chinese tailors using Japanese kimono fabric in a hybrid Filipino/European style at the request of middle-class Hawaiian school boys.

...and made in Hawaii. By Hawaiians. To local taste. As genuinely Hawaiian as any designer dress is the designer's product, regardless of the tailor or fabric origin.

Hawaiian is primarily used as an ethnonym, so saying the Aloha shirt is a 'Hawaiian Shirt' is implying the shirt as part of native Hawaiian culture. What you say is technically true at a certain level, people who live in Hawaii do have the demonym of 'Hawaiian', but that term is reserved for the indigenous Polynesian people of Hawaii. It would seem odd to say for someone to say they enjoy native American food as a means of expressing their like of hamburgers and french fries.

> Hawaiian is primarily used as an ethnonym

I can understand this; at the same time, from my perspective, people use it to refer to the geographical state. So, not refering to a people at all, but a source of origin. Kind of like how I don’t assume Americans eat American food; i just assume I can find it in America.

That said, I did learn they are called aloha shirts and will make an effort to use that instead.


Anyone reading this article or talking about Hawaiian shirts is using Hawaiian colloquially. Maybe you live in a milieu where a distinction is necessary but for most people it just comes off as word policing.

The distinction of Hawaiian as a colloquial reference to anything from the state of Hawaii is made only outside of the state itself.

I can't change the way English itself works so there will always be that meaning, but to anyone from Hawaii, that distinction reminds us that native Hawaiians are distinct from the people of Hawaii today.

The Hawaiian culture has had its fair share of erasure and suppression. To make the distinction is an attempt to honor and remember the unique identity of native Hawaiians.


>Hawaiian is primarily used as an ethnonym, so saying the Aloha shirt is a 'Hawaiian Shirt' is implying the shirt as part of native Hawaiian culture.

I'm not sure people outside of Hawaii mistakenly link the "Hawaiian shirt" to _native_ Hawaiian culture. (The "native" modifier is key here for clear discussion.)

Instead, "Hawaiian shirt" is more innocently used as "a shirt common in the geographical place of Hawaii". If you really tried to get outsiders to picture a _native_ Hawaiian culture, they might imagine shirtless Polynesian people like these images.[1] Those people are not wearing the touristy floral printed shirts that are sold as "Hawaiian shirts".

>The Hawaiian culture has had its fair share of erasure and suppression. To make the distinction is an attempt to honor and remember the unique identity of native Hawaiians.

I'm still confused why the label "Hawaiian shirt" is erasing _native_ Hawaiian culture.

If Europeans choose to label what USA citizens call "football" as "American football", they do not imply that everybody links these images[2] to _native_ American culture. No matter how many times Europeans repeat the phrase "American football", these images of native Americans[3] will always be a separate and preserved concept in their minds.

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=polynesian+people&source=lnm...

[2] https://www.google.com/search?q=nfl+football&source=lnms&tbm...

[3] https://www.google.com/search?q=native+americans&source=lnms...


Yeah, its tough to understand how people think of a word on a case to case basis. Everyone will have different connotations. There is murkiness that exists as part of its use as a noun or an adjective.

My point of erasure relates to making the use of Hawaiian as a noun specifically relating to anything native Hawaiian.

The football thing doesn't feel entirely on point for me, an analogy of Europeans seeing Tex-Mex and calling it Mexican food seems closer to the idea. It is technically right, but some people from Mexico would disagree with that being _real_ Mexican food.


As an aside, those you refer to as "indigenous Polynesian people" are actually a later wave of Tahitian colonists who conquered and oppressed the previous settlers from the Marquesas Islands.

http://www.waimea.com/people.html

So it's not automatic that this particular wave of settlers uniquely deserves to be called "Hawaiian".


While again being technically true, I would love to see any white or asian immigrants noting the ethnography of the original Hawaiian people in the time where they first made contact with and lived among the Hawaiian people.

By the time of Kamehameha, I was taught there was a unified monolithic Hawaiian culture.


Who are "the original Hawaiian people"? Tahitians? Marquesans? Society Islanders?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_and_settlement_of_Ha...

Does it actually matter whose ancestors colonized first? What's the difference between Hawaii's colonization by ethnic Tahitians and North America's colonization by ethnic English?


But it's not called a native Hawaiian shirt. Hawaiian culture didn't end in 1778.

Hawaii post-Cook ended up losing a lot of its population, because of that and other immigration it began to lose its culture. Other culture loss came fron Westernization and Christianity (Missionaries), the Hawaiian language itself was on the decline because of suppression until a renaissance in the 1970s.

The distinction of Hawaiian in reference to native people is a only made off the islands. To anyone from Hawaii or familiar with it calling it a Hawaiian shirt literally is wrong in our understanding of the word.

To try and spread that understanding of Hawaiian as reference to native peoples is to spread the knowledge that Hawaii is a multiethnic place with distinct native culture alongside its American, Asian and other Polynesian influences.


>The distinction of Hawaiian in reference to native people is a only made off the islands. To anyone from Hawaii or familiar with it calling it a Hawaiian shirt literally is wrong in our understanding of the word.

Well, 8 billion people live outside the islands. Their use of the word will prevail for an object that's available everywhere in the world.


That's a fine distinction, but what word would you use to describe something that's a product of Hawaii but not ethically Polynesian? Like Hawaiian pineapples, or loco moco? On the islands you could just call it "local" but on the mainland that wouldn't make any sense.

One answer is undeniably clunky, "these pineapples are from Hawaii."

The AP's style guide uses Hawaiian as an adjective.

It is a messy thing when typical ways of speaking English conflict with nuances.


If you can't suggest a better word than "Hawaiian" when someone wants to say an adjective meaning "from Hawaii", perhaps you should keep your peace?

Hawaiian will continued to be used as an adjective.

And additionally better isn't always the most succinct. I use Hawaii resident or kamaaina to say I'm from Hawaii, I don't call myself Hawaiian.

The person I first responded to called the shirt 'as genuinely Hawaiian...', which while true to describe its geographic origin, carries a different connotation. I think I made that point clear.

I don't think we'll get too much more understanding arguing points of grammar, you have a fair point with using Hawaiian as adjective. Thanks for the discussion.


It's interesting that "Hawaiian" has a different meaning on the islands, and that people might not say "Hawaiian shirt" there just like people don't say "French bread" in France. However, pointing out supposed insensitivity to ethnic groups is pretty much the main hobbyhorse of moralizing busybodies the world over in 2018, and unlikely to win you much affection. It's got to the point where the phrase "the n-word" strikes one as unseemly, and we'll start saying "the word that starts with the letter that comes after 'M'".

>Hawaiian is primarily used as an ethnonym, so saying the Aloha shirt is a 'Hawaiian Shirt' is implying the shirt as part of native Hawaiian culture.

Well, they wear a lot in Hawaii, so... Native Hawaiian culture didn't stop with Columbus...


> Hawaiian is primarily used as an ethnonym

Even if so (and I think that's iffy), “primarily” is not the same as “exclusively”.


Doesn't that make it a uniquely Hawaiian thing? The sequence of events spurring the shirt's evolution couldn't have happened anywhere else. The article also makes a point that the cultural melting pot that is 20th century Hawaii is what enabled the creation of such a distinct garment.

I think it's very Hawaiian, and should be interpreted as a celebration. Then again, I'm just a Haole with a penchant for comfy fun shirts.


As a point of comparison, food dishes that came about under similar melting pot circumstances are called "local" food while dishes that have ethnic Hawaiian origins are called "Hawaiian" food.

The proper name for them is stated in the article's title.

Aloha is a subset of Hawaii is it not? Similarly, these are a subset of shirt.

Ideology seems to be increasingly creeping into conversations here (not pointed at you, just saying in general).


Hawaiian is an ethnicity. Hawaiian is used in specific contexts in Hawaii and using it to describe a specific type of shirt is not one of them. It has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with accuracy and respect for a group of people.

> Hawaiian is an ethnicity.

Indeed it is:

Ethnicity: noun, plural eth·nic·i·ties.

- an ethnic group; a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like.

- ethnic traits, background, allegiance, or association

> Hawaiian is used in specific contexts in Hawaii and using it to describe a specific type of shirt is not one of them.

Is it not unique (in origin) to Hawaiian culture?

> It has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with accuracy and respect for a group of people.

That you think this has anything to do with "respect" is precisely the problem I'm talking about. It's a style of shirt. Even if I didn't like the style, how in god's name does one interpret this as "not respecting" Hawaiians as a group?


The Wikipedia article distinguishes between the local 'Aloha shirt' which is a dress shirt with muted floral design or native fabric pattern, and the exported 'Hawaiian shirt' which is informal wear with usually an extravagant floral design.

So that makes a case for naming them differently.


I was born and raised in Hawaii. Not trying to come off rude but I don't need a Wikipedia article to tell me what something I grew up with actually is.

Hawaiian shirt is a crude marketing term that's only used outside of the original audience of the item.


Exactly what I was talking about. You call them Aloha shirts. Folks NOT born and raised in Hawaii have another name for what they're seeing, exported thru WalMart etc. And its 'Hawaiian'.

I'm an Iowan, and I don't need you to tell me what something I grew up with actually is. Not to come off as rude.


Yes, and your version is a knockoff of a culturally significant item created in an independent country that was conquered militarily and handed over to be annexed for the benefit of a pineapple company. So maybe give those of the originating culture the benefit of the doubt. I'm not Hawaiian but it is a beautiful culture, especially the concept of aloha, and we could learn a thing or two from it.

> Yes, and your version is a knockoff of a culturally significant item

The Hawaiian/Aloha shirt is a knockoff of a European design.

>So maybe give those of the originating culture the benefit of the doubt.

The originating culture was European. The Hawaiians "culturally appropriated" the European shirt design and made something new and awesome from it, so awesome that it then became popular outside the islands.

That's how it works.


I don't care about cultural appropriation and stuff - you are right in that aspect - it is a back and forth exchange between Hawaii, the East, and the West.

But it'd be like if you grew up buying "Mexican hats" from Walmart. It's a sombrero - they have other hats in Mexico, including hats they came up with, so your terminology is bad even if it's been working for you.


Are you suggesting Aloha Shirt instead? Or it'd be great if you.could explain further. I do understand not saying Hawaiian Shirt, since Hawaiian carries the connotation of ethnically Hawaiian. No sane white person who's born in Hawaii would say they're Hawaiian [1], so in that way it makes sense.

[1] I've lived in Hawaii most my life and this is my experience.


Yes, Aloha shirt. Sorry for not being clear earlier, was looking at the article title when posting.



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