22
Jun
12

Hawaiian Shirts -Made in the USA

No clothing is more highly identified as a made in the USA garment than a Hawaiian shirt, except for maybe military uniforms. With its bright and sometimes audacious colors as well as its excessively large flora patterns, the Hawaiian shirt best exemplifies some of the customs and traditions that have been carried down from generation after generation by the Hawaiian people. For the Hawaiian people, the Hawaiian shirts are a point of cultural pride. And even though Hawaii didn’t join the United States until 1959 as our 50th state, there is no mistaking that their particular custom of dress as pure Americana. The Hawaiian shirt, or sometimes called the Aloha shirt, is one of the few modes in which men can demonstrate their flamboyance in fashion. (It used to be that is was the men (in Europe) that wore garish outfits – the royals, the aristocrats, and the well-to-do. But that all changed around 1800, when Beau Brummel, official arbiter of men’s fashion and friend of the monarchy, felt that men should dress conservatively, this, plus the fact that there was a public distaste for the French Royalty and their lavish excesses.  And so, this tradition of conservative dress for men exists still today.)

The Origin of the Hawaiian Shirt

Before the Europeans “discovered” the Hawaiian islands, the natives wore very little. For the missionaries, this was not acceptable, although, the sailors and the native Hawaiians saw no problem with this. The missionaries taught the natives to sew so they could cover up their offensive nakedness. And what they created were clothing appropriate for the Victorian Era which was fine for the colder climates of Europe but not at all fine for the tropical Hawaii weather which is always warm and balmy.

The Origin of the Hawaiian Shirt

In the early 1900’s, Chinese and Japanese were brought to Hawaii to work on pineapple and sugar plantations. However, their traditional dress was ill-suited for the hard work in the hot and humid conditions. Most experts agree that it was the Japanese that invented the Hawaiian shirt. It is said that a Japanese tailor took the cloth of kimono robes which were often embroidered with mountains, volcanoes or flowers and turned the garment into  very roomy men’s shirts with buttons up the front. The “Hawaiian shirt” was coined by a tailor and dry-goods businessman, Ellery J. Chun, in 1927, to boost sales. The shirts dazzled US naval crews and Hollywood stars like John Barrymore, Al Jolson, Douglas Fairbanks, Ronald Colman, and Bing Crosby (who used these shirts in his “Road” movies with Bob Hope). Such was the shirts appeal, to both natives and visitors, that within a decade Honolulu had 275 tailors and the great Hawaiian shirt labels had been born: Royal Hawaiian Manufacturing Co., Haw Togs, Holo-Holo, Malihiwi Sportswear and the Kamehemeha Garment Co. among them. By 1947, employees of Hawaii’s city councils were allowed to wear Hawaiian shirts to work. By 1958 their manufacture was the islands’ third biggest industry, with many of their inhabitants hard at work making them.

Vintage 1960s shirt

Recent History of Hawaiian Shirts

Hawaiian shirts continued robust sales in the 1960s, by the 1970’s, many manufacturers were using shortcuts were being used, less than original designs produced, and more foreign made shirts were being made, popularity lagged and sometimes, the shirts looked tacky. There have been off and on surges of popularity since the 1970’s. One resurgence was fueled by Tom Selleck and the TV series Magnum P.I.

More recently, there have been an expansion of successful clothing companies that call themselves Island Wear, but are really an extension of the Hawaiian shirts, companies like Tommy Bahamas and many of its clones, like Bamboo Cay. It is too bad that Tommy Bahama and its clones don’t make shirts made in the US.

Present Day

Hawaiian shirts are omnipresent in Hawaii and its islands, worn by both the Islanders as well as the tourists. Hawaiian shirts are also quite popular in the warmer climates of the Continental United States, such as California and Arizona. In California, the Hawaiian shirts are seen at work, at nice restaurants, plays, and even church (some churches). One age group, in general, that usually shies away from Hawaiian shirts are the teenagers, who prefer T-shirts. However, as they gain wisdom, they will come to realize that when the weather is warm, that the Hawaiian Shirt is twice as comfortable as a T-shirt. On the East Coast, Hawaiian shirts are not seen as often due to the intemperate weather and the more conventional conservative clothing attitude with men. For some people wearing Hawaiian shirts is about keeping cool, for others it is about looking cool. (Of course, do not tuck in your Hawaiian shirt – that is not cool.)

So who’s cooler than George Clooney?

There has also been an interesting trend lately regarding Hawaiian shirts. Vintage, or old Hawaiian shirts are sometimes quite valuable, depending on the maker, the age, the design and the condition of the shirt. Some shirts can fetch up to over a $1,000. There are now stores in Hawaii that specialize in selling vintage Hawaiian shirts.

Hawaiian Formal

In Hawaii, it is too hot for a suit and tie. So, when it is time to go to a nice dinner party, for men the wardrobe is a dark pair of long pants, dark shoes (both usually black if it is formal) and a dark colored usually floral patterned Hawaiian shirt. For the ladies, formal is usually a dark colored (usually dark blue or black), floral patterned dress. Unless, of course, you are the bride, then it is usually white or off white.

Hawaiian Formal – Iolani Shirt

Listing of Brands of Hawaiian Shirts Made in the USA

Please note that several companies make only some shirts in the USA, not all, such as Reyn Spooner and Tori Richard. So, always check the label.

Hawaiian Shirts

  1. Ali’l Fashions
  2. Aloha Moi
  3. Aloha Republic
  4. Banana Jack
  5. Beanteacher
  6. Bishop St
  7. Diamond Head
  8. Duke Kahanemoku
  9. Elvis Presley (thru Hilo Hatties)
  10. Go Barefoot
  11. Halekulani
  12. Hawaiian Reserve Collection
  13. Hawaiian Togs
  14. Hilo Hatties
  15. Ho Aloha
  16. Honolulu Shirtworks
  17. Iolani
  18. Island Heritage
  19. Jams World
  20. Kahala
  21. Kahaleo
  22. Kai
  23. Kalakaua
  24. Kanehameha
  25. Koa Road
  26. Koko Island
  27. Kolekole
  28. KY’s
  29. Made In Hawaii
  30. Mamo
  31. Pacific Legend
  32. Paradise Bay
  33. Paradise Found
  34. Paradise Nation
  35. Pineapple Juice
  36. Reyn Spooner
  37. RJC, Inc. (Robert J. Clancy)
  38. Royal Hawaiian Creations
  39. Straight Down
  40. Tiki Waikiki
  41. Tori Richard
  42. Two Paddles
  43. Two Palms
  44. Wave Shoppe (Internet)
  45. Winnie’s Fashion
  46. Wyland

One of the best places to find Hawaiian shirts (and off the islands) at a brick and mortar store in Northern California is The Big Kahuna in downtown Capitola, California. On the islands, Hilo Hatties has the largest selection of Hawaiian shirts, carrying many different brands, plus their own brand. Of the websites, I like Mauishirts.com, because they, for the most part, tell you if their products are made in the USA, plus, they have RJC shorts made in the US, plus boxers made in the USA, by Bamboo Boxer Company. For internet only, try the Wave Shoppe.com. where everything sold is Hawaiian or US made. One link I thought was useful was gohawaii.com, which is about the best Hawaiian shirts. I would recommend buying a made in USA Hawaiian shirt for the summer. Keep Cool, Bruddah!

“The true Hawaiian shirts reads like a painting of paradise. The fabric is a canvas for the rich images of the islands.”  – from one of the authors on Hawaiian Shirts.

Updated October 2, 2013

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7 Responses to “Hawaiian Shirts -Made in the USA”


  1. June 23, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Jack: Great article. As usual you have provided an encyclopedic list of U.S made Hawaiian shirts. Thanks for your hard work in providing the members of our extended American family with a great article. All the best,
    John Briggs

  2. 2 Alexander
    December 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Nice!! I like it a lot.
    Found this great source for Hawaii shirts http://www.squidoo.com/best-hawaiian-shirts-for-men

  3. February 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    I am looking for an EXPERT on OLD Reyn Spooner Shirts – who is the best
    Contact me at – timothy.weiss2010@gmail.com

  4. February 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Thank you! (forgot to say that ) I don’t want to be thought of as rude


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