Hawaiian or Aloha shirts have always been an exemption from regular wear for men ever since it was first created, possibly in the 1930’s. With their loud colors and floral motifs or busy looking patterns, Hawaiian shirts were the antithesis of the traditional conservatively-drab-dress mode. The Aloha shirt has been a unifying symbol of the aloha spirit, a major theme in Hawaii representing goodwill within a diverse community. The Hawaiian shirt is considered an “American” invention because it originated in Hawaii, even though, Hawaii had not joined the Union until 1959. The Hawaiian shirt has traditionally been manufactured in Hawaii (predominantly) and, sometimes, on the mainland and, to a lesser degree, Japan. This had been true up until the American manufacturing drain that started in the 1980s and continues to the present. But, good news, Hawaiian shirts are still one of the few clothing items that are still manufactured in the United States at a fairly high percentage (probably 30%, compared to all clothing at 2%).
Vintage Hawaiian Shirts
Now, this blog entry is not about the history of the Hawaiian shirt, you can check my previous entry on Hawaiian shirts for that, or about the brands that make American Hawaiian shirts (see the same link for that or Listing of American clothing brands – retail). This is about the fabulous designs and patterns of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, etc. These are called the “Vintage” shirts.
One can consider vintage shirts in three different classes. The first one are the actual shirts that are 20 to 70 years old. They tend to be hard to find, of differing quality and condition, and usually quite expensive. Probably the best websites for true vintage Hawaiian shirt is thehanashirtco.com.
The second type of Vintage shirts are modern replicas. These shirts will take the classic designs and make modifications, sometimes making them more modern. These are present everywhere. Some wouldn’t truly call these vintage. So, the Elvis Presley Hawaiian shirts at Hilo Hatties (celebrating their 50th anniversary) – are they vintage or just retro? It is not for me to decide. Hawaiianshirtdude.com has some modern “replicas” as well.
The third type of Vintage Hawaiian shirt is the true replica. An original shirt is examined and copied and then re-made with exacting standards using materials as original as possible. The best example of this can be found at historypreservation.com. These Hawaiian shirts are made by Sun Surf, however, they are made in Japan ( where many original Hawaiian shirts were made).
Books on the Aloha Shirt
- The Hawaiian Shirt: Its Art and History. Thomas Steele
- Hawaiian Shirt Designs. Nancy Schiffer
- The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands. Dale Hope
- The Art of the Aloha Shirt. Desoto Brown and Linda Arthur
Other True Replica Apparel (Not Hawaiian Shirts)
For those of you who are into true replica clothing the historypreservation.com site is fantastic for apparel from the 1940s and 50s, both civilian and military, jackets, denim, hats, gloves and boots.