According to historians, Hawaiian shirts emerged first in the 1920s. As the story goes, somewhere in the 1920s, Gordon Young, a student in the University of Hawaii along with his mother’s dressmaker made a “pre-aloha shirt.” Together, they chose a Japanese yukata cloth to make this shirt. They made patterns like geometric shapes and bamboo over white backgrounds on the fabric. Later, Gordon attended the University of Washington, where this revolutionary fashion statement started turning heads.
Apart from Gordon Young, the popularity and name of this shirt is credited to Ellery Chun, a Chinese-Hawaiian businessman. In 1931, after receiving his graduate degree in economics from the University of Yale with a degree in economics, Chun got back to his family’s dry goods store in Honolulu. It was the period of the Great Depression and it seemed that Chun’s store would collapse. He decided to promote a local style of shirt in 1936. Just like Gordon, he chose yukata cloth to make shirts and created tropical designs on them along with his sister Ethel. He displayed these shirts in the front window of his store with the sign that read “Aloha Shirts.” Being business-minded in nature, he even copyrighted the term.
In some time, these shirts underwent mass production. Alfred Shaheen, a World War 2 veteran made these Aloha shirts and hired a team of local artists to design fun motifs based on Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese motifs for these shirts. He had 400 employees under him by 1959 who made these shirts and he earned more than $4 million in annual profits.
A favourite with beach-goers, this shirt also caught the fancy of off-duty naval servicemen. Upon returning home from service, these recruits would bring home their new souvenirs of Hawaiian shirts. What made it more popular were the commercial flights that had just started in Hawaii. Hollywood actors and singers made these shirts famous, wearing it in movies and their album covers.
Hawaii is a place that can get really humid, which makes wearing a dark, heavy business suit a challenge. The 1960s witnessed the launch of “Operation Liberation,” an interesting campaign designed to promote lighter, more informal wear in Hawaiian offices. Aloha shirts were the movement’s centrepiece and two, free shirts were even given to every single member of the State Senate and House of Representatives. On Fridays, government employees were encouraged to wear Hawaii shirts and it was called “Aloha Fridays.” Today, it is known as “Casual Friday.” Interesting, isn’t it?
If you work in a place which does not follow a strict dress code, you can go ahead and don this tropical look!