I’m not exactly sure when I developed my affinity for Hawaiian (or more appropriately “aloha”) shirts. Perhaps, I subconsciously was influenced from watching Hawaii Five-0 or Magnum, P.I. during the 70s and 80s. And of course I’m talking about the originals and not the reboots.
Or perhaps, I was influenced from spending a few formative years as a child in the Panama Canal Zone. While that’s still a long way from the Hawaiian Islands, tropical attire has similar qualities in common. They’re made with lightweight materials and typically come in light colors. One of my favorite shirts is as nearly as old as I am and it belonged to my dad from his time in Panama. And while I look like a dentist from the 1970s and it isn’t a true aloha shirt, it does have sentimental value and harks back to my tropical childhood.
And while I had a few tropical shirts throughout high school and college, it wasn’t until my mid-late 20s that I began to embrace and maintain a selection of these shirts in my wardrobe.
As with many fashion trends, aloha shirts have ebbed and flowed since their inception. However, in recent years, they are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. And while the actual origin of these shirts remain almost as legendary as the islands themselves, most agree that the current iteration of the aloha shirt emerged in the 1920s or ‘30s. Early shirts were likely made with leftover fabric from Japanese kimonos and featured traditional Asia-inspired prints. Over the ensuing decades, Hawaiian Aloha shirt fabrics began to feature more island-inspired prints including hula girls, palm trees, and tropical motifs.
As if you really need one, here are my top reasons to wear these expressive shirts regardless of your proximity to The Aloha State.
Historical and cultural icons have worn them
Elvis Presley and Tom Selleck wore the shirts for big and small screen appearances while President Harry Truman had a personal collection of them.
It’s best left untucked
These shirts are designed to be worn untucked. And while they can be tucked in, why would you want to? While they are most often associated with tropical vacations, the truth is that they can be worn anywhere. In some geographic settings, they can even be worn year-round. They pair well with shorts, khakis, and even jeans.
Who couldn’t use a little more color in their wardrobe
Let’s face it, we can always use a little more color in our lives. Even on the gloomiest of days, it hard to not have your spirits lifted when wearing colorful couture.
There’s a look for every personality
There are so many patterns to choose from. I personally have one that features Santa Claus in beach attire hanging out at a tiki bar with a hula girl.
They will NEVER go out of style
While they have gone up and down in popularity over the decades, they have always remained in style even if only for vacation attire.
And while fashion brands like Prada and Gucci have created their own aloha shirts in recent years, here are some of my longtime favorite brands, along with one newly acquired option.
Claiming to be “the original aloha shirt since 1936, Kahala is also the oldest operating apparel company in Hawai’i. The brand creates new patterns each season, but its heritage print collection draws from iconic patterns from its 84-year history utilizing modern day fabrics.
Another heritage brand, Tori Richards was founded during the 1950s and lives by its tagline of “Resort is a State of Mind.” This lifestyle brand is made in Hawai’i.
In comparison to the two previously mentioned heritage brands, Tommy Bahama is a relative newcomer. While most of my shirts feature tropical prints, some are tropical inspired but are colorful solids.
The first Pataloha shirt was released in 1986 and I bought my first Pataloha shirt almost twenty years ago. Each year, the brand releases new patterns in its 100% organic cotton tropical-inspired prints. And while I typically consider these casual tropical attire, they are at home on the boardwalk or in the boardroom.
This is my newest acquisition to my tropical collection. From the moment I put it on, I was enveloped in the terry cloth lining that make it ideal for pool wear. Along with a sunglass loop, a dry pocket to protect your tech, and a reinforced pocket specifically designed to cradle your frosty beverage, this shirt has quickly become my go-to shirt this summer.