The history of the Hawaiian or Aloha Shirt can be traced to the early western missionaries in the 19th century. They felt that it would be more appropriate, for the soon to be Christianized natives, if they were covered. But the real fact is, that it wasn't until the mid 1930s that the Hawaiian shirt, as we know it today, started to be produced. Modern research discovers stories of a Waikiki, Honolulu, Chinese merchant, Mr. Ellery Chun, owner of King-Smith Clothiers and dry goods. Mr. Chun was born in Honolulu in 1909 and died June 16, 2000, at the age of 91.
He is considered the pioneer of the Aloha Shirt. He and his sister, Ethel Chun Lum, fabricated the first brightly colored, floral, short-sleeved shirt from left-over kimono fabric. On July 15, 1936, Mr. Chun registered the Aloha trade name and began marketing a variety of Hawaiian-print shirts. The story goes on to tell of collaboration between a salesperson of the Honolulu Advertiser Newspaper and Mr. Chun to coin the phrase Aloha Shirt. The future success of the Aloha Shirt was assured after placing one of his sister's designed, short-sleeved shirts in his shop's window with a sign that read Aloha Shirt.
The shirts were purchased by local residents, beach boys, surfers and tourists. The first advertisement placed in the Honolulu Advertiser using the words Aloha Shirt was on June 28, 1935. With the birth of Rayon in the mid 1920s, the dazzlingly colored and tropically decorated Hawaiian-Print Aloha shirt became a staple souvenir of cruise ship tourists. Early shirt labels bore names like Musa Shiya, Watamulls, Kamehameha, Kahala, Surfriders, Alfred Shaheen, Duke Kahanamoku, etc. The 1940s and 1950s furnish us with a memorable list of personalities depicted wearing Hawaiian-Print Aloha Shirts. Harry S. Truman, our 33rd President loved to wear Aloha Shirts. He was on the cover of Life Magazine in 1951 wearing one. Montgomery Cliff and Frank Sinatra were featured in the memorable motion picture From here to Eternity in Hawaiian-Print Aloha shirts.
The immortal John Wayne, The Duke, and venerable master surfer and Olympian, Duke Kahanamuku had Hawaiian shirt endorsements. Bing Crosby wore his Aloha shirts, with his rounded, flat-top porkpie hat atop his head and a pipe between his lips. He even had his own line. Arthur Godfrey, radio personality played his ukulele wearing an Aloha Shirt. Johnny Weissmuller who played Tarzan in the movies and was an Olympian in real life, and the list goes on and on. They all wore Hawaiian-Print Aloha shirts.
So, despite what SOME people may say (Haoles like MK), the Hawaiian shirt is undeniably a part of the "Golden Era."
REAL Hawaiian shirts are made with cotton or rayon and sometimes silk. They have bamboo or coconut shell buttons, sometimes bone. A certain style has the reverse of the fabric on the outside with the print bleeding through. And, most important, they must be made in Hawaii, not China, Mexico or Pakistan. Expect to pay forty bucks and up. Some brands like Kahala, who have been making these shirts since 1936, are a hundred bucks and more. As in most everything, you get what you pay for.
For decades, every Friday has been "Aloha Friday" in the Pacific with Islanders wearing their best, most dressy Hawaiian shirts to work (instead of the stuffy, uncomfortable stuff they wear all week) in anticipation of the weekend.
By the way since I'm on a Pacific Islander topic, the checkered blue and white Palaka shirt and blue denim trousers called Sailor-Mokus were just about the official national costume of Hawaii and Polynesia both on and off the plantation since the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
But then nobody wore blue jeans in the aforementioned era, right?